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On the Reception of Wilhelm Ostwald’s Energism in the United States: The American Frontier, Pragmatism, and a Non-Atomic Theory of Matter in the 1890s

Paweł Stachura

Pages 285 - 308



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This article discusses the reception of Wilhelm Ostwald’s energism in the United States. Ostwald, as a renowned teacher and contributor to the field of physical chemistry, was an important influence on the development of chemistry in the United States. In the final decade of the nineteenth century, he also developed and promoted a non-atomic theory of matter called energism. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the reception of energism in the United States was quite enthusiastic because of its perceived compatibility with American pragmatism, and with the values and concepts associated with the American frontier. Energism, in the interpretation of its American proponents, puts more emphasis on individual experience, volition, force, and initiative, as various manifestations of energy, the hypothetical fabric of the universe. This perspective led to interesting speculations about the equivalence of the mind and matter. The article will present primary sources by a philosopher and two natural scientists: John Elof Boodin, Edwin Emery Slosson, and Clarence L. Herrick.

Key Words: energism; pragmatism; science; American frontier

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