“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - True, false or meaningless?

  • Esa Itkonen

Abstract

The slogan in the title of this article is meaningless in a context where the notion of “sum” does not apply. It is false in a context where the whole is equal to (or indistinguishable from) the sum of its parts. Having only a metaphorical meaning, it is neither clearly true nor clearly false in a context where no numerical value can be assigned to this relation of magnitude (which is typically the case in linguistics). In this article, however, a unit of measurement is devised which makes it possible to decide whether a linguistic whole is greater or smaller than the sum of its parts. In the former case the slogan is true whereas in the latter case it is, once again, false.

Author Biography

Esa Itkonen
Esa Itkonen was born in 1944. He is Professor Emeritus of General Linguistics (1982-2012) at the University of Turku, Finland; Dozent of Philosophy (1986-2012) at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Principal areas of interest: philosophy of linguistics, history of linguistics, linguistic typology
Published
2017-03-15
How to Cite
Itkonen, E. (2017). “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” - True, false or meaningless?. Public Journal of Semiotics, 7(2), 21-50. https://doi.org/10.37693/pjos.2016.7.16454
Section
Articles