Two methods dominate the classical analysis of hierarchical organisation: 1. The 'is a part of' approach of 'meronomy', and 2. the 'is a kind of' approach of taxonomy. In this text we discuss both methods while focusing on certain advantages and disadvantages.

The following paper offers more information:
General laws and centripetal science.
Jagers op Akkerhuis G.A.J.M. (2014). European Review 22: 113-144


The ‘is-a-part-of’ relationship implies that the higher level ‘contains’ the lower. In principle, everything ‘is-a-part-of’ the universe. This relationship is also recognized as ‘meronomy’ or ‘compositional hierarchy’. Speaking in physical terms, a specific car has a specific chair, which has a specific handle bar, a specific screw, etc. In abstract/conceptual language, one could say that ‘cars’, have ‘chairs’, which have ‘handle bars’, ‘screws’, etc.

The ‘is-a-kind-of’ relationship implies that concepts at a higher level ‘contain’ lower level concepts, which are more specific. This hierarchy is also recognised as a ‘taxonomy’, a ‘specification hierarchy’ and a ‘subsumption hierarchy’. A well-known example of taxonomy is found in biology, where the group of animals has a specific subgroup of mammals, which has a specific subgroup of primates, and a specific subgroup of homonids. In turn, homonids are a kind of primate, which are a kind of mammal, etc.

Both meronomy and taxonomy are 'transitive': levels can be skipped.

Transitivity means that if a screw is part of a chair, which is part of a car, that the screw also is part of the car. Similarly, one can say that if homonids are a kind of primates, which are a kind of mammals, that homonids also are a kind of mammals. Transitivity thus has the advantage that it makes a ranking flexible.

Complications of transitive approaches

The flexibiliy of transitivity has various drawbacks. (to be continued soon, please read the above paper if you can't wait).