Pierre Manent’s City of Man, ch. 3, Notes

Notes on Manent’s The City of Man, Chapter III, “The Economic System”

by David Alexander


Where Montesquieu cautiously established the English experience as a new authority, Adam Smith accepted it as an established authority. Smith explains economic growth in England and Scotland in his day as the result of “the desire to better one’s condition.” He universalizes this experience and says that it is human nature to always be striving for “progress,” and hence improvement is the general law of history. His faith in this principle permits him to forego his usual empirical rigor and assume its presence in opaque areas of history. He treats political institutions as only being able to place negative limits on improvement.


Thomas Hobbes posits mankind’s fundamental inclination as being a restless desire of power after power. Smith develops and simplifies Hobbes’s simplification, converting the desire for power into the desire for purchasing-power. Smith evinces a belief in the possibility of a dialectical linear deduction of “history” starting from “nature.” The fundamental human desire is reduced first to being the desire to better one’s condition, and then to the desire to increase one’s purchasing-power. Nature and history come together into what is called the “economy.”


The desire to better one’s condition is conceived as quite complex in the work of Smith. It changes significantly in his two great works from The Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759 to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations of 1776. In the first, the human desire for betterment is essentially vanity, which is defined in relation to others. In the later, the reference to the social bond is excised.

In the desire to better one’s condition is presupposed a certain image of the better conditions, a phantasm of the imagination. So the imagination is perforce given a central role. Smith indeed puts imagination at the heart of his first book. Smith holds that our interest in money and power, and the arts and sciences, is driven by attraction essentially to beauty. When we pursue utility, it is really vanity we seek, and when we give into vanity, we are attracted by beauty.

The concept of the “invisible hand” remains the same in its definition in the two aforementioned works but it differs greatly between them in content. In Theory, human beings are ruled by their imagination and vanity but in Wealth, the imagination and vanity disappear and human behavior is cast as being motivated only by gain and interest. Between the two is a chasm stretching between the prestige of the imagination in an society of unequal people and the prosaic and rational pursuit of gain in an egalitarian society.


Smith’s account of how inegalitarian, feudal society gave way to the egalitarian character of commercial society, for all the breadth and serenity of his masterpiece The Wealth of Nations, and for all its status as received wisdom in liberal societies, appears to rest on the slender, insufficient base of an epigram: The feudal lords bartered away all their power and authority for diamond belt buckles and such.


Manent criticizes Smith’s portrayal of the psychology of the feudal landlord as implausible and inconsistent. “When Smith yields to epithets of increasing indignation in characterizing it, he is only trying to mesmerize his own uncertainty and our vigilance.” Smith posited two different human concerns that led to the revolution, childish vanity in the great proprietor, represented in Theory, and interest and gain in the merchant and artisan, represented in Wealth. Smith’s explanation of the childish vanity of the feudal landlords does not explain why they would choose to give up the prestige of their position. Smith so greatly desires to deduce the institution from the economic conditions that he asserts that the proprietor rules over his clients because he feeds him. But this reasoning may be flipped to the conclusion that the proprietor obeys his clients because he feeds them. While some might respond that the two need not be exclusive, Manent drives home his point that, as with the sociological point of view, the language is “shallow and vain!” He rejects Smith’s idea of a feudal lord as preposterous, as a strange phantasm of the mind in which a person inexplicably saddles himself with hundreds of dependents. A tenable explanation must render the appropriation of surplus and the support of dependents intelligible.


Smith tells the story of the advance of commercial society without telling a truly human story. Smith, unlike Montesquieu, does not refrain from identifying a fundamental passion in human nature behind progress but presupposes the irresistible desire to better their condition.. But if they know what they want and attain it, why speak of an “invisible hand”? Manent holds that the spirit of commerce so ruled Smith that he equated it with human nature.

Manent returns to his criticism of Smith’s psychology of the feudal landlord as inadequate, something that blinks on just at the point of its dissolution, and then blinks off. He says a more serious look at the landlord’s soul shows that he does not barter away his power and prestige for trinkets, which Smith holds he does, reviling him for it. Rather, it is because he is powerless before the centralized royal power of the sovereign already that his childish “vanity” increases. Because Smith does not look at the landlord from the political angle, the landlord’s action becomes preposterous to him, when really it is Smith’s imputed psychology which is preposterous.


Smith’s conception of the imagination is one in which the desire for power, wealth, and the products of technical ingenuity are all rooted in the same aesthetic idea. It is the imagination, not utility, which gives things their value, makes them desirable, and associates them with human nature. But the imagination liberates man from the constraints of his nature in order to subject him to its own nature. The imagination is unaware of its own value as the value giver and, so, unaware of qualitative differences from one regime to another and one epoch to another.


To the extent that the idea of utility exercises and satisfies the imagination, it rules over economic man. For the participants in the market, the role of the imagination tends to disappear into the artifacts, but from the spectator’s point of view, the imagination’s role becomes very prominent. There is the perspective of the citizen acquiring the new watch and there is the perspective of Smith, admiring and seeking to make perfect the economic system so that it runs undisturbed, with regularity of motion.


In the new society, the imagination becomes formalized and individualized. The observer sees in it, not individuals acting in ways liable to moral judgment, but rather a harmonious system where the natural motives of individuals are as obscured as the inner workings of a watch. The system produces effects corresponding to the idea of utility.


The commercial imagination reduces all things to useful things as far as they embody the idea of fitness, but it seems clueless when it comes to establishing their relative value. The imagination cannot appear as a measure of value in the commercial society except as labor, which hence becomes the sole locus of value. (It has left no leisure for contemplation). All value resting on labor, labor becomes of ever greater value.

Once labor is exalted in this way, the imagination, as a universal human faculty capable of embracing the Whole of the cosmos, shrivels into inconsequence. The economic viewpoint, which is in no way a “conception of the world,” then settles in and in effect, the Creation is renounced. All that is left is the vital principle and untiring motor of commercial society. The one great object retained by the imagination is the harmonious system of production and consumption. The splendor of God’s glory bright, in the radiance of the Son, and in the Creation created through the Son, is effectively occluded. “Man as economist is the pure spectator of man become homo oeconomicus.”


The Economy writ large is motivated toward homogeneity since only equal values can be exchanged. “Commercial society nurtures and contains the immanent utopia of a powerless society, a depoliticized society.” However, the power of purchasing labor subsists. The economic process, in which labor is embodied in objects and services, is driven by a profit motive. Economic man works to make capital bear fruit. Without profit, the Economy quickly becomes a “valley of industrial dry bones.” Only profits proportionate to capital give life to the Economy. “Profit, not religion, is the spirit of this spiritless world where one must overwork in order to live: the commercial society.”


Some object to the notion that surplus is not institutionalized in a capitalist society like it is in earlier societies. Surplus, like profit, is appropriated in private property, the institution par excellence. Yet Manent replies, “The noninstitutionalized, underdetermined, floating character of surplus is most clearly revealed in the choice left to the capitalist to use it for his own consumption or for investment.” The nature of profit revealed itself in the discretionary choice it offered between consumption and investment. The imagination and capital make things felt worldwide. Only the owner of capital can conceive endlessly the new correspondences which constitute the life of the Economy. Authoritarian or planned investment petrify the network of social valences and the movement of the imagination.


The freeing and the founding of the economy took place at the same time and, from that time forward, it cannot be properly said that the economy is distinct from society. The body politic itself becomes merged with and indistinguishable from the economic system. Imagination rules over labor, yet labor constrains the imagination to produce only ideas which display the idea of usefulness and that are liable to encourage labor. One now works only to work, to carry out the useful ideas the imagination endlessly conceives. Labor never rests. But there has been a dastardly trade-off: The imagination has lost all sense of glory.

Greek Discovery of Mind, Parmenides and Zeno, revised notes, 2nd ed.

Notes on Parmenides and Zeno

Lonergan Institute for the “Good Under Construction” © 2016

Where Heraclitus emphasized process, Parmenides denied both multiplicity and motion. Though his expression revived the myth of revelation, his position at its heart was a set of arguments. While he could not be expected to formulate the principles of excluded middle and of identity, he reached analogous conclusions. For he denied the possibility of “becoming” as an intermediary between being and nothing; and he denied a distinction between “being” and “being” and so precluded any multiplicity of beings. While his specific achievement was only a mistake, still it provided a carrier for a breakthrough. Linguistic argument has emerged as an independent power that could dare to challenge the evidence of the senses. The distinction between sense and intellect was established. The way lay open for Zeno’s paradoxes, for the eloquence and skepticism of the sophists, for Socrates’ demand for definitions, for Plato’s distinction between eristic and dialectic, and for the Aristotelian Organon.1

Parmenides of Elea (c. 515- c. 480 BC), who has been cited in one way or another as the father of rationalism in philosophy,2 discovered the form or the meaning of being (what being is; how it differs from non-being or how it differs from the condition of becoming) and, on this basis, he became the father of the problem of being (being versus becoming). As a well respected thinker, he was a contemporary and, allegedly, a successor of Heraclitus although it is said about him that, in his early years, he was a follower of Ameinias, a Pythagorean.3 Historically, he was the most important philosopher who belonged to a group that was centered in Elea in southern Italy (the Eclectics). It was rumored that at age 65, he went to Athens and that, allegedly, Socrates listened to him there.4 Plato refers to three meetings with Socrates. Elea itself, on the west coast of the Italian peninsula, was founded in 540-539 BC. It possessed Ionian roots since its refugee settlers came from Phocaea, the most northern city of Ionia.

Parmenides’s famous writing (later referred to as On Nature) is a poem that was partially preserved in a book entitled the Physics, written by Simplicius in the 6th century AD. There are two basic components to the poem, both of which are preceded by an introduction, known as the Proem, that describes Parmenides’s journey to the place of the sun where he is instructed by a goddess who tells him to learn the truth which is opposed to opinion and the apparent kind of knowledge which is commonly found among human beings who, as human beings, for all intents and purposes, know nothing.5 As similarly with Hesiod, through a form of religious revelation, Parmenides is “borne aloft into the presence of an unnamed goddess, and inspired by her with knowledge of all things, both of the undaunted, convincing ‘Truth,’ and of the ‘Opinions [doxai] of mortals.’”6 While the way of thinking to which Parmenides is to be initiated is unfamiliar to most men, this new unusual way is a path or a road whose following is sanctioned by Right and Justice.7 This road, allegorically, is an “uttering many things.”8 The mares drawing his chariot represent “pondering many things”; justice, the “manifold avenger” who holds keys which unlock heavenly gates.9 The reference to “many things” seems to refer to the changing data that are sensibly experienced; by working through the changing, shifting world that is presented through the senses, our cognition can arrive at a world which transcends the human senses.10 Light symbolizes the goal of this special journey where, within this light, truth is revealed to ourselves and to Parmenides. In his own journey, Parmenides is “carried up into the light, [he is] guided by the sun maidens who toss aside their veils, while the chariot’s axle blazes in its sockets.”11

The first way of inquiry is the Way of Truth, the way of reasoning as pure thinking or as “pure thought,”12 or, alternatively, the Way of Being where, by following in this particular way, by moving beyond the kind of initial knowing which exists in our acts of sense perception or, in other words, by engaging in “sheer thinking,”13 we are led to a Parmenidian notion of being: being as distinct from becoming and change and as it exists with a transcendence that does not belong to the immanence or the immediacy of becoming and the experience of change which we always have through the perceptions which immediately exist for us through our different acts of human sensing.14 Pure thought or pure thinking leads to pure Being.15

To understand what could be meant by “sheer thinking” or “pure thinking,” try to distinguish between two basic views or two basic takes on the nature of our human cognition. A first view notes or opines that our human acts of cognition are constituted by acts of sensing which are combined with acts of intellection that are commonly referred to by us as “acts of the mind” (or “acts of the intellect”). However, it is a major task to distinguish each of these acts and to determine how these acts are all related to each other in a way which acknowledges the due weight or the role which is played by each act. The second view separates acts of sensing from acts of thinking (from the intellectual acts which exist as our mental acts, our acts of the human mind). Within the coutours of this approach, some prefer to associate the dynamics of human cognition with sense (with that which exists for us as our different acts of human sensing); others, with intellect (with that which exists for us as our different acts of thinking or reasoning). For empiricists or positivists, the real is that which is sensed or that which can be sensed. Where human thinking or reasoning exists, no real contribution to be ascribed to how they exist or to the tasks that are performed by our various acts of thinking and reasoning. For rationalists, however, the real is that which is thought or it is that which is conceived by our thinking and thought, our acts of thinking leading us to the formation of concepts and definitions. If empiricists and positivists denigrate the role of thinking and reasoning and if they prefer not to move in a direction which could lead them into our acts of thinking and understanding, rationalists prefer to not move in a direction which could lead them toward our various acts of human sensing and the kind of data which exist if we should refer to the givens which come to us through our various acts of human sensing. While, for the empiricists and rationalists, a proposition is true if it directly relates to or if it mirrors the content of an act of sense, for rationalists, a proposition is true if, from the subject of a proposition, its predicate is somehow immediately given or, in some way, it is implied. The predicate exists within the terms of meaning which belong to the being of a given subject. Given what a subject is, certain consequences follow. For a simple example, we can say perhaps that “all men are mortal” or that “man is a rational animal” although, upon reflection, we would have to admit that the truth of these propositions would seem to suggest that, ultimately, our evidence comes to us from the data of our human experience, the kind of experience that is given to us through our various acts of human sensing and the data which accompanies these acts. Hence, a better example of the kind of truth that can be known without having to refer to specific acts and data of sense would seem to be the teaching of a law in logic which says about contraditions that “a thing cannot be and not be at the same time, or a thing must either be or not be, or the same attibute cannot at the same time be affirmed and denied of the same subject.”16 Propositions are true if their meaning is articulated in a way which points to their obviousness or their self-evidence, the obviousness or the self-evidence of meaning immediately pointing to the reality of their truth (the obviousness or the self-evidence of truth). The definition of a circle in mathematics always points, for example, to all the attributes which must belong to the being of any kind of circle in mathematics. The definition of a square similarly points to all the attributes that must belong to the being of a square. Conversely, it is impossible, in any definition, to speak about the meaning or the intelligibility of a square circle. Absence of truth is implied by absence of meaning or by absence of intelligibility. In the kind of thinking or the kind of discovery that we find in Parmenides, the thinking power of the mind is discovered in a way which surpasses the capability or the capacity which exists within our various acts of human sensing. While, undoubtedly, Thales used his mind (his reasoning, his thinking) to argue that water should be regarded as a fundamental first principle in the existence of our world as it is (his discovery is not to be correlated with an act of sense, it does not exist as an act of sense, although his discovery is to be supported by many different acts of sense), on the other hand, it was Parmenides who discovered that the human mind has a power or an authority which exists independently of anything that could be given to us directly from our various acts of human sensing. Our acts of sense always belong to us as living human subjects. We begin our lives with our acts of human sensing. However or hence, it is the rare person, it is not given to everyone that we should all individually know about the power of our individual human minds and what our minds can grasp and know independently of anything that can be directly given to us through our various acts of human sensing. The kind of apprehension which exists for us through our various acts of human sensing is not to be identified or correlated with the kind of apprehension which exists for us through our various acts of thinking and understanding. The lack of identity points to tensions which can often exist between these two orders of human cognition and, if some kind of reconciliation or complementarity is to be reached, some other kind of cognitive act must be invoked in order to establish where positive relations exist between our different acts of human sensing and our different acts of human thinking, reasoning, and understanding.

Succinctly put: on the basis of our thinking and reasoning and the kind of contemplation and revelation which exists within our thinking and reasoning, we realize that, from non-being or nothing (from the condition of nothingness), we cannot get being (the condition of beingness) and, conversely, from being (from beingness), we cannot get non-being or nothing (the condition of nothingness). In being or from being, we cannot get non-being. Being excludes non-being. Within being, non-being does not exist. An order of mutual exclusion exists between being and non-being, a form of mutual exclusion which excludes any kind of positive relation that could conceivably exist between being and non-being. Each totally excludes the other. Hence: “Being, the One, is, and…Becoming, change, is illusion.”17 Change is impossible if, for any kind of understanding that we would have about change, we would be working from a basic premiss which would say that change requires being to arise from non-being or from the condition of nothingness. From nothingness, nothing can ever arise.18 According, however, to another way of speaking which also tries to summarize the principles teachings which come from Parmenides’s insights:

Everything which is is a being. If a thing is not a being it is a non-being, nothing. But change could come about only through a mixture of being with something else – with nothing, in other words. Change, therefore, is impossible. [Change is an illusion, a trick of the senses].19

In this Way of Truth thus, its central theme is: “Only Being is” and “Not Being [nothing] cannot be.” From a judgment or an affirmation that avers being, Being emerges as an immediately determinate concept. It is an idea having a definite meaning which one can put into words. One can derive specific properties; specific presuppositions; and specific consequences. It is not really possible to think that that which is is, in fact, not. Non-being and being mutually exclude each other. Whatever is cannot be apart from being. One cannot think about pure non-being (about nothingness). Non-being or nothingness is unthinkable. It is unintelligible. It is not to be confused with any kind of notion which would want to think about the existence of an empty space.20 Conversely, we cannot think that “that (what is) is not” given the problem of a self-contradiction which would exist in saying that what is or that which exists is not or that it does not exist or, more simply, we have self-contradiction when we say that nothing exists.21 Not-being cannot be or exist. It is not. As privation of being, it is nothing. Existence or an act of being or existence can never be properly predicated of non-being or nothingness. According to one explanation which argues that we cannot properly think about that which does not exist (since all thinking, by its very nature, is directed to being in terms of something which is or exists):

The one, that (it) is, and that (for it) not to be is not possible, this is the way of conviction, for it follows truth: the second, that (it) is not, and that (for it) not to be is of necessity, which is a path, I tell you, that is entirely outside the scope of inquiry; for you could neither recognize (that which) is not, for this is not possible, nor could you express it. For that which it is possible to think is the same as that which can be.22

Thinkability or apprehensions of possible intelligibility are to be associated with being and not with non-being. Quoting Parmenides, “it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.”23 The thinkability or the possibility of being immediately points to the reality of its being or the being of its being because, if something could possibly be, it would exist not in a condition of being but in a condition of nothingness and, from non-being or nothingness, we cannot get being. Hence, possible being does not exist. To speak about possible being is to be speak about absence of being or nothingness and this is an unintelligible way of speaking. Nonsensical. Possible being, because it exists as an inner contradiction, is something which is unreal (it is lacking in intelligibility). The unintelligibility of anything which could exist as some kind of possible being accordingly points to the necessity of being in things which happen to exist. The lack of contingency or any form of becoming points to an absolute givenness of being which, in turn, points to its necessity (a conclusion or a point of view which jives with a commonly accepted belief among the ancient Greeks that the world or the universe does not exist as a created, contingent thing; the world or the universe is something which has always existed in an eternal way).24

With respect then to the properties of Being or “what is,” Being is (1) uncreated (since being cannot emerge from not-being); (2) indestructible (since nothing apart from being can arise from being); (3) complete and entire (since a complete identity exists between subject and being: “there is not and will not be anything else apart from being”25); (4) eternal; (5) indivisible (since any trait or characteristic as existing would have to be or exist and this would coincide fully with being); (6) immobile (since changes of location suggest becoming and ending); (7) unique; (8) one; (9) spherical; (10) indivisibly whole; (11) fully perfect; and (12) perfectly self-identical, or equally real in all directions, homogeneous (since being is fully determinate or complete and not lacking in any kind of way).26 All these characteristics function as signs or marks of truth in the Way to Truth.27 All designations that are developed to refer to gradations that are experienced in the visible world are artificial constructions which all refer to Being.28 As noted above, Being necessarily exists. It is not possible for it not to be. “(For it) not to be is impossible.”29 With respect to what is not, “(for it) not to be is of necessity.”30 Necessarily, it either is or is not. It cannot become. It lacks gradations. Therefore, as being, it cannot have any holes or a vacuum, and there is no place where Being is not. No distinction is made between a subject and the fact of its existence as being.31 Hence, change or motion is impossible since change would mean that Being would have to go from where it is to where it is not, but this is not possible, since Being is everywhere. Our senses tell us about change and variety (becoming and plurality), but these are illusions. However, our minds alone know the truth, and this truth is that “Being is.” Hence, the human mind can never cut itself off from being; it is always fully united to all the being of the universe, whether it is visible or invisible.32

Parmenides was thus the first thinker, the first philosopher, to clearly advert to a dichotomy that exists between sense and intellect (the world that is known by the senses, our acts of human sensing, and the world that can be known by the mind, our acts of understanding and judgment). Something is obvious if we limit our acts of cognition to our acts of human sensing but something is not obvious if we begin to think things out and so notice that, between being and non-being, a relation of mutual exclusion is to be adverted to. A mutual exclusion exists (a real distinction). So, in the history of Greek philosophy or in the development of Greek philosophy as the position of one school triggers the thought and the insights of another school, where the Milesians sought Being in matter, and the Pythagoreans, in form, in our current context, Parmenides emphasizes Being where Being is reality. Being is “the basic stuff of reality.”33 It is something which is “somehow material”34 and hence, finite. It is “unorginated, [and] indestructible.” It cannot not be since from nothing comes nothing. Being cannot emerge from its lack or absence; as noted, it cannot emerge from non-being.35 Conversely, as we have already noted, from being, one cannot get an absence or a privation of being; one cannot get non-being or nothing or obtain non-being or nothing. From an absence of being one cannot get that which exists as a being. Succinctly put in another way, through the use of a syllogism, Paremenides’s argument can be framed in a manner which runs as follows:

The new or different being would have to come either (a) from being, or (b) from non-being.

But not from being, for if it comes from being it already is and there is no real becoming.

Nor from non-being, for if it arises out of non-being, then non-being must already be something for being to be able to arise out of it. But, this is a contradiction.

Therefore change, becoming, movement are impossible. “It” [Being] is.36

Being can be understood perhaps as a particular kind of form where to say that something is means only or simply that something exists.37 What is especially significant about the world, even the physical world, is the fact that it exists.38

The second way of inquiry is the Way of Belief,39 the Way of Seeming,40 the Way of Opinion, the Way of Mortals, or the way of appearance which somehow tries to view being or reality as a combination of being and non-being which is illogical and self-contradictory since not-being cannot have the status of being at the same time.41 The goddess notes that here one ceases to follow the Way of Truth if one relies on ordinary experience and the testimony of one’s senses.

At this point I stop giving you my reliable account and thought about truth; from here on, learn of things as they appear to mortals, listening to the deceptive construction (cosmos) of my words.42

Human beings employ two forms for thinking and knowing that contradict each other. One is legitimate and the other is false. The varying combination accounts for human thinking.

They have established (the custom of) naming two forms, one of which ought not to be (mentioned): that is where they have gone astray.43

The first form is fire, flame, or light which is to be identified with being since its characteristics are the same as those belonging to being.

They have distinguished them as opposite in form, and have marked them off from another by giving them different signs: on one side flaming fire in the heavens, mild, very light (in weight), the same as itself in every direction, and not the same as the other.44

The second, opposite form is earth, night, darkness, or non-being (given its characteristics which are the same as those belonging to non-being).

But this too is by itself the opposite, unknowing night, dense and heavy in form.45

In combining these two forms in an ever varying, changing proportion of light and darkness, the logical result is an illogical or irrational view of the world since light cannot be truly mixed with darkness.

But since all things are named Light and Night, and names have been given to each class of things according to the power of one or the other (Light or Night), everything is full equally of Light and invisible Night, as both are equal, because to neither of them belongs any share (of the other).46

Darkness combines with light in varying proportions “to make that which is appear as men ordinarily see it.”47 Variations in the constitution of an individual’s thinking and knowing subsequently act to modify the kind of world or reality that a person will know or thinks that he knows. True knowledge transcends a knowing of appearances. Reality is only grasped in moments of special inspiration and illumination through a self-transcendent form of light which reaches all things instantaneously and which goes beyond the life and activity of the senses.48 While “that which is” is identical with the sensible world, the reality of the sensible world is only grasped or known by the mind or reason functioning through the form of light.49

The result is a world characterized by plurality and change, a world in terms of how it appears to mortals. One will speak about and be interested in points and the void (rather than the sphere of Being) such as the Pythagoreans. While some scholars think that this second way is simply a collect of erroneous opinions, others that it presents earlier views that Parmenides once had but which later he transcended. Some say he added this section because some account of the world of appearance had to be given since it was such an obvious fact. To overcome the pitfalls which are caused by overly relying on the evidences of human sense, one must come to being by engaging in rational judgments that employ reasoning (logos) in painstaking arguments characterized in terms which speak about “with much contest.”50 As Parmenides’s goddess advises him on how he must act and behave: “Do not trust sense experience….but judge by means of the logos the much-contesting proof which is expounded by me.”51 Hence, later on, when speaking about Parmenides and the significance of his insight on the stability of what the human mind perceives, Aristotle notes that no knowledge of the sensible world can ever truly occur unless some unchanging things are present.52

Zeno of Elea (born c. 495-490 BC), the alleged founder of dialectic (in Aristotle’s judgment), was a disciple and associate of Parmenides about whom little is known. He perhaps taught in Athens. He built up arguments to support the Parmenidian denial of motion and plurality. He proved the impossibility of motion by using the method of reductio ad absurdum: begin by accepting your opponent’s premises; then, demonstrate that they lead logically to an absurdity or contradiction. This makes the initial premisses look ridiculous. This indicates that the arguments of opponents are even more absurd that anything taught by Parmenides as difficult as it might be initially to accept the basic premisses of Parmenides.

He uses arguments against plurality.53 He begins by supposing that the quantitative nature of all existing things.54 Being is correlated with quantity: with more and with less. Plurality makes things both finite and infinite in number. Finiteness derives from the fact that any given number of them (however numerous) is always determinate or finite. Infinity simultaneously derives from the possibility of always being able to divide every material thing into parts ad infinitum. Real quantity is not distinguished from abstract, mathematical quantity. This position is internally incoherent. Moreover, plurality implies that things will be infinitely large and lacking any size at all. Bisection into an infinite number of parts implies that a thing is infinitely large which is internally incoherent. At the same time, things will become so small that they will come to have no size.

…each must have some size and thickness and each part of it must be at a distance from the other. And the same reasoning holds good of the one that precedes it; for that also will have size and there will be one preceding it. It is the same, then, to say this once and to say it always; for no such part of it will be the last, nor without proportion to another. So if there are many things, they have to be both small and large; so small, on the one hand, as to have no size; so large, on the other, as to be infinite.55

In order to speak of plurality or many, one must have a notion of unit, but, if things are ultimately divisible, one can never arrive at a unit which would allow one to speak of plurality or many. A unit or “one” that would function as a constituent cannot be identified.

He uses a number of arguments to argue against the reality of motion. A first argument relies on a notion of place which regards it as a thing that is located in a material container.56 As Aristotle queries, “if place is something, in what will it be?”57 The argument is as follows: what is moving moves either in its place or in a place where it is not located. But, if it is located in its place, it is a rest and so not moving. On the other hand, if it is not in its place, it “it is just not there to move or to do or undergo anything at all.”58 Motion is an illusion.

Aristotle cites four riddles or paradoxes that are employed by Zeno to argue against the reality of motion. First, in the Riddle of the Racecourse or Stadium, a moving object can never cross over.59 In crossing a stadium, granting motion, one can never reach the other side since, before getting to the other side, one must go halfway, but before going halfway, one must go halfway of the remaining halfway, but before going halfway, one must go halfway ad infinitum. Since the argument never ends, motion must be impossible even if it were possible. Where, in mathematics, one can speak of a length that is infinitely divisible, this notion is applied to a material length which has a definite measure in terms of so many units. A material notion of length is blended with an abstract mathematical notion of length.

Second, in the Riddle of Achilles and the tortoise, the tortoise has a head start and Achilles tries to overtake him, but as he reaches one point, the tortoise has moved yet further, ad infinitum. Given the hypothesis of motion, Achilles can never catch him. As before, an abstract, mathematical notion of length is combined with a material notion of length and the attribution of definite measures for length. However, in this argument, instead of lengths of space being divided into equals, lengths are divided proportionally.60

Third, in the Riddle of the Flying Arrow, according to Pythagorean theory, the arrow should occupy a given position in space at any given moment, but since, to do so, it would have to be at rest, the flying arrow is at rest which is a contradiction. This argument presupposes a material notion of space that Aristotle criticizes but, more importantly, it invokes a notion of time that consists of a series of indivisible units described as instants or “atomic nows.”61 At any given moment, an arrow is in a definite place and its flight is constituted by “a series of motionless moments.”62 But, from a series of montionless moments, we cannot get movement. We cannot move from a condition of immobility to a condition of mobility. For a more apt, contemporary example that illustrates the point of Zeno’s arguments here, think about the being of a modern motion picture. The term “moving picture” is an illusion. What we have is a series of still photographs and when they are displayed to us in a sequence, we get an illusion of movement in the images that are shown. The illusion of movement is constructed from images that, in fact, exist in a condition of rest.

Fourth, in the Riddle of the Moving Rows, in the middle of a stadium three rows of bodies of equal length are lined up, parallel to each other. Each row is divided into four segments of equal length. The top row is stationary. Below, the second row is located to left of center. Beneath this second row, the third row is located right of center. At the same time, the second row moves to the right which the third moves to the left, and when the motion is completed, the second and third rows are perfectly lined up beneath the first row. During the time of motion, the first B passed 4 C segments and 2 A segments. In the same length of time, B went twice as far in C units than in A units although all these units are of equal length. If time is measured in terms of local motion, distance traversed by an object in motion, half a given time equals the whole of a given time. This contradiction again indicates that motion is an illusion. The thesis of motion leads to contradictory conclusions. An exact correlation exists between indivisible, discrete units of length and indivisible, discrete units of time. Each unit of length is correlated with a unit of time.

In conclusion thus with respect to Zeno’s arguments, fidelity to human reasoning reveals internal contradictions in the common sense understanding of ordinary human experience. For instance, men tend to assume that given lengths are composed of definite parts or units which are constitutive and, at the same time, they assume that given lengths are indefinitely divisible.63 But, for purposes of coherence and to avoid contradiction, we cannot have it both ways. According then to the wording of one explanation that is given about why, hypothetically, in a race between the two, Achilles can never catch up to a Tortoise who has been given a head start in the race that is being run:

Before Achilles can catch the Tortoise, he must cover half the distance between himself and the Tortoise. But before he can reach the halfway point of that distance, he has to cover half the first half. But half that distance has to be covered first, and so on and so on. It may be infinitesimally small, but there is always a first half of some distance to be covered before any of the further points can be reached. Achilles, then, cannot even get going, let alone reach the Tortoise.64

In the same way too, an arrow cannot reach the midpoint of its supposed flight.65 At any given moment, it is always in a condition of rest.

Summary: Notice how the Pythagoreans attended to what is known by understanding, and began a type of search seeking the “form” of something. The Eclectics attended to characteristics that belong to Being, which is known in judgment. Both groups began to attend to a dimension of the human mind and to reality that was not recognized before. Notice, that the discovery of forms and of Being, which are components of that which we know, simultaneously brings about a discovery of the human mind.

In conclusion, while the Ionians tried to say what one could see by experience (accepting plurality and trying to seek a unifying immanent principle), the Eleatics of southern Italy tried to indicate what could be perceived through reason which involved getting behind appearances. While both the Pythagoreans and the Milesians asserted plurality, the Pythagoreans spoke of a plurality that practically excluded the One which was more abstract because of an anti-sensualistic base. While Heraclitus tried to do justice to the two traditions by his concept of unity-in-diversity with his logos, he was uneasy as far as the stabilizing function of the logos was concerned. On the other hand, the Eleatics claimed that one must be radical and claim the one, not trusting in experience but using reason. Thus, a number of philosophical problems were posed by this whole development: first, the relation between the One and the Many (typified by the conflict between Parmenides and Heraclitus); here, Parmenides and Zeno forced a re-evaluation of the monistic presupposition accepted by all Greeks heretofore i.e., the view that reality is composed on one thing since such a view led directly to Parmenides’ untenable conclusions; second, the relation between reason and experience; here also, Parmenides and Zeno caused a crisis in Greek philosophy since they forced the thesis that a strong distinction be made between information based on the five senses and that based on pure reason, a distinction which later developed into two schools of philosophy, Empiricism and Rationalism;66 third, the tension between the intelligible and the sensible worlds; and fourth, tthe tension between being and becoming, stability and change. While later Plato spoke of two worlds with a line drawn between the two, Aristotle spoke of change and stability in the same world where one is not obliged to sacrifice change for stability or stability for change since one can be loyal to reason and not deny the data of sense through a reconciliation effecting synthesis. As a result, the later Presocratics (sometimes known as the “pluralists”) tried to resolve these new problems inherited from the Milesians and the Eleatics. There were two directions: one, let us examine anew the physical world (for example, the atomists), and two, let us turn from the physical world and start to reflect on man.

1Lonergan, MIT, pp. 91-92.

2Sullivan, p. 22.

3Owens, p. 57.

4Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy Volume I Greece and Rome (New York: Image Books, 1993), p. 47.

5Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Human Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature (New York: Dover Publications, 1982), p. 147.

6Owens, pp. 58-9.

7Owens, p. 59.

8Fr. 1.2, quoted by Owens, p. 60.

9Owens, p. 60.

10Owens, p. 60.

11Owens, p. 60.

12Snell, p. 149.

13Collingwood, Idea of Nature, p. 69.

14Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, eds. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), pp. 388-389.

15Snell, p. 149.

16Cf. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Principle+of+contradiction (accessed January 11, 2016).

17Copleston, Greece and Rome, p. 48.

18Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics A Contemporary Introduction (n.l, Editiones Scholasticae, 2014), pp. 31-32; The Last Superstition A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), pp. 52-53. As Feser goes on to argue, however, in one sense, Aristotle accepts the teaching of Parmenides. From non-being you cannot get being. Being cannot be derived from that which is lacking in being. It cannot be derived from something which does not exist. Nothingness and being always exclude each other. In the analysis thus which we find in Aristotle, potency cannot be reduced to act from the standpoint of that which exists as potency or, in other words, that which exists in a condition of potency cannot shift into a condition of act by means of itself (through some kind of self-realization that would somehow allegedly exist within potency), potency being that which is lacking in determinations of one kind or another or potency as that which is lacking some kind of being which, possibly, it could have. However, in another sense, Aristotle does not accept the teaching of Parmenides since, in the kind of analysis which Aristotle uses, change is considered not in terms of non-being and being but in terms of potency and act, potency and act referring to two different kinds of being that a given thing can have without risk of some form of self-contradiction. “There is being-in-act – the ways a thing actually is; and there is being-in-potency – the ways a thing could potentially be.” Cf. Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, p. 32. Aristotle takes the kind of absolute notion that he finds in Parmenides’s notion of non-being and he adapts it. He relativises it. Into it, he introduces a distinction or a differentiation which refers to differing degrees or different kinds of non-being. A given thing exists with the being which it happens to have. It exists in a certain way. Hence, a being exists in terms of being-in-act. But, at the same time too, this being-in-act conditions or it accounts for why, in the factuality or the beingness of its existence, a given thing is susceptible to experiencing changes or realizations of one sort or another that would come to it from sources, acts, or actualizations that are other than potency, existing outside or beyond a given potency, or existing in an external manner relative to the being of a given potency. That which exists as being-in-potency depends on that which exists as being-in-act since a given thing undergoes changes in a way which does not destroy its proper being or its proper existence, its being-in-act, if all changes occur in a way which is entirely suited or which is connatural with how a given thing exists in terms of how it exists within a condition of act. All potencies are known through their acts which would reduce or convert them into a condition of act. If, by means of being-in-act, certain potencies can never be realized or reduced through a transition that would move from a condition of potency to condition of act, then, within this situation, these absences of being are to be regarded as instances or as illustrations of non-being. Employing an example or an analogy which comes to us from Feser, the roundness of a rubber ball refers to its being-in-act; its squareness, non-being; and its flatness or squishyness, being-in-potency. All three exist at the same time, simultaneously. Cf. Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 32-33; Last Superstition, p. 53.

19Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 20.

20Collingwood, Idea of Nature, p. 69.

21Owens, p. 63.

22Owens, pp. 60-61.

23Copleston, Greece and Rome, p. 49.

24Copleston, Greece and Rome, p. 49.

25Fr. 8.36-37, quoted by Owens, p. 65. As Copleston frames the kind of argument that Parmenides was apparently using: Being cannot be added to because if it is not one and complete in itself but in fact divided within itself, then this division would require some kind of cause that would be other than being. In some way, it would have to exist outside of being. But, this is a contradiction in terms since Being as Being is all encompassing. It includes everything which exists. Citing Copleston on Parmenides: “Being cannot be divided by something [that is] other than itself” because, besides being, “there is nothing,” nothing which exists. Cf. Greece and Rome, p. 50.

26Lonergan, Insight, p. 388, citing F. M. Cornford, Plato and Parmenides (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1939), pp. 28-52. As Copleston, p. 50, argues with respect to the intelligibility of Parmenides’s arguments: if Being is equally real in all directions, then, from this, we can understand why Being is spherical in shape.

27Owens, pp. 63-4.

28Owens, p. 66.

29Parmenides, quoted by Owens, p. 62.

30Parmenides, quoted by Owens, p. 62.

31Owens, p. 62.

32Fr. 4, cited by Owens, p. 65. Since the human mind is always fully united to Being, it is thus suggested that the human mind does not need to move toward Being or truth through any kind of inquiry which would move from lack of understanding and knowledge to an experience of understanding and knowledge. However, as Steward notes, p. 133, when the illusionary nature of becoming or change is compared with with the fullness of reality which exists in being, questions about the nature of human cognition are raised and introduced. Parmenides’s poem speaks about the difference between truth and opinion as this is communicated by way of divine revelation. But, with the reception of this kind of apprehension as this exists among human beings, questions are raised for philosophers to address and talk about.

33Stewart, p. 132.

34Stewart, p. 132. Please note here, with respect to the distinctions that one finds in Parmenides, that the postulation or supposition of a real distinction is to be distinguished from the beginnings or the origins of that which exists as a real distinction. In Plato’s philosophy, matter and form exclude one another. The two should never be confused. But, while, amongst the presocratics, different philosophies speak here about matter and there about form, the postulation of a real distinction between matter and form is a different type of question. Its early existence is a conclusion or a postulation cannot be too readily assumed. We look at the past from an understanding of philosophical principles which we already have and so, for us, a real distinction exists between matter and form. But, amongst the Greeks, time, study, and discussion had to occur before a refinement of meaning could possibly occur and then, from there, reach an understanding and judgment which can speak about a real distinction between manner and form (materiality versus intelligibility).

35Please note that, if we jump centuries ahead into Aristotle, we can begin to understand why, in his metaphysics, we cannot get act from potency. If something is in a state or a condition of potency, a lack of determination, that which is in a state or condition of potency cannot realize or move itself into a condition of being which is known as act (act in metaphysics).

36Stewart, p. 132. Citing the text of other words that have been used to explain the kind of reasoning which exists within Parmenides’s arguments (as this is given to us by Copleston in his Greece and Rome, p. 50):

Why do we say “more accurately, It is [Being is]?” For this reason: If something comes into being, it must arise either out of being or out of not-being. If if arises out of being, then there is no real arising, no coming-to-be; for if it comes out of being, it already is. If, however, it arises out of not-being, then not-being must be already something, in order for being to be able to arise out of it. But this is a contradiction. Being therefore, “It” arises neither out of being nor out of not-being: it never came into being, but simply is. And as this must apply to all being, nothing ever becomes. For if anything ever becomes, however trifling, the same difficulty always recurs: does it come out of being or out of not-being? If the former, then it already is; if the latter, then you fall into a contradiction, since not-being is nothing and cannot be the source of being. Change, therefore, becoming and movement are impossible. Accordingly “It is.” “One path only is left for us to speak of, namely, that It is. In this path are very many tokens that what is, is uncreated and indestructible, for it is complete, immovable and without end.”

37W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers: From Thales to Aristotle (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 48.

38Owens, p. 71.

39Collingwood, Idea of Nature, p. 68.

40Lonergan, Insight, p. 388.

41Owens, p. 63.

42Fr. 8.50-53, quoted by Owens, p. 67.

43Fr. 8.53-54; tr. Freeman, quoted by Owens, p. 67.

44Fr. 8.55-58; tr. Freeman, quoted by Owens, p. 68.

45Fr. 8.58-59, quoted by Owens, p. 68.

46Fr. 9; tr. Freeman, quoted by Owens, pp. 68-9.

47Owens, p. 74.

48Owens, p. 70.

49Aristotle, Metaphysics, IV, 5,1010a2-3; DK, 28A, 24; Oxford tr., cited by Owens, p. 71.

50Fr. 7.5 quoted by Owens, p. 63.

51Fr. 7 quoted by Snell, p. 149.

52Aristotle, On the Heavens, III, 1,298b15-24; DK, 28A, 25, cited by Owens, p. 73.

53Owens, pp. 81-4.

54Owens, p. 81.

55Owens, pp. 82-3.

56Owens, pp. 84-5.

57Aristotle, quoted by Owens, p. 85.

58Owens, p. 84.

59Owens, p. 85.

60Owens, p. 86.

61Owens, p. 86.

62Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 22.

63Owens, p. 89.

64Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 21.

65Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 22.

66Palmer, p. 31.

Pierre Manent, City of Man, chapter 2, notes

Notes on Chapter 2 of Manent’s The City of Man

“All literature, all philosophy, all history abounds with incentives to noble action, incentives which would be buried in black darkness were the light of the written word not flashed upon them. How many pictures of high endeavor great authors of Greece and Rome have drawn for our use, and bequeathed to us, not only for our contemplation but for our emulation! These I have held ever before my vision throughout my public career, and have guided the workings of my brain and my soul by meditating upon patterns of excellence.” -Cicero in Pro Archia Poeta

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” -Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)


For contemporary society, history has become the way, the truth and the life. The feeling of living “within society” is the effective expression of living “within history,” and it has given rise to the novel and to the science of sociology.


After the French Revolution, three great schools of political thought, the liberals, the sociologues, and the socialists are unified by a notion of society, as distinct from the state and political institutions, and in the idea that society is the locus of the irreversible and irresistible movement of history. “The sociological viewpoint penetrates and dominates all modern political thought.”


Guided by Emile Durkheim, sociology cuts the ties with a praxial, practical focus and sets the parameters of sociology’s ethos by training it on being pure theory and a study of something independent of the will of man called “society.” Sociology depends for its form and existence on a deliberate refusal to take man’s nature as its object of study. [Contrast this with the aforementioned two quotations which provide instances of Ancient and Christian emphasis on emulation].


The sociological viewpoint is that of the spectator and its wrests, from the agent, initiative and reason and vests all force and causality in “society.” [The way Manent describes it, it seems like society is made into a kind of idol and we become like the idol by surrendering our humanity to it]. There is a resultant twofold dynamic: a deliberate and forceful distancing from what is real to attain the height of Science- a willful self-alienation-, and an equally deliberate and forceful effort to recover familiarity.


Montesquieu and the sociologist start from and emphasize the “infinite diversity” of human things only to then erase it. The affirmation of sociological causality is to be equated with the denial of chance, but one who grants primary causality to human nature can give chance a large role to play. “Is it even possible to stop, once the human world is only comprehensible as a causal chain without a first cause?” When man’s nature is posited only as an effect, or as an epiphenomenon, and not as a cause, a first cause is denied, and the result is that sociological studies constantly offer causes which are not truly causes. However, if they once admit man as a cause, then sociology as a science is called into question. In a sense, only the sociologist believes in the science of sociology, and that only while doing his job. Man understood as an agent by nature is best addressed by a “practical science” or an “art,” not by a science which is motivated to suppress his primal questions and occult his nature.


The deliberate ignoring of the real human agent poses problems for the sociological viewpoint. The requirement of scientific neutrality raises difficulties for the researcher which must be scrutinized. The sociologist avoids speaking about the universal, seeks to speak of the particular, and strives to elaborate a new general law, crucially only after the suppression of the pre-theoretical man’s apprehension of universals. All the mind’s focus of attention that the sociologist deems legitimate is trained on relations, but once this happens, even the memory of the most essential questions bearing on the human meaning of each of the elements that it is supposed to connect with begins to be lost. Can the sociologist speak of sociology in good conscience as a science of man?


For the Ancients and classical philosophy, man as nature and soul is the cause of the human phenomenon. As soon as this integrating principle is abandoned, the human phenomenon becomes a pure plurality. In their diversity without principle, sociological parameters are necessarily equivalent to each other, or whatever the individual sociologist can make out of them. The sociologist fails to perform the essential Socratic questioning which defines precisely the objects he is trying to relate to each other. The sociologist believes he knows what he is doing because he does not know what he believes. “The scholar’s refinements hang on the faith of the coal miner.”


Manent examines Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as a case in point. Weber admits, in one of the last sentences, modern man’s inability to give religious ideas a significance for culture and national character that they deserve.


The sociologist who observes diverse societies cannot, as a scholar, evaluate the merits of values and place them in a hierarchical order. Manent asserts that the sociological grasp of the world is “necessarily mutilated and confused.” Sociological man cuts himself off from the great Whole and limits himself to a false Whole. “No effort of methodological refinement will succeed in opening the eyes of an intellectual discipline that seeks to interpret the world by bringing into play one or the other, and one and the other, of two definitions of man.”


Manent uses Montesquieu’s listing of climate as one of the things that govern man as an example of the sociological viewpoint. He notes of the sociologist that, whatever his individual nature, he as a sociologist has already prepositioned himself in relation to the question about what is proper to man. He has placed himself in a position of essential superiority by claiming that he knows what is stronger than man’s nature and what determines it. Implicitly, he claims to know more than if he knew man himself. The sociologist as a scholarly spectator “knows” the determinability of the causality of our nature. He affects to have knowledge that is superior to the very nature of man. But is the vaunted superiority in truth a diminishing cage?


The refusal to say or know anything about man except where and when he is the effect of a social cause ought to have discredited the science of man that imposes this refusal on itself as a matter of conscience. Instead, sociological language has become “the official vernacular of modern democracy.” This is because social science plays a decisive role in the deathblow to nature that characterizes our regime. Paradoxically, conceiving man as determined is simultaneous with and involved in the ascendency of the conviction that the true nature of man is to be free. “The sociological viewpoint is constituted the moment the notion of liberty becomes the cornerstone of the human world…”

Manent notes how Montesquieu separates the government of mores from the government of laws and says that, in fact, we can only “do sociology” about mores that are “free” in this sense. More and more slips away from the hold of the political actor until the critical moment when religion severs itself from political law or is sundered from it.


Montesquieu re-conceptualizes counsels of perfection as something akin to taste that those who love perfection may pursue. For both Christian theology and Greek philosophy, the perfection of being is the raison d’etre of every human being, not just a hobby available for a few who like that kind of thing. Montesquieu’s separation ruptures this continuity.


In Europe for the first time, a religion loses strength over a long period of time at the same time that the body politic grows strong, without any new religion appearing to replace the first. In becoming purely political by way of the sociological divisions, the law raises itself irresistibly above the contents of life. How does this happen by reducing the importance of politics to a mere parameter among others? It does so by requiring that all other regimes be considered in another perspective. Because politics is so elevated and so separated in the sociological distillation, all other regimes appear confused. According to Montesquieu, the law extricates itself from confusion with nature by dividing it into two halves. One part emancipates itself from nature and becomes absolute sovereign. The other part reabsorbs itself into human matter which becomes the dense and opaque chain of social causes accessible only to the sociological viewpoint. These two extreme poles can be apprehended in terms of the other.