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From an article by Theodore Dalrymple:

It is no wonder, then, that Marx speaks only in categories: the bourgeois, the proletarian. For him, individual men are but clones, their identity with vast numbers of others being caused not by the possession of the same genes, but by that of the same relations to the economic system. Why study a man, when you know Men?

Could we substitute Man for Men here? This way:

Why study a man, when you know Man?

I think he meant "humanity as a whole", as opposed to a man (an individual). I wonder why he chose to write Men instead of Man. Maybe it was to avoid the monotony of "man - Man"? I have never before encountered Men meaning "humanity".

P.S. 5 minutes after posting this, I had an idea occuring to me that might explain this use of a plural noun. But now I'll wait for answers.

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  • It seems to me that (and no, it's not one of those oscillating judgements of mine) "man" is totally appropriate to use here.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:16
  • @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ. - I thought so too at first, but now I've a vague idea of why men could be more appropriate in expressing the author's thoughts. I'll abstain from fleshing it out yet.. Jan 21, 2016 at 19:18
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    I think you need the plural Men to accommodate the various (economic) classes of men. Why study an individual when you know everything you need to know if you know the classes to which he might belong?
    – TimR
    Jan 21, 2016 at 19:37
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    I like TRomano's idea, but I don't think that it's directly referring to the classes, I think it's shorthand for "Men (and therefore the way they interact and the classes they create)." The relationships are an inherent part of Men as a plural, and those are what forms the classes. Jan 21, 2016 at 22:17
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    Might just be an archaic usage - I recall that Tolkien used "Men" where modern authors would use "Humans", and Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950's.
    – user11628
    Jan 22, 2016 at 1:13

1 Answer 1

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It literally and functionally means Man, in the plural.

The word Man, meaning humankind, is using man as an individual to stand for all individuals/humans/people, even the race of humankind.

Note Merriam Webster Unabridged Dictionary:

man

b (1) : the human race : mankind : human beings personified as an individual — used without an article

Also Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

man

2 Also Man. In abstract or generic sense. Now only without article.

a. The human race or species; mankind, humankind (personified as an individual)

Yet, sometimes we want to make it clear that humankind consists of more than one man, so we use men for this purpose.

Aa I've said elsewhere, Tigers don't eat man, they eat men.

Then there are usages such as the best laid plans of mice and men, where the plural obviously serves as parallel to the plural mice. It means the same as of mice and man.

The word menkind is attested in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it did not get much traction.

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  • Hmm... I am not so confident about this answer. Men could just be the plural of man, meaning an individual (a man) and then capitalized to mean the species; but it seems to work out to the same thing.
    – GoDucks
    Jan 28, 2016 at 5:28

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