Paul Joseph Sweeney, obituary

As published in The Hour:
Paul Joseph Sweeney, 63, died on the evening of December 4, 2016, after a courageous three-year fight against cancer.
Born on March 15, 1953, in Providence, RI, he was the eldest of five children of the late Helen and James F. Sweeney, Jr.
Paul grew up in East Norwalk and graduated from Norwalk High School in 1971. He was a lifelong scholar, earning many degrees: BA in English Literature and Religion from Syracuse University; Master of Philosophy in both Buddhist Studies and in Theology from Columbia University, New York; and Masters in Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Many considered Paul a genius, with his deep understanding of hundreds of subjects, including world religions, Sanskrit and global issues. Yet, as his niece aptly described, “Paul never one-upped someone in a conversation. He wanted to learn and share knowledge.”
If you sat next to Paul at the dinner table, you were in for a wonderful dialogue. He was happiest when talking and connecting with people and learning what you had to say.
Paul was an accomplished Librarian for the Washington, DC Public Library System, which allowed him to unleash and perpetuate his love for community, ideas and research. He initiated lecture series and book clubs. He was an expert speaker on nonviolent movements around the world. This article describes Paul’s huge impact on the Library community and his beloved D.C. – Paul was so passionate about books that his landlord put up a shed in the backyard to store his enormous collection.
In 2013, when diagnosed with cancer, he began a fearless campaign to get past it. Immediately, he researched and found the best treatment available at Johns Hopkins. While he endured the pitfalls of side effects, he never complained. When asked how he was doing, his answer was always “great.” In remission, he enjoyed a vibrant 2015, at work and at home.
Unfortunately, the cancer returned in May 2016, but undaunted, six weeks before his death, he talked about returning to the Library part time, to get back on his feet. When his brother cautioned him, he quipped, “What do you want me to do? Give up?”
Paul is survived by his three brothers and their wives: Jim and Loretta Sweeney of North Myrtle Beach, SC; Bill and Rebecca Sweeney of Norwalk and Ted and Kathi Sweeney of Auburn, PA, and his sister and her husband, Maureen and Jay Gulick of Huntington, CT. In addition, he is survived by his nieces and nephews and their families, all of whom were enriched by their conversations with Paul: Rachel and Jared Rouleau; Bridget Sweeney; Laura and Ian Leatherman; Brian and Kevin Sweeney; Michael and Deanna Gulick and Jenny Gulick. Also, he is survived by his dearest friends and co-workers in the D.C. area.
Special thanks to Paul’s brother Bill, who tirelessly devoted his time and love to Paul, as they navigated his valiant journey together with determination and grace.
Celebrations of Paul’s life will take place in Maryland and Norwalk in the new year. Contributions in his memory can be made to: Lonergan Institute, c/o Br. Dunstan Robidoux, St. Anselm’s Abbey, 4501 S. Dakota Ave NE, Washington, D.C. 20017-2753.

Paul Sweeney, Requiescat in Pace

Please know, dear friends, that our friend and fellow reader and student, Paul Sweeney, age 63, has died, last Sunday evening at about 7:30 at the end of a long bout with cancer. Paul has been coming to meetings and seminars for many years and is greatly missed for his sense of humor and depth of understanding of things. Please pray for the repose of his dear soul and that he be with Our Lord ever joyful eternally. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.  For an appreciation of Paul which appeared in 2011 see:

with love and blessings to all…

Judgment in Aristotle, two natures

As a qualification on how we are to understand judgment in Aristotle, please note that, in the kind of analysis which we find in Aristotle and also in the manner of his conceptualization and language, in our acts of judgment thus, a dual nature is distinguished or two natures are indicated in a way which seems to juxtapose one nature with another. Two natures exist instead of one nature. A synthetic, constructive element is alluded to, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an affirmative, declarative element. Hence, questions exist (later questions were posed) which asked if Aristotle was successful in clearly distinguishing between the being of these two different aspects (existing as two distinct elements, each having its own distinct nature).1 Did he, in fact, clearly distinguish between acts of direct understanding and acts of reflective understanding which exist as acts of judgment since, in Aristotle, judgment engages in two different kinds of tasks. On the one hand, allegedly within our judgments, (1) a composition or a putting together of different concepts occurs or, on the other hand, a separation of concepts when we realize that some concepts should not be combined or joined with each other. If an act of direct understanding (which, as noted, Aristotle conceptualizes as an act of “simple apprehension”) moves through the instrumentality of an imagined fertile, apt image (existing as a phantasm) toward a single, distinct concept or a definition which expresses the fruit or the grasp of one’s prior act of understanding (in Aristotle’s understanding of the nature or the intelligibility of all our direct acts of understanding as we move from the being and the order of sense to the order and the being of understanding: ta men oun eidê to noêtikon en tois phantasmasi noei; the “intellect grasps forms in images”),2 a fortiori, if we should speak in this way about the being of a “simple apprehension,” then, to a greater degree, if we are to speak about how two or more concepts can be put together to reveal a greater unity or a link that exists between these concepts (leading to a larger, more general concept), then, in order to identify and to distinguish this species of intellectual act, we should or we must speak about the being of a “complex apprehension.” These exist allegedly as judgments. These judgments introduce an order which should exist among our ideas and concepts. However, if, for us, the intellectual object is not simply the apprehension of a conceptual complex unity but if, in fact, it is an understanding which wants to declare or know about the reality or the truth of one or more concepts (whether we should speak about simple concepts or about complex concepts), then, within this larger, greater, more demanding context, in Aristotle, a second understanding of judgment presents itself to us in terms of how it seeks to posit a relation or a synthesis which has been grasped by us in our prior acts of understanding. The object here is not essentially a synthesis, the apprehension or the grasp of a synthesis which points to a higher or a wider understanding of things but, instead, the taking of an already understood synthesis and further acts which would work toward an act of understanding which can conclude or move toward a declaration of its reality or a declaration of its truth (or which can deny the factuality of its reality or the factuality of its truth). This is so. This is not so. Either way, in affirmation or negation, a truth is known and it is grasped by us as known. In our awareness, a truth is known in terms of its reasonableness or cogency: hence, its being, its reality. The consciousness or experience that we have of evidence points to the being or the reality of a truth and, as an effect which would thus follow from this, with Aquinas, we would say about ourselves that “knowledge exists as one of the effects of truth” [cognitio est quidam veritatis effectus].3 The one comes from the other.

In Aristotle thus, depending on which passages or texts are being studied, a clear distinction does not exist between that which exists as understanding and that which exists as judgment (acts of direct understanding versus acts of reflective understanding) because judgment, in the language of “composition and division,” resembles acts of direct understanding in terms of the unities which are being grasped and understood by them (by our acts of understanding): unities which transcend pluralities and multiplicities as these exist initially among the givens of the data of our sense perception. However, in Aristotle, the being of judgments is such that they also seek to determine if a correspondence exists between that which exists as a form of mental synthesis within ourselves and that which exists as a species of real synthesis within the being of truly existing things (the being of truly existing objects). A real distinction accordingly exists between the type of answer that is given to this kind of question and the type of answer which is given to a question which asks about how concepts can be related to each other in ways that could lead to the understanding and eventually the expression of a new, more general concept.

On the basis then of this real distinction and as a species of new first principle, in the later work of Aquinas and also in the later work of Bernard Lonergan, clarifications were introduced into the thinking and the conceptuality of Aristotle’s analysis in a manner which attempted to introduce degrees of clarity that had not been too obvious to anyone or to most persons who had attempted earlier to read into the corpus of Aristotle’s philosophy in order to find, within it, a coherent understanding about how things exist within the reality of the world within which we all live (a reality which includes the kind of being which we have and which we are as human beings where our kind of being includes the kind of knowing which belongs to us as human beings and which does not belong to other kinds of living being). From an incoherent understanding about the nature of our human judgment (from an incoherent understanding about the nature of our human cognition), we can thus wonder if, for some in the subsequent history of reflection within philosophy, the result has been a defective, incoherent understanding about the nature of existing things where, in metaphysics, we turn to this science in order to move toward a comprehensive or a general understanding about the nature of all existing things qua the nature of being in general as it applies to all things which enjoy some form of real existence. What can be implied about the nature of our world if our point of departure is a particular belief or a particular understanding about the nature of our human knowing, an understanding which could be lacking in the degree of rationality which should belong to it?4

1Lonergan, Verbum, pp. 61-62.

2Aristotle, De Anima, 3, 7, 431b, as cited by Sala, Lonergan and Kant, p. 161, n. 72.

3Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 1, as cited by Sala, Lonergan and Kant, p. 147, n. 71.

4Randall, Aristotle, p. 6.

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, Notes

Notes on Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, q. 84

ST 1.84: How does the human intellect know bodies (which are beneath it)

ST 1.84.1 Does the soul know bodies through the intellect

Objection 1: Bodies are understood by the senses, incorporeals by the intellect

Reply: This refers to the medium of knowledge, not the object

Objection 2: Sense:Intelligible :: Intellect:Sensible.  Since senses can’t understand intelligible things, the intellect can’t understand sensible things

Reply: Intellect is a higher power than sense.  While sense cannot know intelligibles, intellect can know sensibles.  Otherwise God wouldn’t have knowledge of sensibles.

Objection 3: Intellect understands eternal and unchangeable things, while bodies are always changing

Reply: Every movement presupposes something immovable.    Changing form requires unchanging matter.  Changing matter requires unchanging form.  Socrates may not always be sitting, but it is always true that when he does sit he stays in one place.


On the contrary: natural science, with its studies of motion and matter, would be impossible if the intellect had no knowledge of changeable things.


One possible answer: Certain Presocratics (Heraclitus) thought everything was in a state of flux, so certain knowledge of anything was impossible.

Refutation: Heraclitus was only led to this conclusion because of their reductive materialism.


Another possible answer: Plato’s theory of forms



  1. If forms are immaterial and immovable, how can we have knowledge of matter and motion?
  2. Plato begs the question: How can we know bodies, if we only know them through separate substances which differ essentially from them?
  3. Plato assumed that the form must exist in the knower in the same mode as in the thing known.  This is not true.


Whiteness is in bodies in different modes of intensity

The senses receive whiteness without receiving matter

The intellect receives whiteness under conditions of immateriality and immobility


ST 1.84.2 Does the soul know bodies through its essence?

It would seem so.  Knowledge is by assimilation, where the intellect “becomes” whatever essence it is to know.  Thus, the intellect knows all things by the essence it has assimilated, which essence has become the intellect’s own essence.


But Augustine says we know things through our senses.


Presocratic view: the material intellect receives forms materially


  1. Matter is only form potentially, and knowledge is of actualized form
  2. Why doesn’t matter outside the soul possess knowledge?


Platonist view: The immaterial soul receives forms immaterially


Only God knows things through his own essence; humans and angels don’t


ST 1.84.3 Does the soul know through innate species?

Our knowledge is different from angelic knowledge.  Our knowledge must be brought into act, while angelic knowledge is always in act.  Moreover, the angelic intellect is completed by the angelic form and is not in potentiality with respect to anything.  The human intellect is in potentiality with respect to things it does not know.  Prime matter is in potentiality with respect to its substantial form.


ST 1.84.4 Are intelligible species derived by the soul from separate forms?

The objections proceed by analogy from sense, also noting that the intellect requires something actually intelligible in order to be brought into act.

But if we know by separate forms, there is no reason why our souls should be united to bodies.  Both Plato and Avicenna’s views are considered and deemed insufficient for explaining the existence of the body.


In replying to the objections, St. Thomas says there is no analogy between sense and intellect.  He concedes that divine ideas are the ultimate source of our knowledge, but we attain to this knowledge by the actualization of phantasms by agent intellect.


ST 1.84.5 Does the intellect know material things in the eternal types?

St. Thomas states that Augustine was “imbued with the doctrines of the Platonists.”


St. Thomas makes a distinction:

  1. Knowing the eternal types as objects.  The souls of the blessed know things in the eternal types in this way.
  2. Having the eternal types as a principle of knowledge.  Just as our senses see by the light of the sun, our intellect sees by the intellectual light which is in us, even as pilgrims.


The human intellect requires both intelligible species and intellectual light in order to know.


St. Thomas shows that Augustine was not as Platonist as he originally seemed.


ST 1.84.6 Is intellectual knowledge derived from sensible things?

Augustine’s argument that intellectual knowledge does not come from the senses

  1. Sensible things are always changing, but what is never the same cannot be perceived
  2. We cannot tell through the senses whether we are seeing a real image or whether we are seeing an imaginary image (dreaming), but the intellect is capable of perceiving truth
  3. What is lesser cannot act on what is greater, so the senses cannot produce knowledge in the intellect
  4. We know some immaterial things


Democritus thought all knowledge was by a discharge of atoms


Plato thought the soul forms within itself the species, after the sensible organ receives the sensible object.  The soul is roused by the species of the thing.

Augustine said the body was the messenger to the soul.

The senses rouse the intellect to the act of understanding.


Aristotle said sense is an act not of the soul alone, but of the “composite.”  The sensible is received in the sense by a discharge or some other operation.  Then agent intellect derives the phantasm and ultimately the intelligible species from the sensory input.


Sensible things are only the material cause of knowledge.  Agent intellect is also required.


ST 1.84.7 Can we understand without turning to phantasm?

No, because:

  1. When imagination is hindered by frenzy or lethargy, all intellectual operation is also hindered.
  2. We all understand by forming phantasms to serve as examples
  3. It belongs to a nature to exist in an individual.  This cannot happen apart from corporeal matter.  Since we apprehend the individual through phantasm, we need phantasm in order to see the universal nature existing in the individual.


Interesting facts:

When knowledge is not actualized, intelligible species dwell in the passive intellect.

The intelligible species is NOT the likeness of the individual thing.

Our intellect’s proper and proportionate object is the nature of a sensible thing (?)


ST 1.85.1: Does our intellect understand corporeal and material things by abstaction from phantasm?

3 grades of cognitive powers:

  1. Sense organ: object is form existing in individual matter
  2. Human intellect: object is form existing in individual matter, but not AS existing in this particular matter
  3. Angelic intellect: object is form existing apart from matter

2 types of abstractions

  1. Composition or division, i. e. Judgement of truth or falsehood
  2. Simple or absolute consideration: consider something and prescind from its principles of individuation

3 types of matter:

  1. Individual (“this flesh and these bones”)
  2. Common/signate (“flesh and bones”)
  3. Common intelligible matter (quantity, number, dimension, figure)

(things like “being,” “unity,” “power,” “act” abstracted from all matter)


The phantasms are made more fit for the abstraction therefrom by intelligible intentions.”


ST 1.85.2: Are intelligible species the object of our intellection?

No, intelligible species are the species qua, not species quae intelligitur.

Otherwise, science would be about words, not things.


Also, we would have no way of judging the truth or falsity of our ideas.


Intelligible species is a likeness of the thing understood, as heat in the heater is a likeness of the thing heated


Abstract universal exists in the mind, but the universal which is understood exists in its instantiations.


2 operations of the sensitive part:

  1. Impression (totally passive)
  2. Formation (imagination, active)

2 operations of the intellect

  1. Impression (passive intellect receives intelligible species)
  2. Formation (active intellect forms definition or judgement)

ST 1.85.3 Whether knowledge of the most universal species is prior?

Sense knowledge is prior to intellectual knowledge.  Therefore in some manner we know the particular first.

However, in the intellect we know what animals are, albeit indistinctly, before we can distinguish rational animals from non-rational animals.


In the senses, we know something is a body before it gets close enough to be known as an animal.  A child calls all men father before he learns to distinguish his father.  Therefore, universal sense knowledge is prior.


Something’s genus is derived from its common matter; the species comes from the form.  Nature ultimately intends the species, not the genus.


ST 1.85.4 Whether we can understand multiple things at once?

No, just as an object cannot have multiple colors at once, an intellect cannot have multiple intelligible species at once


We can, however, understand multiple things in a single species


ST 1.85.5 Whether our intellect understands by composition and division?

Yes, because our intellects achieve perfection by degrees.  We must make a judgement (i. E. a composition or division) about the state of our knowledge in order to attain more perfect knowledge.


Intellectual operations are in time insofar as we have to turn to phantasms


2 types of composition in a material thing

  1. Form with individual matter: Man is an animal (form with common matter); Socrates is a man (individual matter with form)
  2. Substance with accident: Socrates is white (Socrates as a man possessing whiteness)


2 types of composition in the intellect

  1. The whole with the part (form/species with common matter/genus)
  2. Subject predicated of accident (identification of Socrates with whiteness)


ST 1.86.6 Can the intellect be false?

The intellectual light cannot err, because the proper object of intellect is the quiddity of the thing.  Provided we are abstracting quiddities from phantasm or deriving first principles from the operation of the intellect itself, the intellect cannot be false.


In composition or division, the intellect can err.


ST 1.86.7 Can one man understand better than another?

  1. No, in the sense that all men understand through the same intelligible species.  Either you have the intelligible species or you don’t.
  2. Yes, in the sense that one man may perceive the intelligible species with greater keenness than another, as a man with 20-20 vision will see visible objects better than another.
  3. Yes, in the sense that intellect’s operation depends on the sensitive and imaginative faculties.  Someone with a better memory, for instance, can understand things better.


ST 1.86.8 Is the indivisible known before the divisible?

  1. Yes, in the sense that we know a quiddity indistinctly as a unity before we know it distinctly by understanding its parts.
  2. Yes, in the sense that we know simple quiddities of things before we engage in complex composition or division.
  3. No, in the sense that abstractions like “point” or “unity” are known only by privation.  A point is “something which has no parts.”  We know things with parts before we can consider something without parts.  This is because these concepts are opposed to natural, corporeal reality.

New Manent Seminar: Beyond Radical Secularism

Message from David Alexander: I would like to propose that we read Beyond Radical Secularism by Pierre Manent and do so on the following schedule:

26OCT- parts 1-5, to pg. 28
16NOV- parts 6-10, to pg. 49
30NOV- parts 11-15, to pg. 16
14DEC- parts 16-20, to the end
I am open to accelerating this even more because the book is shorter and less dense than The City of Man, but perhaps like this we will allow for more discussion. If we hold to this schedule, we could then break for the holidays and resume with a new book after the New Year.

After the Beyond Radical Secularism, I would like to take a break from Manent and read some on the philosophy and theology of education. I’d like to read either Beauty for Truth’s Sake: The Re-Enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott or Beauty in the World: Re-Thinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott, probably the former because I think it is the first in his trilogy of works on the topic. After that we can decide together whether we would like to study this subject further with Caldecott, or turn again to Manent.

If we return to Manent, I am most interested in Manent’s insights into modern democracy and spirituality and I would like to approach him again from this angle, topically. I would like to propose if we return first reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and then Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy by Pierre Manent, and then Democracy without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe by Pierre Manent. But that is projecting a long way into the future.

Please invite anyone you think might be interested in participating.

For more details on books I would like to study on the two different topics of democracy and the philosophy and theology of education:

Other books I would like to eventually read by Manent:
An Intellectual History of Liberalism
Metamorphoses of the City

Other Lines of Study:

Reading specifically on democracy and spirituality:

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy by Pierre Manent
Democratic Faith by Patrick Deneen
Christianity and Freedom, Volume 1: Historical Perspectives (edited by Timothy Samuel Shah)

Reading on Education

Beauty for Truth’s Sake: The Re-Enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott
Beauty in the World: Re-Thinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott
The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity by Stratford Caldecott
The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman
The Idea of the University: A Rexamination by Jaroslav Pelikan
C.S. Lewis: A Philosophy of Education by Steven R. Loomis
A Primer for Philosophy and Education by Samuel D. Rocha
Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective by Paul D. Spears

Greek Discovery of Mind, Socrates, notes


The intrusion of the systematic exigence into the realm of common sense is beautifully illustrated by Plato’s early dialogues. Socrates would ask for the definition of this or that virtue. No one could afford to admit that he had no idea of what was meant by courage or temperance or justice. No one could deny that such common names must possess some common meaning found in each instance of courage, or temperance, or justice. And no one, not even Socrates, was able to pin down just what that common meaning was.1

Socrates (470-399 BC), age 70 at the time of his death (as recorded by Plato) had a father who was a mason; his mother, a midwife. He was known to be extremely ugly: potbellied, with bulging eyes, and a snub nose although the inside was said to be “perfectly delightful.”2 “You can seek him in the present, you can seek him in the past, but you will never find his equal.” He never wrote anything. He lived in Athens during her bloom around 450 BC and at the time of her decline toward the end of the century. He was a strong enigmatic figure who spent most of his time talking with people in the marketplaces and squares of Athens and who was subject at times to fits of abstraction lasting for hours on end: on the value of understanding the world of physical nature, “the trees in the countryside can teach me nothing.”3 As a young man in his 20’s, he turned away from cosmological speculation to an interest in the problem of man since he felt that what Anaxagoras had to say about mind or nous did not go far enough. Citing Cicero on Socrates: he “called philosophy down from the sky and established her in the towns and introduced her into homes and forced her to investigate life, ethics, good and evil.”4 While initially he was thought to be a sophist, in fact, he became or was their bitterest opponent in his belief that , indeed, “there really was such a thing as justice and injustice, right and wrong, truth and falsity” and that “they were supremely important” and “could be known.”5 For Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”6

Calling himself a “philo-sopher” as “someone who loves wisdom,” he began to go his own way, noting to himself: “One thing only I know, and that is that I do not know anything.” The Oracle at Delphi had said to him: “None is wiser than Socrates” which he, in turn, interpreted as meaning that he is wisest who realizes that, like Socrates, he has little wisdom. He would try to make his fellow men aware of his own ignorance by asking questions and meeting objections. For instance, Socrates said that, if there was an afterlife, he would pose the same question to the shades in Hades. He wanted to base all argumentation on objectively valid definitions which focused on knowing who man is. Since he was a man who would listen to his own inspiration and who in turn inspired others, he had more followers than students. Hence, he was a danger to the establishment. He claimed to have a “divine voice” inside him. He refused to be involved in condemning people to death and to inform on political enemies. A parallelism exists between Socrates and Christ:7 both were enigmatic; neither wrote anything forcing us to rely on accounts written by their followers; both were masters at the art of discourse; both had a personal sense of authority; both believed that they spoke on behalf of something greater than themselves; both challenged the power of the community; and both died as martyrs after trial (in both cases, with the possibility of evasion).

Our knowledge of Socrates is beset by the Socratic problem of sources that differ much on him. Hence, where do we go for an accurate portrait of Socrates’s character and ideas since he wrote nothing himself? There are four main sources given as follows.

(1) Plato was the most important source since he was a student of Socrates when Socrates was in his 50’s. Through his dialogues, the early and middle dialogues supply much of the information that we have on Socrates. But, there is a problem: according to Aristotle, Plato uses Socrates in conversation as an instrument for presenting his own ideas, employing a literary technique that was often used at that time (a technique that was also employed by the students of Pythagoras). It is difficult to distinguish between Socrates and Plato. Two schools of thought exist on who was the real Socrates. On the one hand, Copleston argues that the Platonic Socrates was not the real Socrates since we must trust what Aristotle says. Since Aristotle had been first trained in Plato’s school where the doctrine of ideas as taught occupied a central place, he must have known what was actually Plato’s teaching. But, on the other hand, Burnet and Taylor argue that neither Xenophon nor Aristotle sufficiently understood Plato since Xenophon was too simple in his journalism and Aristotle erred in his views of Plato. While Plato could have been somewhat poetical in his expression, this is no argument in favor of inauthenticity. Only in his later dialogues does Plato develop his own ideas. The metaphysical doctrine of the forms was Socratic essentially although it received a Platonic development. In conclusion, while Copleston prefers the Aristotelian Socrates, most historians argue for some sort of compromise between these two positions. Mlle De Vogel argues that Plato tried to give a realistic portrait of Socrates but that Plato was less of an historian and more of a poet. Aristotle should not be neglected.

(2) Xenophon as a journalist (and also as a general) reported conversations with Socrates in his Memoirs of Socrates although perhaps he did not understand Socrates correctly.

(3) Aristophanes as a playwright of comedies who caricatured Socrates in The Clouds as a comic figure of the late 5th Century. He presented Socrates pejoratively as a sophisticated sophist.

(4) Aristotle knew Plato (d. 348 BC) but did not know Socrates and thus the question arises if he truly understood the witnesses of Socrates. He made a few remarks that are important since they help us determine what Socrates’s actual teaching was: he claimed that Socrates did not separate the forms which make the doctrine of separate forms a distinctly Platonic contribution.

On the character of Socrates, Plato knew him best as a person. As noted, physically Socrates was an ugly little man. As a former soldier, he was physically fit and was known for courage in battle. He was somewhat ascetical in his way of living although he could drink. He was shabbily dressed and always barefoot. He loved to spend his time arguing in the market-place and streets of Athens. He possessed a strong moral character and was fearless about what he said. Since he said what he believed to be true, he got into trouble as a non-conformist. He was deeply concerned with asking ethical and moral questions and he looked for universal definitions with respect to the just, the true, and the good. Philosophy was a way of life for him and not simply a profession.

At his trial, he comes across as the victim of an anti-intellectual spirit in Athens where he was charged with teaching false doctrines, impiety, and corrupting the youth at the end of the 5th Century BC. He was brought to trial by a number of powerful figures in Athens who had hoped to humiliate him by forcing him to grovel and beg for mercy. But, instead, he humbled his persecutors and angered the unruly jury of 500 by lecturing them about the extent of their ignorance and selfishness. Also, when asked to suggest his own punishment, he recommended that the Athenians build a statue in his honor and place it in the main square. The enraged jury, by a slim margin, condemned him to death by a vote of 280 to 220. While the jury soon was ashamed of their act and embarrassed that they were about to execute their most eminent citizen and while they were prepared to look the other way when Socrates’s prison guard was bribed to allow him to escape, he did not flee when he could have done so since he had always insisted on obedience in his life and therefore he would not flee despite the pleas of his friends. He claimed that if he were to break the law by escaping, he would be declaring himself an enemy of all laws. Therefore, he drank the hemlock and he philosophized with his friends until the last moment, talking with them about the immortality of the human soul and the blessings of death when now a philosophic soul is able to enter into a realm of being where wisdom is found in all its clarity and fullness.8 In death, he became the universal symbol of martyrdom for the sake of Truth.

On the elements or the tenets of Socrates’s thought that we are sure about (the conclusions or the beliefs that are to be associated with his life and work), the following four points should be mentioned:

(1) Man is to be equated with his soul since man is his soul (it is the source of all truth). In describing the soul as the intellectual and moral personality of man, Socrates became the first philosopher to give a clear and coherent conception of the soul, the word he used being “psyche,” a term previously used by poets before the Pre-socratic philosophers but referring to a general live force which is needed for life that, as a substance, penetrates everything. Socrates transformed it from that which had existed as a shadowy reality to become a personality where thus man’s first task is to care for his soul. To harm the soul through an unjust act of evil deed is far worse (we inflict a greater injury on ourselves) than to harm or hurt our bodies.

For Plato, the soul and its care was the only important part in man. In the context of his own thought, Plato later gave a metaphysical explanation of the soul in terms of its pre-existence and so education serves to remind us of what we have seen in a previous life.

(2) Man takes care of his soul when he knows what is good. “Knowledge is virtue and ignorance, vice.”9 In attempting to try to define what is good by asking questions that elicit universal definitions, Socrates emerged as the father of moral philosophy. “The crown of all philosophy, of all wisdom, is a philosophy of morals.”10 Knowledge enjoys a kind of prior necessity since to have a good personality requires a prior knowledge of that which is good.

(3) When you know the good, you will act well and do good (ignorance or lack of knowledge being the overriding cause of Evil): “He who knows what good is will do good.” Here we have the Socratic paradox in a statement that sounds contradictory: the wise man is virtuous since no one is voluntarily evil but, to do good, one has to know the good. Knowledge of the good is both the necessary and the sufficient cause for doing the good although, since Socrates was not stupid, such a claim causes us to ask about what Socrates could have meant when speaking about “knowing the good.”

To explain a bit more here: apparently, in terms of his own personality, for Socrates, knowledge does not exist as a purely intellectual thing since another form of knowledge exists which is charismatic or inspirational. In deference to the teaching of Bergson, it is claimed that Socrates had an intuitional contact with virtue that attracted people to him. Since he was in contact with virtue, he stressed the value of education through virtue which, for him, consisted of words and a certain inspiration that united the intellectual aspects with an intuitive dimension. Hence, virtue is knowledge which cannot simply be taught by a teacher unless the teacher also inspires his pupils toward virtue, a life of virtue. Socrates’s theory of knowledge existed as a kind of midwifery where the teacher seeks to awaken something which is inside a student since truth is something that sleeps in our souls from the time of birth until later teaching makes it conscious and then the student begins to learn. Real understanding must come from within a person and, by using our innate reasoning, we can begin to grasp the being of philosophical truths. In general, in the kind of education that we have in Socrates, in education we have both an implanting and an awakening. Knowledge of good and evil lies within an individual and not within a society.

(4) In Socrates one finds belief in immortality, Socrates being the first Greek philosopher to believe in immortality as can be seen in Plato’s Apology of Socrates which recounts the story of his trial where he declares his hope of seeing his friends again in another life though he also voices an agnostic touch when he says “I hope” and “maybe.” For the first time in Greek philosophy, the final good is related to the being of another, other life.

On the significance of Socrates’s methodological achievements as this refers to the development of a form of scientific inquiry as this applies to a possible understanding of who or what we are as human beings, in the structure or the form of Socrates’s Socratic dialogue, a species of method or technique is employed within the practice of philosophy (and thus within science) where “knowledge was to be sought [from] within the [dynamics or the life of the individual human] mind.”11 Distinguish a “way of thinking” as one form or mode of human cognition from a “way of observing” external data as this is given to us through our different acts of human sensing (a second form or mode of human cognition).12 With respect to the way of thinking that is to be associated with the kind of analysis which exists in Socrates, a positive relation or a connatural relation can be admitted if we admit that, in the concerns and interests of mathematics, in the ingress and development of mathematical speculation as we find this among the Pythagoreans and their work in mathematics, a degree of distance or a distancing is assumed or it is undertaken from the mere givens of sense and perception when mathematicians work with imagined numbers and figures in order to raise questions and solve problems that are not immediately applicable or which are not immediately relevant to any function or purpose which exists for us within the context of our concrete human living. In the kind of adaptation that we find in the structure of Socrates’s method (in his characteristic mode of inquiry), a dialectical form of argumentation that distinguishes between the truthfulness of a particular thesis and the probable error or wrongness of another teaching or thesis is joined to displays of irony within the structure of this form of argumentation. An ironical form of argumentation exists within the general form of the dialectics of Socrates’s argumentation. Throughout, thus the ultimate aim or purpose is (1) to expose fallacies which exist in all false claims to wisdom and knowledge and then, from there, (2) to encourage or move a person towards a new way of thinking which could possibly lead or internally engender a knowledge of man’s human nature in a way that would be undoubtedly true and not false (although, for Socrates and perhaps also for ourselves, apprehensions and realizations of truth are only possible for us after much hard work in the context of a life that is given to an ongoing, lifetime quest that is geared toward a possible discovery of universal definitions that can articulate the meanings of terms or concepts whose meaning or intelligibility is desired or sought by us within the context of our own inquiries). As Socrates had noted toward the end of his life at the time of his trial in 399 BC, “Athens is like a sluggish horse and I am the gadfly trying to sting it into life.”

In a method of inquiry that consists of questions and answers, a dialectic of questions and answers (where, like a midwife, Socrates attempts to draw truth from within a person – from within their individual minds – incrementally, through a logical ordering of a series of questions which are posed),13 three constitutive divisions or three constitutive elements are to be distinguished within the range or the compass of the kind of procedure which Socrates applies and employs.14 (1) A problem or question is first posed. For instance, what is justice? What is virtue? What is truth? What is beauty? What is piety? What is democracy? Feigning ignorance in a use or a display of Socratic irony, Socrates would become excited and enthusiastic whenever, apparently, he would find someone who claimed to know something which was allegedly true. (2) He begins then to find “minor flaws” in his companion’s proffered definition and slowly he would begin to unravel it, forcing his dialogue partner to admit his own ignorance. In one dialogue, for instance, Socrates’s partner dissolves into tears. (3) An agreement is reached by the two conversationalists who admit, to each other, their mutual ignorance and who agree to pursue the truth in a serious manner, wherever it leads. The object is a species of universal definition for a given concept, term, or reality which always applies or which always holds whenever a given concept or term is invoked or employed within a given context – whenever the reality in question is being referred to. Instead of a meaning which is somehow added to an understanding which we already have or which enlarges or augments a meaning which is in some way already known, the object is another kind of meaning which has yet to be discovered. A difference in quality is to be adverted to as we move from pragmatic conceptions of meaning and understanding toward a technical formulation of meaning and a species of theoretical understanding which can withstand any possible criticisms that could be launched against its truth or validity.15 A scientific type of knowledge is to be entertained. It is to be desired and worked towards.

In the employment of this methodology, however, almost all of the Socratic dialogues end in an inconclusive manner since Socrates himself cannot give to anybody any definitions or truths that have been conceptualized into definitions since he does not know these truths himself although, as a consequence of the discussions which have occurred, we should all begin to realize and know that certain laws exist on a higher plane, laws that we might not directly know about through our own acts of understanding but, yet, laws which point to the being or the existence of natures, intelligibilities, or truths which, in their own way, always hold. They are always true and at no time can they ever be false. In this context thus we can understand why, in the context of his day, the Oracle of Delphi referred to Socrates as the “wisest man in Athens because [among Athenians] he was the only one who knew that he did not know anything.”16 As we have already noted, inI our search for truth, we must each try and find this from within ourselves, within our minds. We cannot be simply told or informed of this truth by other persons as good and as necessary is the help of other persons. We cannot attend

On the influence of Socrates, besides a pervasive influence in the rise of western philosophy since his death, he also exerted some direct influence within the inner dialectic of Greek philosophy not only with reference to Plato but also in a number of small schools that appealed to Socrates’s direct influence even if Socrates’s views were often combined with other elements to suggest, at times, a superficial connection with Socrates’s thought. There are three schools to be distinguished:

(1) the School of Megara (near Corinth) where Euclid, its head, seems to have been an early disciple of Socrates and was apparently present at his death. Though little traditional friendship existed between Athens and Megara, it seems that Plato and other disciples of Socrates fled to Megara to seek refuge after Socrates’s death. Euclid combined certain insights from Socrates and Parmenides (of the Eleatic school) that accepted one universal principle now called “the moral good.” A speciality of the school was dialectical controversy which involved games of reasoning for the reasoner which reminds one Zeno of Elea.

(2) the Cynic School (founded around 400 B.C.) given the fact that, allegedly, one day Socrates stood gazing at a stall selling all kinds of wares and said: “What a lot of things that I do not need.”17 Its name perhaps came from the fact that its founder Antisthenes (445-365 BC) taught at Athens in a room called the “Kynosarges” or “Hall of the Dog” since Antithenes was not of pure Athenian blood. Antisthenes was a friend of Socrates who admired his independence of character in terms of money and riches although Socrates was as he was because he was concerned with the greater good of obtaining wisdom. Since Antithenes regarded such a freedom from wants and desires as an end in itself, he equated it with virtue and happiness in such a way that it led him to posit virtue as complete self-sufficiency for its own sake (which differs with Socrates’s view of self-sufficiency as a means to something else). Since Antithenes was interested only in the practical side of morality, he opposed the kind of knowledge that Plato looked for in terms of the reality of objectively existing ideas: “I see a horse, not horseness!” He wanted to be able to live independently and he argued that it was impossible to make significant statements. Diogenes (c.350 BC), a pupil of Antisthenes, succeeded as head of the Cynic School at a later date by exaggerating Antithenes’s position into a contempt for current morality which led him to repudiate all civilized customs. He lived a life as primitive as a dog: hence, the Greek kuvikos, meaning “dog-like” from which we derive the word “cynicism.”18 Legend has it that he lived in a tub, and reputedly owned nothing but a stick, a cloak, and a bread bag. To show contempt for public opinion, he masturbated in the marketplace. Allegedly once visited by Alexander the Great who asked him if he could do anything for him to which Diogenes replied: “Yes. Stand to one side. You are blocking the sun.”19

(3) the Cyrenaic School (of Cyrene in north Africa) where Aristippos, its head, advocated a hedonism of the moment despite having been in the Socratic school since he seems to have been more influenced by Protagoras’s claim that only sensations give us certain knowledge in life. Although Socrates had claimed that the good must be the goal of one’s life if one is to be happy, Aristippos defined the good only in terms of pleasure and in obtaining as many pleasures as possible: “the highest good is pleasure; the greatest evil is pain.”20 Since the aim of life is to attain the highest possible sensory enjoyment, one’s way of life should seek to avoid pain in all forms.

1Lonergan, MIT, p. 50.

2Gaarder, p. 63.

3Gaarder, p. 63.

4Gaarder, p. 67.

5Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 29.

6Osborne, p. 11.

7Gaarder, p. 66.

8Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 38.

9Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 31.

10Socrates, as cited by Maluf, Philosophia Perennis, p. 98.

11Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 10; p. 17. Please note Collingwood’s argument to the effect that “Socrates…found in mathematics a model for dialectical reasoning.” Developments in mathematics with respect to how mathematics is done in its way of thinking and reasoning as one moves from principles that are postulated to conclusions that are reached leads to possible methodological developments within the practice of philosophy and science. The way of thinking in mathematics suggests a way of thinking that can also exist within the practice of philosophy and science even if it should be the case that the way of thinking which exists within philosophy and science is not to be identified with the way of thinking which exists within mathematics even if it is to be admitted that, at the hands of some philosophers, mathematical ways of thinking have been promoted as the best way to think and reason if, in other contexts, we are to engage in the work of thinking and reasoning. Within this context, we can think about the work of the French philosopher, René Descartes (d. 1650), who had advocated mathematical forms of reasoning within the practice of reasoning in philosophy and science.

12Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 12.

13Osborne, p. 12. James Joyce suggested that Socrates learned this method of useful discovery from his wife, Xanthippe. In his “Insight Revisited,” in A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S. J., eds. William F. J. Ryan, S. J. and Bernard J. Tyrrell, S. J. (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), p. 258, Bernard Lonergan suggests that, with respect to this mode of inquiry which consists of questions and answers, we have evidence which points to the validity of an argument that would claim that Plato is to be regarded as a methodologist. As Lonergan attempts to speak about it, Plato’s “ideas were what the scientist seeks to discover” and “the scientific or philosophic process toward discovery was one of question and answer.”

14Palmer, p. 54.

15Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 11.

16Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, pp. 31-32.

17Gaarder, p. 130.

18Osborne, p. 22.

19Gaarder, p. 130.

20Gaarder, p. 132.

Manent, The City of Man, Ch. 4, pp. 137-155, Parts 15-23



Locke does not deny that man has an essence or a substance but claims, in fact, that it is unknowable. Man’s being is enclosed in the opaque tautology: “X = X.” Man is the being who defines himself by the fact of having rights, but man is not defined and rights are not defined, other than to say they are “human rights” (which brings us back to our first difficulty). Before “the great instauration” or the establishment of the liberal regime, anthropology was necessarily ontological or ontocentric, while ontology was necessarily anthropocentric. Locke and other moderns separate thought about being from thought about man. Manent remarks that the pure ontology that was conceived was nothing other than modern science. Manent wishes to show in what follows how anthropology emancipated itself from ontology.




Locke is “the most explicit and formal witness to the formal decision to declare man’s being unknowable,” leaving us with “X = X.” The presupposition of the being of man and its simultaneous dismissal as an object of thought led the way to a second tautology: the whole of man’s humanity is contained in his rights and in the fact that he has rights and that these rights are exhaustively defined by the fact that they are human rights. This is a “pure anthropology.” By it, man forgets Being.




Severed from being, the notion of human rights lacks ontological density. There is nothing under the moon that is not capable of becoming the occasion and matter of a human right. The man who has rights is like a pure, self-contained activity, having no need of an end outside of him, and containing all rights, including the yet unconceived (eg. the right of a biological man to go into a women’s bathroom unmolested). At the same time, the man is pure passivity, having nothing to do, no arete to pursue, already being the entitled holder of the totality of rights.




The most serious philosophic critique ever directed against the modern idea of human rights was that by David Hume. But Hume continues and radicalizes Locke’s critique of substance by offering an internal critique of human consciousness. Hume contends that Locke confuses the idea of property and the idea of the right to property by assigning them the same origin. Property in general is founded on urgent and evident necessity in society, but the right to property is often based on frivolous foundations. Though basing property on the interest of society, Hume does not, like Aristotle, make property depend on political justice. Hume observes that one cannot attach the individual’s right to property to one idea, as Locke attempts to do with the idea of labor, because every idea necessarily entails other ideas, and ideas take form as a society does.

Locke’s idea of power confuses two ideas: the idea of unknown qualities and the idea of the necessary connection between an antecedent and a consequent idea. These two ideas are distinct, the first being insignificant but the later having meaning.

For Hume, moral notions were in no way founded upon the nature of things or of man, but their cause cannot be discerned, leaving them as absurd as the ideas of superstition, albeit useful superstitions. There is thus no meaning at all in wanting to attach a “natural” right to the individual. Both Locke and the modern attitude say that there is no essence or substance, that man has no nature or ends. Hume’s critique requires us to acknowledge an unbridgeable gap between the idiom of rights and the idiom of ideas. Locke’s mistake is in assuming that the idea of human rights was not an idea like other ideas. The entire domain of ideas and moral valuation, indeed, the properly human world as a whole, is suspended by the philosophers.

In Locke, the skepticism of ideas is combined with the dogmatism of rights, but in Hume there is an even more radical skepticism which does not spare the notion of rights but leads to a dogmatism of the common occurrences of life. In Hume’s view, reason cannot condemn or approve anything morally.

The source of the moral sentiment is within the frame of our human nature, which is unknown to us.

The language of rights is the only reflexive principle of a man who has no ends. Does the “moral sentiment” provide a satisfactory principle of action when the imperious sentiment dictates action but the observer sees there is no justification for it in reason? An abyss stretches between practical sentiment and theoretical reason. There is no common ground between the viewpoint of the observer and the agent. The philosopher must forget the fatal secret that annihilates good and evil before he returns to the world of action. Hume embodies the precocious twilight of the Enlightenment which, in critiquing superstition, finally falls under its own critique, “admitting” that all ideas are equally superstitious.




“Not leaving a single stone unturned when it comes to obtaining the recognition and guarantee of his rights at home, Western man is often marvelously complacent when he views societies whose ways are foreign to his lifestyle and he even rejects the right to judge them…Thus liberal dogmatism and sociological or anthropological relativism divide our souls between themselves.” The doctrine of human rights faces the least obstacles in the United States, where Hume’s argument has the smallest chance of spreading. “On the tabula rasa of the continent, the appeal to rights gets carried away and loses patience, bursts of strident indignation disperse the already thin topsoil of human tradition; and from one side to the other, all the elements of the human world are attacked in the name of human rights.”




The one-sided assertion of rights in the United States in a sense represents the victory of Locke over Hume. Rights and ideas make up the twofold determination resulting from the rejection of human essence and produced by the analysis of human substance. But human rights take the place of human nature. The state of nature concept is important because it posits that man has no “innate ideas.” If man had ideas which he did not author, he would first have to bring to light what they contain or imply about himself and his condition. Man would have rights, but they would be subordinated to the recognition of the objective order of his ideas.




There is a contrast in the spirit of modern democracies between reforming activism under the banner of universal human rights and scientific passivity in the name of cultural diversity. An example is the denouncing of the lot given to the women in the West in the name of human rights while simultaneously accepting the lot of women in the Islamic world in the name of the sovereign particularity of each culture.

The doctrine of rights and the theory of culture both issue from the rejection of the “substantial” definition of man. The two propositions that man is the being who has rights and a cultural being both compress the same movement of thought, though specified in different ways. Man is presupposed in his indetermination, his idealess reflexivity. Then, on his own, he comes out of the indetermination and defines himself and explicitly fashions himself under a particular law which eventually shows little concern for his rights.




The two propositions that man is a being who has rights and a being of culture are born of the dissolution of the notion of substance. Both propositions are part of a movement of thought for which the notion of human nature appears cumbersome and sterile, and appears to denote an arbitrary halt in the movement of thought.

Human nature is a synthesis between the particular and the general, being only real when it is particular. With the dissolution of substance these two aspects come to be viewed as two moments that cannot coexist, necessarily successive. [Manent is describing a deep schizophrenia in modern man]. The separation of the two moments has major effects on the perception of the human world. Bringing in human nature as a foundation and an explanation short circuits the coming and going from indetermination to determination. It is a style which paralyses analytical thought by placing it before a reality that is always too and too little determined  [infinite (but really finite) evasion of the real?].




Early modern philosophy replaced the real simultaneous presence of the particular and the universal in substance with the two successive moments of presupposition and determination. Existentialism begins by confirming the duality and tension between presupposition and determination, between implicit and explicit humanity. Man is enjoined to understand that the process between presupposition and determination makes him what he is, and that he truly exists when he is conscious of this process. “The modern scheme presupposes man’s humanity; but this presupposed humanity is never present to itself…In order to be free and powerful and wise, modern humanity is organized on the active forgetting of itself.” Modern man is the parasite of his hidden double, the one who makes culture and the diversity of rights.

Self-affirmation of the presupposed self consists of the dormant double taking a hold of himself and, freed of past, present, motives, projecting the self toward the future. The precedent of early modern thought prevents self-reflection, as there is an equivocal lack of clarity whether it has posited the nonexistence or only the unknowability of human nature.

“Modern consciousness – it seems to me that I have written this book only to make this point – comes into itself in the two moments of the presupposition of ‘X’ and the objectification of ‘X.'” Existentialism is the resolute affirmation of X but X is a hidden person or thing. Dasein, or liberty, takes the place of “man.” Modern consciousness makes its most heroic efforts in overcoming its own duplicity in moderns like Martin Heidegger.

Manent, The City of Man, Ch. 4, pp. 126-137, Parts 8 – 14


 John Locke agrees that man is different from the animals, distinguished by his power of abstracting. It is only that we do not know what his substance is and only know that for certain that he is an animal. We assume that man is man, but that simply means for us that “X = X.” Locke is neutralizing the effects of uncertainty over human essence in order to proceed. He does this by drawing a line between the perfectly clear, such as that man is an animal, and the decidedly obscure. We then proceed with the assumption that we do not know X and we never will. The way is cleared to construct a human order that is beyond criticism. This is not at all like ancient skepticism in that we are not invited or constrained to refrain from judgment and action as the ancient skeptic was, but on the contrary, we are urged to forge a just society that is founded on demonstrative moral theory.

Locke holds that moral notions are arbitrary creations of man and that right, first and foremost the right to property, is a creation of the individual who is strictly isolated from his fellows. The human “X” is the tacit companion of this deduction of rights. The superiority of “X” is not denied, but is considered in his animal locus. Rather than reducing the higher to the lower, Locke acknowledges that everything that is part of man, including the animal in him, is nothing but man. Locke and the Moderns do not reduce the higher to the lower, but envelope the lower in the higher and absorb it.

“Modern thought despairs that men will ever agree on what is proper to man, on human substance and ends, and thus it wants to bracket the question of what is proper to man.” Locke conceptualizes a way for man to take his bearings from what is not human but animal, in order to make a human world that is independent of human opinions where man can affirm himself without knowing himself. 


Although Locke would thus dispense with human essence, it is difficult to pursue this line of reasoning to the very end as it irresistibly gives rise to propositions about substance despite itself. Hence, labor becomes for Locke, modern philosophy, and modern man generally the “essential” characteristic of man. One cannot completely dispense with giving an account of human motives, even if refraining from advancing such propositions. What incites man to labor? We want an answer. Locke cannot escape the necessity of at least sketching a description of action, an analysis of human motives.

The fundamental formula of Locke’s “anthropology” is that “desire is always moved by evil, to fly from it.” For Locke, the primary question raised by the tradition, what is the supreme good of man?, by which the tradition was divided according to the various answers given by the schools, sects, and religions, is a perfectly idle question. For Locke, the question of the good is inseparable from the question of human essence and both are unanswerable. These two questions are two expressions of a sterile vanity. Once  moral choice comes to be regarded as intrinsically arbitrary, classing it as a matter of animal taste is nothing to take exception to.


 Hobbes had already denied the fact that there is a summum bonum and had said that good and evil only have meaning with reference to the person involved. Locke is distinct from Hobbes by what is encapsulated in his writing that “the greatest present uneasiness is the spur to action.” Man according to Locke does not have great desire or magnanimity. He is neither Christian nor Greek, but the tireless laborer and consumer, the man with no ambition who moves and stirs modern society. He takes it as a truism that man flees first and foremost the evil he experiences in the present and present ill being is always stronger than a future good. According to the tradition, man always seeks the good through a thousand obstacles and illusions but according to Locke, man always flees from evil in spite of a thousand inclinations to the good.


 Locke’s though takes him a long way from Christianity, but he openly preserves the basic tenet of Christian doctrine that God is the supremely desirable supreme good. Man is motivated in his schema by evil and threat, not the good and promise.


 Locke’s analysis, however, does not contradict his need to bracket human nature and suspend any analysis of it. He is confined to a hazy presupposition of it. If man is always moved by the most urgent ill-being, the first principle of his action will be the uneasiness of the animal in him, which he strives to appease by labor. Rational organization of labor takes the place and function of “the policeman God.” The fear of God is retained as a fallback for those incapable of conducting themselves by reason.


 Locke’s fundamental propositions are that man fashions his moral notions, that he has rights, and that he labors. Historically, these three propositions became separated and were even sometimes opposed to each other. However, at the present time, they show themselves to be quite compatible elements of the moral atmosphere of democracies. These groups of notions have a common fount in Locke, and they are three ways of saying that the question of human essence has no solution or meaning, or that man has no ends. They are ultimate propositions which cannot be ranked and cannot be deduced from one another.

 Labor does not determine the human organization that would correspond to it, nor does “culture” or “values” help in this role. It is only by defining himself as the one who has rights that man can finally embrace the tautology by which he wants to affirm himself: “X = X.” In this tautology, man already has and is since it is his right to have it or be it.


 Ends are an indispensable element in the human dynamic of ethos. By pursuing ends which we think fulfill our nature, we seize up our identity in the pursuit, while recognizing we have not attained that which we pursue. “This intermediary character of man opens a space where he can reflect on himself and recognize himself as a man.  But for the one who no longer has ends but rights, how shall this indispensable distance be opened, this interior space that allows man to think and speak for himself?  For him, there is no longer any differential tension between empirical and completed being, between potency and act, between what is fulfilled and what is desired.”

Whether the rights of man are respected or scoffed at changes nothing in the conditions or state of man as a possessor of rights. This contrasts with natural ends and law and grace because right in this new sense does not modify in any way, whether it is violated or guaranteed, the condition of man as a possessor of rights.

Pierre Manent’s City of Man, chapter 4, notes

Notes on Manent’s The City of Man, Chapter IV: The Hidden Man


Manent has described thus far the three major spheres in modern man’s self-consciousness: History, Society and Economy. Each of these has two facets, a homogenous set of facts and the science which concerns itself with these facts. These spheres can crisscross in unlimited, kaleidoscopic combinations. The constraints of the science of these spheres are more formal than real. Within these constraints, the scholar is absolute sovereign over his province of “facts.” However, he is formally forbidden to connect these facts to the whole. “How fortunate these scholars are to be spared the sole true difficulty of knowledge!” Manent declaims facetiously. Underlying these modern practices is a despair of philosophy, the science of the Whole. Yet there is nothing that requires one to despair of the cause of unity, for it was philosophy itself which deliberately dismembered the unity, so why would philosophy not be capable of reunifying the whole?


Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke implacably destroyed Aristotle’s doctrine of “substance,” which had been adopted by Catholic doctrine. It was in the English line, from Hobbes to Locke to Hume, that this destruction of substance was linked most clearly to the construction of the new body politic. In Aristotle, nature provides the moving force, impulse and ordering of a human world, but the world is described in all its complexity thanks to a dialectical analysis of opinions and to a phenomenology of the passions. In contrast, there is a narrowing and a compression in Hobbes’s concept. Human diversity and complexity is reduced to a single fundamental passion and the political order is deduced entirely from this passion. In Hobbes’s view, once the desire for power is held in check by fear of the absolute sovereign, the exercise of that desire will soon be celebrated as liberty. The homogenization of the diverse human faculties and passions that is exhibited in Hobbes presupposes a prior work of abstraction and denaturation. The philosopher speaks of “power” while normally men speak with natural spontaneity about wealth, science, honor and glory. This supposed quintessence of human desire is next dissolved into the nonhuman homogeneity of power.


In John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, power is expelled from the place where in Hobbes it played the most striking role. Power is conceived of as an intermediary stage on the road that leads from the world of substance to that of relation. One of the principle intentions of Locke’s Essay is to discredit the notion of substance. In Hobbes, power had taken the place of substance as the universal idiom capable of giving an account of the world. In Locke, man’s “artistic” character devours his “natural” character. Everything particular to man now appears as an effect produced by man. In this view, man is the result of his own production, but where was he before he resulted? “Thus man is labor.” What is human in man comes to be viewed as the result of labor.


Locke goes so far in his treatment of man as man’s artifice that he deems the idea of murder an “arbitrary” idea. Manent writes of this, “One has the feeling that the world of ideas is unraveling, that ideas are being trivialized…We have the feeling as it were of a moral violence at work in this intellectual decomposition of a notion.” Locke’s contention that the idea of killing has no more rapport with the idea of man than with the idea of a sheep is formally “unimpeachable, but is also substantially untenable.” Only by violent abstraction is the idea of killing treated in this fashion. The idiom of ideas which Locke’s Essay develops in European philosophy always gives a serious and plausible air to whatever thesis one may put forth. Locke’s decomposition of the wholes that give meaning to human experience makes diversity without any unity.


Hobbes’s emphatic concentration of man’s nature in the desire for power liberated the world of ideas from every natural and ontological bond.” Locke is a continuation of this gulf between ideas and reality. He elaborates moral notions as obeying rules that are governed merely by convenience for the sake of social communication. For Locke, the rules for constituting the human world are fully analogous to the rules for fabricating a table or a chair. Chairs have to be fitted enough to the nature of the man so that they can be comfortable or convenient. However, in the case of Locke’s conception of moral notions, what is fabricated is the constitution itself of the human world. Hence, the convenience of human nature cannot determine this in the same way. Locke rigorously preserves the formalism of “conveniency” against a resort to human nature. Conveniency maintains an equivocation between the universal and the particular and it is a rule without foundation or reference point, able to vary indefinitely.


Locke’s analysis of the constitution of the human world is so amorphous that it seems to preclude the establishment of a political philosophy. Moral notions are interpreted as arbitrary constructs regulated by conveniency, whatever way it is understood. However, Locke avers that a political theory as rigorous and demonstrable as mathematics is possible. If man is unknown as a substance, he is known to us by his powers and his relations. In fact, in developing political philosophy, Locke ends up presupposing the nature of man and his substance, avoiding making it the object of investigation. Unfortunately, or inevitably, Locke does not move beyond his general affirmation of the possibility of constructing demonstrative moral doctrine. Locke formulated the requirement of a rigorous moral and political doctrine while at the same time emphatically rejecting inquiry into the nature or substance of man. If he was mistaken, then our regime of modern democracy is devoid of a sure foundation since it was built on his formulation.


Locke erected the lofty structure of the liberal and democratic state on the puny base of the solitary animal in search of food.. The only teaching of nature that he does not leave open to question is the injunction of animal necessity, for survival. Locke uses a term, labor, which is proper only to man to designate an activity within reach of and characteristic of an animal because he sees in human consumption the first expression of human rapport to nature. He presupposes man in his quest for the foundations of human right. According to Locke, the human individual has in himself the necessary and sufficient foundation of property, and from that starting point, of law in its entirety. Law is said to not have its primary source in the conditions and consequences of the common life but in the isolated individual’s rapport with nature and with himself. Law according to Locke’s conception of it can only be founded on individual animality in its solitary rapport with external nature and with itself. However, if his reasoning is correct, the animals who exist also as biological individualities would also know about property and law and hence, political order.

Greek Discovery of Mind, the Sophists, notes

Philosophies of Man

The Sophists were the next group of philosophers although they were not really philosophers as such since they are better described as rhetoricians who became known as sophists (a sophist is defined as “a wise and informed person”).1 They originally worked as itinerant teachers, traveling about the Greek city states and giving lessons to whoever would pay them,2 charging fees for admission to their lectures that dealt with the nature of power and persuasion (not reality or truth). The sophist name does not predate the 5th Century.3 The need to impart a series of skills that make for success in the world explains the many different subjects which the sophists taught. The arts of public address, or rhetoric, formed the staple of the sophist curriculum. As traveling teachers, they appeared in the milieu that first surrounded Pericles since, in the background of Athenian democracy, they found an environment which favored their teaching for the following three reasons: (1) there existed a need for intellectual training for political life since, in rule by the people, only more educated and clever men could get power through the new democratic institutions such as the assembly of the people (eloquence and the power of the word were needed in order to acquire skill in the arts of persuasion and dialectical power or the power of forming arguments was necessary in the need for skill in being able to defend a thesis as required); (2) there existed a tendency in Athens toward relativism in moral and religious beliefs since, in contrast to the little prior questioning which had existed in the practice of traditional Greek religion and morality, with the rise and practice of democracy, people could talk and apply their critical reason to the questions and concerns of the day; and (3) a greater cosmopolitan spirit grew out of expanded commercial ties. Three traits characterize the sophists:4 (1) like the physical philosophers, they criticized the traditional mythology which had existed as ways of speaking about world (possibly in some way explaining it by telling stories of one kind or another); (2) they evinced skepticism and even cynicism by rejecting the value of any philosophical speculation that were seen to be fruitless5 i.e., man cannot know the truth about the riddles of nature and the universe since no absolute norms exist for determining right from wrong, truth from falsehood, although, here, Socrates tried to show that some norms are absolute and universally valid; and (3) they had a practical interest and a concern for the art of living within society despite the kind of form or organization which existed within a given society.

As transition figures, they made a number of positive contributions. First, they directed attention in philosophy to man, the subject, as men became interested in understanding themselves. This represented a shift in an interest in ethics away from a focus on the cosmos since the sophists focused on problems that differed from man to man to encourage a kind of subjectivism against which Socrates reacted. How can man do things for himself? Second, they founded the first pedagogical system of training in the west which consisted of two parts. The first consisted of formal training in grammatics, rhetoric, and dialectic (all having a democratic origin). One learns how to argue both sides of any given argument. The second consisted of a certain amount of intellectual baggage about what needed to be known: mathematics, largely pertaining to formal numbers borrowed from Pythagoras, which later was much used by Plato who regarded it as central for the training of philosophers since mathematics involved a degree of abstraction; geometry; astronomy; and music. In conclusion, this training tried to train human minds in how to think and not what to think. Third, they connected culture with politics for the first time since, for them, education had a practical function in a tradition that long remained with the Greeks. Many of the sophists were skilled politicians who contributed to the history of democracy.

Protagoras (c.480-410 BC), a native of Thrace in northern Greece,6 the most famous and least cynical of the Sophists, was an essentially practical man and a friend of Pericles who made successive visits to Athens (coming there in middle age) and who, according to Diogenes Laertius, was eventually forced to flee Athens on a charge of blasphemy. Apparently, his book on the gods was publicly burned in Athens. He was known as a lawyer who could win cases in any trial.

He taught that the way to success was through a careful and prudent acceptance of traditional customs not because they are true but because an understanding and manipulation of them is expedient if we are to get on with life and function in society.7 He is famous for the phrase: Homo mensura or “Man is the measure of all things, of those that are that they are, of those that are not that they are not.” Controversy exists over the meaning and application of this phrase in two questions. Does man refer to the individual or the society as in a state? Do the “things” refer to the objects of sense perception or to other fields such as ethical values? According to Copleston, Plato’s testimony in the Theaetetus depicts Protagoras as referring in the first case to the individual man and secondly only to the objects of our sense experience. In a speech by Socrates, it is noted that when the same wind blows one may feel chilly and the other not, or one may feel slightly chilly and the other quite cold. Protagoras supplies the basis of relativism by noting that neither are mistaken since both are right. Truth exists as a private, individual possession.8 However, since Plato’s Protagoras does not depict Protagoras as applying the above dictum in an individualistic sense to ethical values, the question of application arises although Copleston notes that sense perception and the intuition of values do not necessarily stand or fall together in relation to certain knowledge and truth for all.

Protagoras’s teaching in regard to ethical judgments and values can be summarized in the following terms. First, according to the Theaetetus, sense perception in each individual is equally true: the opinion of an object of sense is equally worthy. Since the human subject and objects of perception continually change, knowledge of the senses is historical or, in other words, relative. Second, things are in so far as they are perceived by man since man is the only standard. Real knowledge of really existing things is not possible given the reasonableness of a skeptical attitude about the value and possibility of appealing to truth as the means of settling any disagreements.9 In this context, the rationalism of the early Greek historians reflects the rationalism, the attitude, of the early Greek physicians. According to Alcmaeon of Croton (c.480-440 BC), the first great doctor in Greek medicine and author of a book on Natural Science, questions involving certainty in knowledge best belong to the gods:

Of things invisible, as of mortal things, only the gods have certain knowledge; but men can only follow the signs [traces] given to them in the visible world and by interpreting them feel their way towards the unseen.10

Third, Protagoras distinguished between that which is natural in law and that which is conventional in law (laws which are socially induced given the influence of “custom, climate, and self-interest”).11 Law in general is necessary since it is founded on certain ethical tendencies that are implanted in man as human beings although individual varieties in law, as one finds them in particular states, point to a relativity that exists with respect to specific determinations. For instance, modesty is first and foremost a matter of social convention. No law of one state is truer than that of another state although certain laws can be sounder and wiser. Though particular laws may be conventional, in general men are obliged to obey the laws of their respective communities since human existence is not possible without laws and the obedience which should be given to laws. Since man cannot live without laws, however, and since some laws can be better than other laws, this distinction hints or points to possibilities which later lead to the development of a theory of natural law which seems to come to us from the observations and beliefs of Hippias of Elis (b.c.460 BC), a younger contemporary of Socrates and Protagoras, who had believed in the reality of an existing universal brotherhood, to the effect that “all men are by nature relatives and fellow citizens, even if they are not such in the eyes of the [conventional] law.”12 In other words, citing words that come to us from Alcidamas (fl. 4th Century BC), “God made all men free; nature has made no man a slave.”13 Hence, with respect to mankind in general and the existence of human rights that all human beings share in, within the context of our moral lives as human beings, we can conclude that certain things are only right or good because they are right or good by nature in terms of how they exist in themselves and not because they are legally prescribed, legally right or legally good.14 In other words that allegedly come to us from Hippias of Elis: unconventional “unwritten laws” exist in an “eternal and unalterable” way. They “spring from a higher source than the decrees of men.”15 In conclusion then we can believe that, in the foundations of sophist philosophy as this comes to us from the teachings of Protagoras, the relativism which we find in Protagoras is not to be regarded as a species of absolute. The relativism that is present is not radical or total.

Fourth, Protagoras manifests an agnostic attitude toward belief in God: “With regard to the gods, I cannot feel sure either that they are or that they are not, nor what they are like in figure: for there are many things that hinder sure knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life.” Yet, as with law, despite deficiencies, we cannot get along without religion.

In conclusion, Protagoras’s emphasis on subjectivity, relativism, and expediency can be regarded as the backbone of sophism in general as a school of thought although, the claim that objective truth is something which does not exist is “itself a claim to know an objective truth.” Hence, “all relativism is self-destructive.”16 Among prominent sophists, we find as follows:

Thrasymachus argued that “justice is the advantage of the stronger”17 or “justice is in the interest of the stronger.”18 He drew “might is right” conclusions as a result of his utter relativism. All discussion about morality is useless except as it is about struggle for power.

Gorgias (c.483-375) seems to have wanted to de-throne philosophy in order to replace it with rhetoric and so focus on the importance of training persons on how they should debate and argue.19 In his lectures and in a book or three books, he “proved” the following three theses: (1) there is nothing; there is no truth; (2) if there were anything, even if there were truth, no one could know it; and lastly (3) if anyone did know it, if truth were known, no one can communicate it to anyone.20 The point, of course, is that, if you can “prove” these absurdities, you can “prove” anything.21

Callicles, again “might makes right,”22 who has been viewed as one of the most cynical of the sophists, claimed that the traditional morality is just a clever way for the weak masses to shackle the strong individual.23 The strong should throw off these shackles since doing so is somehow “naturally right” given that what matters is power, not justice. Power is good because it conduces to survival which is itself good because it allows us to seek pleasure in food, drink, and sex (the goal of the enlightened man which he seeks qualitatively and quantitatively). The traditional Greek virtue of moderation is for the simply and the feeble.

Critias, who was to become the cruelest of the Thirty Tyrants, overturning democracy and temporarily establishing an oligarchical dictatorship, taught that the clever ruler controls his subjects by encouraging their fear of non-existent gods.24

In the criticisms of the sophists which were later offered in the history of Greek philosophy, Socrates did not like their uncertainties in his search for certainties nor did he like their subjectivism, their skepticism, and their nihilism and their emphasis on the values of manipulation and expediency. Plato mentions them critically and once called them “shopkeepers with spiritual wares” since he and others were angered by their habit of destroying ethical values for payment. To meet the demands of an energetic and ambitious clientele, the sophists developed a method of interpretation that, for problems encountered when reading texts or reciting verse, encouraged a dexterous use of one’s reasoning for the purpose of then articulating solutions which could win another’s attention because of the ingenuousness that attended a proffered explanation.25 A Sophist interpretation was to be clever but it need not be right or correct. The object was not truth but a meaning whose expression would attract notice and win a measure of worldly acclaim. The reasoning of interpretation serves purposes beyond itself and for ends that often serve base motives even if it is true, at times, that a sophist interpretation can serve a pedagogical purpose in helping to train the mind. For these reasons, Plato strongly criticized the sophist approach; the method merits rejection. In one section of dialogue taken from the Protagoras, Protagoras, Prodicus, Hippias, and Socrates discuss an apparent contradiction in lines of verse that are taken from Simonides of Ceos (c.556-468 BC), a famous poet of lyrics and elegies.26 Protagoras alleges a contradiction but Socrates appeals to Prodicus for a way to prove that the contradiction is only apparent. Prodicus responds by affirming that a real distinction exists between “being” and “becoming.” Socrates then gives a lengthy interpretation of his own: Simonides’s poem should be read as an attack on a saying of Pittacus of Mytilene (c.650-570 BC) who had said that “Hard is it to be noble.” Should he succeed in making this saying look ridiculous, he would establish a reputation for himself and “become the favorite of his own day.” Socrates then supplies an ingenious explanation which is not necessarily true, and his explanation bluntly illustrates the case that no interpretation of poetry, however ingenious, can necessarily effect an agreement on what could be the meaning of a poem. He closes by stating the following principle:

No one can interrogate the poets about what they say, and most often when they are introduced into the discussion some say the poet’s meaning is one thing and some another, for the topic is one on which nobody can produce a conclusive argument. The best people avoid such discussions…27

In conclusion, at best, the sophist approach produces no meaningful results even if, when used, it does not seek to mislead or to deceive another person. A third criticism notes that their skepticism encouraged bad habits and degrees of cynicism.

1Gaarder, p. 62.

2Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Sophists,” by Guy Cromwell Field.

3According to Kathleen Freeman in Ancilla to The Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A complete translation of the Fragments in Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978) p. 125, sophistes originally meant “skilled craftsman” or “wise man” but, by the end of the 5th Century, it had come to have the special meaning of “professional teacher.”

4Gaarder, p. 62.

5Palmer, p. 42.

6Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 26.

7Palmer, p. 43.

8Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 26.

9Osborne, p. 11.

10Diogenes VIII, 83; Chester Starr, The Awakening of the Greek Historical Spirit (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1968), p. 113.

11Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 27.

12Heinrich A. Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, trans. Thomas R. Hanley (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998), p. 8.

13Rommen, The Natural Law, p. 8.

14Rommen, The Natural Law, p. 8.

15Rommen, The Natural Law, p. 8.

16Andrew Beards, Philosophy The Quest for Truth and Meaning (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), p. 53.

17Osborne, p. 11.

18Palmer, p. 46.

19Palmer, p. 45.

20Maluf, Philosophia Perennis, p. 97.

21Palmer, p. 45.

22Rommen, Natural Law, p. 8.

23Palmer, p. 47.

24Palmer, p. 47.

25Atkins, pp. 41-42; Pfeiffer, pp. 32-35.

26Plato Protagoras 339-347.

27Plato Protagoras 337.