Philosophy of chemistry

Philosophy of chemistry studies the foundations of chemistry and its relationships with other disciplines at different levels.  To the foundations of chemistry belong questions about the logical structure of chemical knowledge and its evolution.  This entails determining the fundamental concepts, methods and theories of chemistry.  Some of these concepts are chemical element, substance, periodic system, molecule, compound, chemical reaction, atom, chemical bond and molecular structure.  The analysis of the methods of chemistry involves the study of the role of instrumentation, chemical classification and the semiotics of chemistry upon chemical knowledge.   Pondering on the theories of chemistry entails analysing its emergence and its contrast with physical theories, which leads to discussions whether chemistry is reducible to physics.  Analysing chemical theories also leads to studying the role of experiments, laws, models, predictions and explanations, particular to chemistry.  Other subjects of philosophy of chemistry involve the relationship between chemistry and technology, as well as the ethics and aesthetics of chemistry, which includes analysing the social perception of chemistry.

Our research seeks to provide formal settings for philosophy of chemistry.  Hence, our approach takes a mathematical perspective, where we understand chemical knowledge as a complex dynamical system emerging from the interaction of the material, social and semiotic systems of chemistry.  This approach is based on the essential role "relations" play in chemistry, which leads us to  analyse fundamental concepts of chemistry from mathematical settings highlighting relations of different sorts, which include graph -including hypergraphs-, category and order theories, as well as geometry and topology.  In our research we seek to understand the structure formed by the different ontological levels of chemistry, which involve narratives involving the macro and micro words as well as simple and high order relationships, ranging from those leading to chemical species to concepts of similarity, order, class membership and further hierarchies and networks.  The mathematical stance of our research has led us to analyse the interaction between chemistry and mathematics and, in particular, the raise of mathematical chemistry as a field of research.

So far this research has been conducted by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, University of Karlsruhe, University of Oxford and Universidad de los Andes, but we are open to further collaboration with scientists and scholars of other institutions.  There are also several research projects available for MSc and PhD students, as well as for postdocs.

Questions related to this research topic can be addressed to Guillermo Restrepo at or


Related sites:

Joachim Schummer web site.

Journal: HYLE, International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry.

Journal: Foundations of Chemistry.

International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry.