I have been working on a philosophical approach modeling the mind (in dualist terms, the non-physical portion of the Self) as a network of smaller minds structured to operate together. This seems to be most related to "gestalt psychology." However, I seek to apply this to concepts of Self and free will, which requires a transition from psychology to philosophy. "Gestalt philosophy" appears in remarkably few Google hits, suggesting this is either an underrepresented field or it bears another name in the realm of philosophy.

Is there a name for a branch of philosophy which models topics such as the self, free will, and the mind using organizations of individual mind components?


I had been terse in hopes of avoiding polluting the request for terminology with too much content which could narrow others' word choices too greatly. I also did not want to put too much in and risk the question becoming a discussion of personal philosophy (which is off topic on this SE) but to add a little more to quote Wikiepedia's "Gestalt psychology page:

The central principle of gestalt psychology is that the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies. This principle maintains that when the human mind (perceptual system) forms a percept or gestalt, the whole has a reality of its own, independent of the parts. The original famous phrase of Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, "The whole is other than the sum of the parts" is often incorrectly translated 1 as "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" and thus used when explaining gestalt theory, and further incorrectly applied to systems theory.[2] Koffka did not like the translation. He firmly corrected students who substituted "greater" for "other", "This is not a principle of addition" he said.[3] The whole has an independent existence.

I am particularly looking at how this applies to a mind which is theoretically unfettered by matter but which has agency (a traditional dualist mind). If such a mind chooses to never do an act which cannot be explained with science, what does it look like? Specifically, what does such a mind look like if it never does anything which could be construed as information traveling faster than it should (a hard limit preventing faster-than-light information transfer, and a soft limit preventing transfer faster than neurons), but does have some freewill (at least sufficient freewill to choose to have a structure and self-organize it) . Such a mind should be modelable as many minds linked by messages traveling slowly enough to be commensurate with scientifically explainable movement.

I don't want to dig into an off topic discussion of my personal philosophy, but the idea of the mind being divisible into smaller parts but yet not divisible does not seem particularly novel, and neither does the idea that its behavior may be dominated by structure. I would like to better understand what philosophy has been done in this direction, but I need to figure out the magic key words to jump start my research.

  • You might want to compare Plato's Republic, which posits the internal life of individuals as being analogous to that of the cities in which they live. Feb 27, 2015 at 14:16
  • Well for a mind that is dividable into parts, there's always Freud. And there is some similarity between the "seeing as" part of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and Gestalt Psychology.
    – moorej
    Feb 27, 2015 at 18:46
  • Given your edits, my earlier answer... seems entirely apt! Feb 27, 2015 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


According to my understanding of gestalt, meaning the whole is not reducible to the sum of the parts, the philosophical analogs would be holism, emergentism and anti-reductionism.


I find your question confusing because Gestalt psychology usually means almost the exact opposite of what you ask for.

Its contrasting approach, Structuralism, is the one that "models topics such as the self, free will, and the mind using organizations of individual mind components?" Gestalt psychology rebelled against analytic forms like Freud's and Jung's or cognitive approaches that start by looking into the mind and isolating separate parts to find out how they interact.

The point of Gestaltisms in general is that the analysis into components loses so much of the character of the original that it must always be viewed with suspicion.

A great example of a balance point between them is laid out in Ken Wilbur's approach to different layers of the self in "No Boundary".

The analogy in philosophy seems to be between atomism and something like Leibniz or Whiteheads monadism. The former emphasizes parts and separations, the latter emphasizes that a mind is an irreducible whole that merely reflects multiple influences upon it, without incorporating them or being actually changed by them.

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