Parts of Systems: Mereological Decomposition and Parthood Semiosis as Steps towards a Mereophenomenology of Systems

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The dissertation presents a rethinking of mereological decomposition that can be applied as an underlying logic of the experience of parthood. It opens with a logical analysis of mereological decomposition, which is contrasted with composition and other bottom-up “building-relations.” It is then argued that particularly parts of systems contain a distinctive feature of semiosis that allows parthood to be experienced. Historical precursors of this view are examined to corroborate this perspective. The dissertation then continues with considerations of what this means for the phenomenology of the experience of parthood. To lay the groundwork for a study of parts and the experience of parthood, the argument is made that if composition can be regarded as a formal operation facilitating the study of wholes, then decomposition can be regarded as an inverse operation facilitating the study of parts. The notion of mereological decomposition is then analyzed and developed, and it is argued that it has to result in class of entities labelled all and only the parts. Furthermore, it cannot entail the destruction of the whole because this would be to confuse creation with constitution, and because parthood is often dependent on the particular whole to which it belongs. Instead, it is argued that mereological decomposition must be regarded as an explication or mereological dimensionalization of the whole. In a significant sense, all and only the parts explicate the meaning of the whole. This has consequences for our understanding of parthood. For it means that the parts, at a minimum, must contain a semiosis, that is, an essential reference to the whole that makes the parts a particular ontological category: They are not individuals in the sense of self-relying entities. This seems to suggest that there is a sortal function involved in mereological decomposition. And this makes it possible to distinguish between simple mereological decomposition sorting the whole into parts, and decompositions that apply higher-order sortal predicates, labeled sortal decompositions or SD decompositions. This accentuates the problem of how to prompt a mereological decomposition, for in order to sort the parts, we need to be able to distinguish the whole and its parts in the first place. A suggestion of how elements in the experiences of the whole might aid this cognitive process is exemplified. This seems to imply that parthood is not transitive. However, it is suggested that the distinction between simple decompositions, also called MDS decompositions for clarity, and SD decompositions gives the possibility of formulating a notion of weak transitivity, that is, transitivity of parts belonging to various SD decompositions within the scope of the same MDS decomposition. The notion of semiosis gives rise to a further examination of the experience and phenomenology of parthood, or so it is argued. Parthood can be experienced from the outside or from the inside, the latter in either the sense of being a whole that has parts or being a part of a larger whole. First, it is discussed what constitutes an outside view, and it is argued, along with Sartre, that it is constituted by a phenomenological destruction of the context of an object in question. It is then considered how semiosis is experienced when observing a system from such an outside view, and it is argued that the decomposition transfers meaning and complexity unto the parts, but also that our experiences of the parts lead to imaginings of the wholes to which we think they belong. It is then suggested that the derived complexity through mereological decomposition might be controlled by a combination of composition and SD decompositions. In the last two chapters, attention is turned towards persons, particularly parts of persons regarded as a whole, and persons seen as parts of larger wholes. In the first case, the notion of self is stressed as essential. The notion of a person's self can be divided into the minimal self and a larger self, often called the narrative self. This is related to the distinction between the physical and the mental, and it is argued that concerning the narrative self, the semiosis of the parts of the self is often clearer. It is stipulated on the basis of some examples of flow that the notion of the minimal self may be considered as phenomenologically situated, as its extension might be differently experienced in various situations. Furthermore, a distinction between “part of” and “carrying in” is made, particularly in the light of that not all elements we would locate in the mind, body, or self would be counted as parts of the persons themselves. In the second case, is first discussed what it means to be with others without forming parts of a whole, and it is argued that a minimal semiosis must be experienced to justly argue that persons understand themselves as parts. It is then argued that an essential feature of the semiosis of being a part is the experience of a horizon that can be analytically divided into levels or fringes of distance, for example into group, organization, society, global, and universal, of which some or all can be present in the parthood experience of a person. In conclusion, the notions of mereological decomposition and semiosis introduced here appear to be a useful metatheoretical apparatus that may function as an add-on mereological module to governing compositional approaches. This may promise to add understanding, explanatory power, and corroboration to many observations and claims made within the philosophy of psychology, cognitive sciences, and systems thinking
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages236
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2024


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