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phlogiston theory (flōjĭsˈtŏn), hypothesis regarding combustion. The theory, advanced by J. J. Becher late in the 17th cent. and extended and popularized by G. E. Stahl, postulates that in all flammable materials there is present phlogiston, a substance without color, odor, taste, or weight that is given off in burning. “Phlogisticated” substances are those that contain phlogiston and, on being burned, are “dephlogisticated.” The ash of the burned material is held to be the true material. The theory received strong and wide support throughout a large part of the 18th cent. until it was refuted by the work of A. L. Lavoisier, who revealed the true nature of combustion. Joseph Priestley, however, defended the theory throughout his lifetime. Henry Cavendish remained doubtful, but most other chemists of the period, including C. L. Berthollet, rejected it.
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