Joachim Schummer: Lecture Course

Introduction to the Philosophy of Chemistry

Last held at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Dec. 2011)
University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines (Oct. 2011);
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia (March 2010);
Universidad de Pamplona, Pamplona, Colombia (March 2010);
Universidad Industrial de Santander, Bucaramanga, Colombia (Dec. 2009);

Last change: 25.11.2011


1. What Is Chemistry About?


What are the objects of chemistry? Is chemistry reducible to physics? Are there limits of chemical knowledge? Is chemical research ethically neutral? The introductory lecture addresses these issues, in order to point out characteristics that distinguish chemistry from other sciences from a philosophical point of view and which I call dealing with radical change and complexity.

Further Reading:

J. Schummer: “The Philosophy of Chemistry”, in: Fritz Allhoff (ed.), Philosophies of the Sciences: A Guide, Blackwell-Wiley, 2010, S. 163-183.

2. The Logical Structure of Chemistry


The subject matter and the experimental approach of chemistry require chemical concepts having a specific logical structure to grasp chemical information. This lecture explores the logical nature of chemical properties, chemical classifications, and chemical theories and argues that chemistry is, logically speaking, not about things but about relations between things, which makes chemical knowledge like a network structure.

Further Reading:

J. Schummer: “The Chemical Core of Chemistry I: A Conceptual Approach”, Hyle: International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, 4 (1998), 129-162.

– : “Matter versus Form, and Beyond”, in: Klaus Ruthenberg & Jaap van Brakel (eds.): Stuff: The Nature of Chemical Substances, Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2008, pp. 3-18.

3. Is Chemistry Against Nature?


Unlike any other natural science, chemistry seems to be opposed to nature such that something is either chemical or natural, which has far reaching impact on the public image of chemistry. This lecture first explores how the opposition has been developed since antiquity until today and then suggests a more adequate concept of nature that makes chemistry naturally a natural science.

Further Reading:

J. Schummer: “The Notion of Nature in Chemistry”, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 34 (2003), 705-736.

4. The Public Image of Chemistry


The public image of science in general is strongly dominated by the public image of chemistry, which in turn goes back to the medieval public image of alchemy out of which the modern image of the mad scientist has been developed. This lecture explores the current public image of chemistry out of unlucky interactions between chemists and their publics in order to do better in the future, which particularly requires learning from the past.

Further Reading:

[1] J. Schummer & T. Spector: “The Visual Image of Chemistry: Perspectives from the History of Art and Science”, Hyle: International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, 13 (2007), 3-41 (reprinted in [4]).

[2] -- : “Popular Images versus Self-Images of Science: Visual Representations of Science in Clipart Cartoons and Internet Photographs”, in: Bernd Hüppauf & Peter Weingart (eds.), Science Images and Popular Images of Science, London-New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 69-95.

[3] J. Schummer: “Historical Roots of the ‘Mad Scientist’: Chemists in 19th-century Literature”, Ambix, 53 (2006), 99-127 (reprinted in [4]).

[4] J. Schummer, B. Bensaude-Vincent & B. Van Tiggelen (eds.): The Public Image of Chemistry, Singapore et al.: World Scientific Publishing, 2007.

5. The Ethical Responsibilities of Chemists


Because the public is used to see chemistry with particular suspicion, chemists are more than any other scientists required to recognize their ethical responsibility. This lecture provides both a basis for ethical judgments of chemistry in public discourse and a framework for chemists to reflect on the ethical relevance of their activity.

Further Reading:

J. Schummer: “Ethics of Chemical Synthesis”, Hyle: International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, 7 (2001), 103-124.

Copyright © 2011 by Joachim Schummer; last change: 25.11.2011