Combinatoris and the philosophy of nature

After describing how concepts or terms could be combined, Ostwald noted in a book about the philosophy of nature: “The laws of combinatorics even allow it to decompose an area of research formally and exhaustively in its branches and fields of research by initially locating empirically the elements of the domain and then by exhaustively combining them […] The application of combinatorics in scholarship is far from being widespread, as it should be.”

Combinatorics of concepts

Taken from his chemical experience, Ostwald’s method of scholar­ly research can be descri­bed as: Defining the problem (1), exploring the problem by going back to the basic concepts of it (2) and combining these basic concepts in a combinatorical way to explain the diversity of the complex world (3). The diverse objects created through combination had to be held together by a holistic framework (4) like Ostwald’s monistic world view and scientistic energetism.

  • Wilhelm Ostwald, Moderne Naturphilosophie. I. Die Ordnungswissenschaften (Leipzig 1914).