Meronymic Relationships: From Classical Mereology to Complex Part-Whole Relations

  • Simone Pribbenow
Part of the Information Science and Knowledge Management book series (ISKM, volume 3)


Meronymic or partonomic relations are ontological relations that are considered as fundamental as the ubiquitous, taxonomic subsumption relationship. While the latter is well-established and thoroughly investigated, there is still much work to be done in the field of meronymic relations. The aim of this chapter is to provide an overview on current research in characterizing, formalizing, classifying, and processing meronymic or partonomic relations (also called part-whole relations in artificial intelligence and application domains). The first part of the chapter investigates the role of knowledge about parts in human cognition, for example, visual perception and conceptual knowledge. The second part describes the classical approach provided by formal mereology and its extensions, which use one single transitive part-of relation, thus focusing on the notion of “part” and neglecting the notion of (something being a) “whole”. This limitation leads to classifications of different part-whole relations, one of which is presented in the last part of the chapter.


Proper Part Abstract Entity Hole Theory Spatial Entity Class Inclusion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Artale, A., Franconi, E., Guarino, N., & Pazzi, L. (1996). Part-whole relations in obj ectcentered systems: An overview. Data and Knowledge Engineering, 20, 347–3 84.zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bernauer, J. (1996). Analysis of part-whole relation and subsumption in the medical domain. Data and Knowledge Engineering, 20, 405–415.zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Biederman, I. (1987). Recognition-by-components: A theory of human image understanding. Psychological Review, 94, 115–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Casati, R., & Varzi, A. (1997). Spatial entities. In O. Stock (Ed.), Spatial and Temporal Reasoning, 73–96. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cruse, D. A. (1979). On the transitivity of the part-whole relation. Journal of Linguistics, 15, 29–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Engehausen, A., Pribbenow, S., & Töter, U. (1996). Multiple part hierarchies. In F. Baader, H.-J. Bückert, A. Günter, & W. Nutt (Eds.), Proceedings of the Workshop on Knowledge Representation and Configuration (WRKP ’96), 17–22. DFKI Document D-96-04.Google Scholar
  7. Eschenbach, C., & Heydrich, W. (1995). Classical mereology and restricted domains. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, 723–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gerstl, P., & Pribbenow, S. (1995). Midwinters, end games, and body parts: A classification of part-whole relations. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, 865–889.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Guarino, N., Pribbenow, S., & Vieu, L. (Eds.). (1996). Special issue on Part-whole relations. Data and Knowledge Engineering Journal, 20(3).Google Scholar
  10. Hoffman, D. D., & Richards, W. A. (1984). Parts of recognition. Cognition, 18, 65–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Inhelder, B., & Piaget, J. (1964). The Early Growth of Logic in the Child: Classification and Seriation. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  12. Iris, M. A., Litowitz, B. E., & Evens, M. (1988). Problems of the part-whole relation. In M. Evens (Ed.), Relational Models of the Lexicon, 261–288. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Kosslyn, S. (1994). Image and Brain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Landau, B., & Jackendoff, R. (1993). “What” and “where” in spatial language and spatial cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 217–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Leonard, H. S., & Goodman, N. (1940). The calculus of individuals and its uses. Journal of Symbolic Logic, 5, 45–55.MathSciNetzbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lesniewski, S. (1929). Grundzüge eines neuen Systems der Grundlagen der Mathematik. Fundamenta Mathematicae, 14, 1–81. (First published in Polish in 1916.)zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  17. Litowitz, B. E., & Novy, F. A. (1984). Expression of the part-whole semantic relation by 3- to 12-year-old children. Journal of Child Language, 11, 159–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Markman, E. M. (1989). Categorization and Naming in Children. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Markowitz, J., Nutter, T., & Evens, M. (1992). Beyond IS-A and part-whole: More semantic network links. In F. Lehmann & E. Y. Rodin (Eds.), Semantic Networks in Artificial Intelligence, 377–390. Oxford and New York: Pergamon Press. 1RGoogle Scholar
  21. Mervis, C., & Rosch, E. (1981). Categorization of natural objects. Annual Review of Psychology, 32, 89–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Padgham, L., & Lambrix, P. (1994). A framework for part-othierarchies in terminological logics. In J. Doyle, E. Sandewall, & P. Torasso (Eds.), Principles of Knowledge Representation and Reasoning: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Knowledge Representation (’KR 94), 485–496. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
  23. Preuß, M., & Cavegn, D. (1990). Semantische Relationen und Wissensstrukturen. Experimente zur Erkennung der Unter-Oberbegriffs- und Teil-Ganzes-Relation. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 198, 309–333.Google Scholar
  24. Pribbenow, S. (1999). Parts and wholes and their relations. In G. Rickheit & C. Habel (Eds.), Mental Models in Discourse Processing and Reasoning, 359–382. London: Elsevier Science.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rips, L., & Estin, P. (1998). Components of objects and events. Journal of Memory and Language, 39, 309–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rosch, E. (1977). Human categorization. In N. Warren (Ed.), Advances in Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol.1, 1–49. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sattler, U. (1995). A concept language for an engineering application with part-whole relations. In A. Borgida, M. Lenzerini, D. Nardi, & B. Nebel, (Eds.), Proceedings of the 1995 International Workshop on Description Logics, 119–123 . Rome: Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza”, Dipartimento di Informatica e Sistemistica.Google Scholar
  28. Sattler, U. (1996). A concept language extended with different kinds of transitive roles. In G. Görz, & S. Hölldobler, (Eds.),KI-96: Advances in Artificial Intelligence, 333–345. Berlin: Springer Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schyns, P. G., & Murphy, G. L. (1994). The ontogeny of part representation in object concepts. In D. Medin (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, vol. 31, 305–349. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  30. Simons, P. (1987). Parts. A Study in Ontology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  31. Tversky, B. (1990). Where partonomies and taxonomies meet. In S. L. Tsohatzidis (Ed.), Meanings and Prototypes: Studies in Linguistic Categorization, 334–344. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  32. Tversky, B., & Hemenway, K. (1984). Objects, parts, and categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 113, 169–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Uschold, M. (1996). The use of the typed lambda calculus for guiding naive users in the representation and acquisition of part-whole knowledge. Data and Knowledge Engineering, 20, 385–404.zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Varzi, A. (1996). Parts, wholes, and part-whole relations: The prospects of mereotopology. Data & Knowledge Engineering, 20, 259–286.zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Winston, M., Chaffin, R., & Herrmann, D. (1987). A taxonomy of part-whole relations. Cognitive Science, 11, 417–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Pribbenow
    • 1
  1. 1.Center of Computing Technologies (TZI), Computer Science DepartmentUniversity of BremenBremenGermany

Personalised recommendations