Not to be confused with pluton.

Plutonism (or volcanism) is the geologic theory that the igneous rocks forming the Earth originated from intrusive magmatic activity, with a continuing gradual process of weathering and erosion wearing away rocks, which were then deposited on the sea bed, re-formed into layers of sedimentary rock by heat and pressure, and raised again. It proposes that basalt is solidified molten magma. The name "Plutonism" references Pluto, the classical ruler of the underworld, while "volcanism" echoes the name of Vulcan, the ancient Roman god of fire and volcanoes. The Oxford English Dictionary traces use of the word "plutonists" to 1799,[1] and the appearance of the word "Plutonism" to 1842.[2]

Abbé Anton Moro, who had studied volcanic islands, first proposed the theory before 1750, and James Hutton subsequently developed it as part of his Theory of the Earth,[3] published in 1788. The idea contested Abraham Werner's neptunist theory which proposed that the Earth had formed from a mass of water and suspended material which had formed rocks as layers of deposited sediment which became the continents when the water retreated, further layers being deposited by floods and some volcanic activity.

Plutonists strongly disputed the neptunist view that rocks had formed by processes that no longer operated, instead supporting Hutton's uniformitarianism. A key issue of the debate revolved around the neptunist belief that basalt was sedimentary, and some fossils had been found in it. Against this, Hutton's friend John Playfair (1748-1819) argued that this rock contained no fossils as it had formed from molten magma, and it had been found cutting through other rocks in volcanic dykes. The arguments continued into the early 19th century, and eventually the plutonist views on the origin of rocks prevailed in the wake of the work of Charles Lyell in the 1830s. However, geologists regard sedimentary rocks such as limestone as having resulted from processes like those described by the neptunists, and so modern petrological theory can be seen as a synthesis of the two approaches.[4][5]


  1. "Plutonist". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. "plutonism". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. Hutton, James (1788). "Theory of the Earth; or an investigation of the laws observable in the composition, dissolution, and restoration of land upon the Globe". Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 1 (2): 209–308. Retrieved 2016-09-06.
  4. E. Schweizerbart (1982). "Fortschritte der Mineralogie". Deutsche Mineralogische Gesellschaft: 22. Retrieved 2016-09-07. [...] the dialectic synthesis of two opposite approaches: the historical view, inherited from neptunists, and the a historical standpoint of plutonists.
  5. Compare: van Bemmelen, Reinout Willem (1970) [1949]. "The controversy between 'magmatists' and 'transformists'". The Geology of Indonesia. 1 (2 ed.). Nijhoff. p. 233. Retrieved 2016-09-07. Nowadays, one and a half century after Hutton's death (in 1797) we are engaged in a similar struggle of opinions as that between the Volcanists and the Neptunists, namely the controversy between Magmatists and Transformists[...]). In fact, the problem no longer concerns the question whether Neptunists or Volcanists (Magmatists) are right; in the course of time a third possibility has come forward, that of the Transformists, which to a certain extent is a synthesis of both older views.

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