Language – the Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts
This reasonably common expression – which otherwise entails the concept of synergy – is defined in the Collins Online Dictionary of Language as:
If you say that something is more than the sum of its parts or greater than the sum of its parts, you mean that it is better than you would expect from the individual parts because of the way they combine adds a different quality.
The archetypal example of use of the language is a sporting or other team.
The phrase has its genesis in Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. He used it, however, in a mathematical or scientific context. In a 1908 translation of Aristotle’s work by WD Ross, the following translation is ascribed:
In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts, there is a cause; for even in bodies contact is the cause of unity in some cases, and in others viscosity or some other such quality.
Use in jurisprudence includes the following:
- State of Western Australia v Johnson  WASCA 224 per Owen JA at :
I think the import of the State’s position is that none of those six matters, alone or in combination, would have justified suspension of the terms. If each of those factors is looked at by itself the State’s contention is probably correct. But her Honour did not rely on any one consideration to the exclusion of the others. It is apparent from the sentencing remarks that she considered them in combination. Where a number of matters are taken together they can have a compounding effect so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
- Wyer v State of Queensland (Department of Education)  QIRC 408 per Dwyer IC at :
The Conflict Form very clearly points to a reasonable perception of bias (conscious or unconscious) on the part of three of the four panel members. Had it been the case that Mr Wyer or another candidate had been interviewed in addition to the appointee I would have been less inclined to this conclusion. And while the objective facts of this matter considered individually may not (of themselves) justify an adverse conclusion, this is very much a case where ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.