Looking back, the phlogiston theory looked awkward and something that only an amateur scientist would even dream of claiming as a life work. However, back in the 17th century, the theory was widely accepted and was deemed scholarly work. It claimed that something in the object (phlogiston) was being lost when it was being burned or rusted. Later on, Lavoisier proved that it was just oxygen that was being burned and the phlogiston theory looked like a hoax that people looked at as nothing more than clumsy. However, the phlogiston theory should not be looked at as a failure, because it created the foundation for chemistry and to learn more about why objects burn and the procedure that occurs when it happens.
The first impression of the phlogiston theory (saying that it was clumsy and a failure) does not do it justice because without it, it would have taken many more years for Lavoisier and other scientists to understand why objects burn and to learn about chemistry. It has been seen that over the years, every correct theory has an incorrect theory behind it. Before Copernicus proved that the Earth was not the center of the solar system and the Sun was, everyone believed that the Earth was. These incorrect theories motivate later scientists to reprove the theory thus discovering that the original was incorrect and that there was another explanation.
Looking at the phlogiston theory from a historical and scientific point of view, it can be seen as one of the most important theories that were formulated in chemistry. Chemistry most likely would not be what it is today without the phlogiston theory. It paved the path for chemistry to appear in the scientific context. After the phlogiston theory was disproved by Lavoisier when he discovered something else was being burned off which was oxygen, it was deemed that oxygen was an element. From this, others figured out that there were elements that could not be broken down into smaller particles which led the way to the periodic table of elements. Based on this Joseph Priestley also discovered how gases behaved in closed containers in this famous experiment with nitrogen and water to show that gas actually takes up space and that it can be contained. All these discoveries were made possible by the incorrect phlogiston theory. Without it, there would have probably taken a longer time for chemistry to evolve.
The phlogiston theory also looks very clumsy in hindsight due to the several controversies that ensued after the theory was formed. For example, after an object was burned, there was a calx that was left behind that was actually higher in mass than the original object. Based on the phlogiston theory, a substance was being given off and lost from the object. If that is the case then the mass would have to be decreased. When scientists started to question phlogiston theory followers, they had 2 answers. One was that mass was a physics concept and that it had no place in chemistry and should be taken to physicists. The other one was that phlogiston had a “negative mass” which meant that an object would increase in mass when the phlogiston was lost. The “negative mass” concept had severely undermined the credibility of the phlogiston theory because “negative mass” was not even a real physical concept. They had said that since the phlogiston was lighter than air, that it would be negative mass. However, after further discussion it was deemed that being lighter than air does not mean that it had negative mass.
The first impression of the phlogiston theory does not give it justice because it had created the cornerstone for chemistry. Without it, a slippery slope of discoveries would probably have been slowed down considerably and chemistry would not have been the same today. However, the phlogiston theory was also very clumsy when being looked at with a scientific lens. It barely had much scientific credibility and when challenges were being brought forward the phlogiston followers had no response. Based on this, we could say that the phlogiston theory actually helped the advance of chemistry even though it was a clumsy theory that had no credibility to it.