Things are said to be or to constitute a whole in various ways. That which is complete and entire, having all that belongs to it without deficiency, is called a whole in the sense of a totality. Such a whole is either a unit or a union of many in one (see unity). In this sense of totality the universe is called the whole, sometimes understood as a unit (monism) or as a union of many in one (pluralism). In this sense also particular individuals and particular unions are called wholes, each in itself complete and without deficiency.
Universal and Quantitative Wholes. Again, that which contains many in such a way that they are one is called a whole. A whole in this sense is either a universal or something continuous. In the case of a universal, the whole is one, and each of the inferiors contained in it as parts in the whole is also one, whether these are actual or merely potential (see universals). Thus the human species is one, and each individual of the species is also one. In like manner each genus is one and each species contained in a genus is one. On the other hand, the continuous whole is one and unbroken, but contains many parts into which it is divisible, which themselves are either in potency or in act. Thus a drop of water contains many droplets in potency, whereas a quantity such as a line or a surface contains many parts in act, which are distinct from each other but conjoined, not separated. In the case of a continuous whole, many come from one by division of the whole, but in the case of a universal whole, many come from one by additional determination of unit differences, as the genus is determined by the specific difference or a number by the addition of units.
Furthermore, a quantity that has a beginning, middle and an end is called a whole, particularly when the position of the parts makes a difference, as in a geometric figure or in an organism. If the position of the parts makes a difference in the form or composition but not in the matter, the thing is called a whole with respect to the form, but one speaks of all with respect to the matter, as all the bricks in the wall, but the whole wall. When the parts are considered in potency, the whole is designated by the singular, as a heap of sand; when the parts are considered in act, the plural is employed, as the sands on the shore. A whole is the sum of its parts when considered as the result of addition, and the amount of the whole is the result reached by the accumulation of particular parts. In the order of division of a whole into its parts, the whole is prior to its parts; but in the order of becoming or composing a whole from its parts, these are prior to the whole. In a homogeneous whole, the parts are of the same essence or nature as the whole, and the essence of the whole remains in the part. In a heterogeneous whole, the essential nature is not in each part separately, but in all the parts jointly or conjoined, as in a compound or organism.
Potential Wholes. A whole that has various perfections or powers according to which parts can be distinguished that do not include the full perfection of the whole is called a potential whole, and the parts are called virtual parts. For example, an animal has both vegetative and sensitive powers, and it is a natural body that is a genuine being or substance. The perfections of vegetative and sensitive life in the whole are distinguishable, as are the perfections of body, sensible matter, and substantial being. The whole essence of one thing is included in each virtual part, but not wholly, that is, not according to its full power or perfection. Likewise, the human soul is a potential whole distinguishable according to virtual parts that include the whole but not its full power, as the sensitive part of the soul and the rational part. In like manner also the subjects of the various theoretical sciences are distinguishable according to the virtual parts of the sensible substance. This is the reality immediately evident to man, and it permits of scientific elaboration through irreducibly different basic principles. Thus natural philosophy is the science of sensible or natural being understood through the principles and causes of sensible change; mathematics is the science of quantity or corporeal being, whether discrete (arithmetic) or continuous (geometry) with its own proper principles, such as the unit, point and line; metaphysics is the science of being, whether sensible and material or immaterial, understood through the first principles and causes of being as such (see sciences, classification of).
Thomists and Scotists differ in their explanations of how the virtual parts are present in a whole that has various powers and perfections. Scotists maintain that the perfections or formalities the mind can distinguish are somehow actually distinct in the whole itself, prior to the consideration of the mind, whereas Thomists hold that these formalities are merely distinguishable by the mind but are really identical and in no way actually distinct in the whole itself. According to this view the elements in a compound such as water are not formally and actually distinct in the water, but virtually distinct, that is, distinguishable by the mind; and the virtual parts of the soul are really identical with each other and with the whole although distinguishable by the mind. In the case of transcendentals such as being and goodness, whether in creatures or in God, the formalities are not perfectly distinguishable by the mind but are mutually inclusive and implicitly contain one another (see distinction, kinds of).
See Also: part; element; community; faculties of the soul; perfection, ontological.
Bibliography: aristotle Meta. 1023b 26–1024a 10. l. schÜtz, Thomas-Lexikon (Paderborn 1895; photo offprint Stuttgart 1958) 814–815. e. bettoni, Duns Scotus: The Basic Principles of His Philosophy, tr. and ed. b. bonansea (Washington 1961) 78–81. The Great Ideas: a Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, ed. m. j. adler 2 v. (Chicago 1952) 2:282–302. r. eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe, 3 v. (4th ed. Berlin 1927–30) 1:452–454.
[w. h. kane]