Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-476zt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-13T00:16:50.941Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Value of Completeness: How Mendeleev Used His Periodic System to Make Predictions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Dmitrii Mendeleev’s periodic system is known for its predictive accuracy, but talk of its completeness is rarer. This is surprising because completeness (polnost’) was a quality that Mendeleev saw as important for a systematization of the chemical elements. Here, I explain how Mendeleev’s valuing of completeness influenced the development of his periodic system. After introducing five indicators of its completeness, I zoom into one in particular: Mendeleev’s inclusion of a schematic row of oxides. I then show how it guided Mendeleev’s predictions of indium and ekaboron, which suggests that the valuing of completeness was instrumental for making predictions.

Research Article
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


I thank Hasok Chang, Anna Alexandrova, Oliver Marsh, Chris Campbell, Marion Kieffer, and the anonymous referees for their helpful feedback. This article benefited rom the discussions at the Association of the Discussion of History of Chemistry in February 2018 and the Oxford Seminar History of Alchemy and Chemistry in January 2018. Presenting this paper at PSA 2018 was enabled by grants from the Society of History of Alchemy and Chemistry and the Oskar Huttunen Foundation.


Barnes, Eric Christian. 2008. The Paradox of Predictivism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette. 1986. “Mendeleev’s Periodic System of Chemical Elements.” British Journal for the History of Science 19 (1): 317..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, Nathan. 2002. “Developing the Periodic Law: Mendeleev’s Work during 1869–1871.” Foundations of Chemistry 4:127–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brush, S. G. 1996. “The Reception of Mendeleev’s Periodic Law in America and Britain.” Isis 87 (4): 595628..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chang, Hasok. 2012. Is Water H2O? Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elliott, K. C., and McKaughan, D. J.. 2009. “How Values in Scientific Discovery and Pursuit Alter Theory Appraisal.” Philosophy of Science 76:598611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordin, M. D. 2012. “The Texbook Case of a Priority Dispute: D. I. Mendeleev, Lothar Meyer, and the Periodic System.” In Nature Engaged: Science in Practice from the Renaissance to the Present, ed. Biagoli, M. and Riskin, J., 5982. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordin, M. D.. 2018. “Paper Tools and Periodic Tables: Newlands and Mendeleev Draw Grids.” Ambix 65 (1): 3051..CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. 2013. Systematicity: The Nature of Science. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaji, M., Kragh, H., and Palló, G., eds. 2015. Early Responses to the Periodic System. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipton, Peter. 1990. “Prediction and Prejudice.” International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 4 (1): 5165..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Llored, Jean-Pierre. 2017. “Investigating Consistencies, Inconsistencies, and the Meaning of the Ceteris Paribus Clause in Chemistry.” Humana.Mente: Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (32): 5374..Google Scholar
Mendeleev, D. I. 1869/1958. “O Sootnoshenii Svoistv S Atomnym Vesom Elementov.” In Periodicheskii Zakon: Klassiki Nauki, ed. Kedrov, B. M., 1031. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo akademii nauk SSSR.Google Scholar
Mendeleev, D. I.. 1871/1958. “Periodicheskaya Zakonnost’ Himicheskih Elementov.” In Periodicheskii Zakon: Klassiki Nauki, ed. Kedrov, B. M., 102–76. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo akademii nauk SSSR.Google Scholar
Meyer, L. 1864. Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Statik. Breslau: von Maruschke & Berendt.Google Scholar
Newlands, J. A. R. 1863. “On Relations among the Equivalents.” Chemical News 7:7072.Google Scholar
Newlands, J. A. R.. 1865. “On the Law of Octaves.” Chemical News 12:83.Google Scholar
Newlands, J. A. R.. 1866. “On the ‘Law of Octaves, and the Causes of the Numerical Relations among the Atomic Weights.’Chemical News 13:113.Google Scholar
Odling, William. 1864. “On the Proportional Number of the Elements.” Quarterly Journal of Science 1 (October): 642–48.Google Scholar
Scerri, Eric R. 2007. The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Scerri, Eric R., and Worrall, John. 2001. “Prediction and the Periodic Table.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 32 (3): 407–52..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schindler, Samuel. 2014. “Novelty, Coherence, and Mendeleev’s Periodic Table.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science A 45:6269.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Seubert, Karl. 1895. Das Natürliche System Der Chemischen Elemente: Abhandlungen von Lothar Meyer (1864–1869) Und D. Mendelejeff (1869–1871). Leipzig: von Wilhelm Engelman.Google Scholar
Woody, Andrea. 2014. “Chemistry’s Periodic Law: Rethinking Representation and Explanation after the Turn to Practice.” In Science after the Practice Turn in the Philosophy, History, and Social Studies of Science, ed. Soler, Léna, Zwart, Sjoerd, Lynch, Michael, and Israel-Jost, Vincent, 123–50. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar