Centre for Cognitive Semiotics (CCS)

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

The PART-WHOLE schema we live through

Simon Devylder (

Conceptualizing an entity as a whole made of parts is a pervasive process of structuring the physical manifestation of the Self (i.e. the Western definition of the body and its parts). I here propose to focus on how English speakers recruit the part-whole schema to structure different aspects of their intangible Self (emotions, mental states, interpersonal relations, etc.) and how the schema is encoded in language (e.g. a part of me died that day, this is tearing me apart). There is a very fertile literature on mereology, the study of parts, wholes, and their relation, but with it comes a number of disagreements and sometimes confusion. There are indeed different kinds of part, different kinds of whole, and thus a great a variety of part-whole relations. I first propose to define what, I argue, should be strictly distinguished from the part-whole relation and why. I then propose a taxonomy of part-whole expressions of the Self based on the kind of Self aspect the expression precisely refers to, the kind of parts, the kinds of wholes, and the kind of part-whole relations these expressions profile. I will finish this presentation with a case study showing how failing to consider these distinctions extends well beyond the scope of a scientific discussion and has the potential to deeply affect people’s lives.