Wholeness & Inwardness

Wholeness and inwardness are two key notions put forward by Jan Smuts in his book Holism and Evolution, published in 1926.

Smuts’ ideas around Holism sit somewhere between science and philosophy but go deeper yet. They were described by Albert Einstein as two of the most important concepts to shape the future of humanity, second only after Einstein’s own relativity theory.

Essentially, Smuts suggested that instead of focusing on the particle, we need to focus on the field and its relational qualities. Fields create wholes and all of evolution is about ever larger nested wholes stretching through the cosmos, interlacing everything and each other.

As the wholes evolve, their outer structure becomes less rigid and inner qualities emerge. These inner qualities he referred to as inwardness.

On Wholeness

“Everywhere we look in nature, said the philosopher Jan Smuts, we see nothing but wholes. And not just simple wholes, but hierarchical ones: each whole is a part of a larger whole which is itself a part of a larger whole. Fields within fields within fields, stretching through the cosmos, interlacing each and every thing with each and every other.

Further, said Smuts, the universe is not a thoughtlessly static and inert whole—the cosmos is not lazy, but energetically dynamic and even creative. It tends (we would now say teleonomically, not teleologically) to produce higher- and higher-level wholes, ever more inclusive and organized. This overall cosmic process, as it unfolds in time, is nothing other than evolution. And the drive to ever-higher unities, Smuts called holism.”

This quote is about Smuts’ articulation of Holism. It is by Ken Wilber and quoted in several publications including the one chosen here by Guy Du Plessis.

It may seem odd, at first, not to quote Smuts directly yet his work is as dense as it is foundational. Many thinkers owe their holistic thinking and articulation of holism to Smuts, yet, as Guy Du Plessis explores in some detail, few acknowledged their debt by way od firect referencing in their work.

On Inwardness

Smuts is more quotable when it comes to inwardness:

“A whole, which is more than the sum of its parts, has something internal, some inwardness of structure and function, some specific inner relations, some internality of character or nature, which constitutes that more.”


Photo credits:

  • By Unknown – Toesprake deur sy hoog-edeagbare JC Smuts – Morne on Wikipedia, Public Domain, Link