It is critical to distinguish the merely descriptive bookkeeping categories from the explanatory macroeconomic concepts and to distinguish the descriptive tallies of corporate accounting from the explanatory theory of functional macroeconomic dynamics.
Corporate profit-and-loss accounting, whether for General Motors or the Neighborhood General Store, and whether on a cash or accrual basis, records the magnitudes of descriptive revenues (credits are pluses) and costs/expenses (debits are minuses) to reach a net which the accountant calls “profit” or “loss.” While this accounting is useful for running a business, its aggregation into the National Income Accounts neither explains the dynamic process nor measures components of equilibrium or disequilibrium.
Beneath the surface of the accountant’s several income-statement categories, pure surplus income and other functional flows lie undetected; they are operative but not noticed, much less understood and appreciated for what they are. They are veiled and rendered invisible as the accountant and his audience think only in the terms of wages, salaries, bonuses, rent, interest, retained income, and dividends, i.e. those payments each period which are received by individuals for expenditure on either a standard of living, maintenance of capital, or capital expansion. Accountants have no concept of functional pure surplus income as implicitly defined by the ever shifting functional relation in which it stands with pure surplus production or with basic income and basic production.
An ‘accountant’s unity’: that is a category used in accounting. For Lonergan, accounting generally denotes an enterprise within common sense which uses descriptive, as contrasted with explanatory terms (on these terms see Insight 37-38/61-62, 178-79/201-3, 247-48/272-73). Insofar as that is true, the accountant’s unity is not an adequate index for the normative, explanatory analysis of the productive process. [CWL 15, page 26, ftnt. 26]
Surplus income is not the same as (GAAP) profits. The latter are a simple matter of the excess of accounts receivable over accounts payable. They include a firm’s additions to its portfolio, and living expenses (no matter how high) of the upper echelons. This accountant’s concept of profit pertains not to macroeconomics but to microeconomics. …… [CWL 15, 145]
Profit-and-loss categories “come to sight as bookkeeper’s entities that form the basis of the preliminary descriptive classifications that need to be explained.” Such accounting does not “expose similarities that reside in the relations of things to one another or what is “first-in-itself”: namely both the dynamic elements (distinct, implicitly-defined, productive and monetary functionings) and the differentials (velocities and accelerations) of the economic mechanism which reveal the significance of aggregate changes in prices that by themselves are in need of interpretation.”
the set of terms and relations capable of explaining the phenomena of the business or trade cycle would not be the same as any given pricing system that automatically coordinates a vast coincidental manifold of decisions of demand and decisions of supply, Such a system comes to sight as bookkeeper’s entities that form the basis of the preliminary descriptive classifications that need to be explained: they are the similarities “first-for-us.” The relevant set of explanatory terms and relations would have to expose similarities that reside in the relations of things to one another or what is “first-in-itself”: namely both the dynamic elements (distinct, implicitly-defined, productive and monetary functionings)and the differentials (velocities and accelerations) of the economic mechanism which reveal the significance of aggregate changes in prices that by themselves are in need of interpretation… that prices as a concern for the bookkeepers or accountants are known- first-to-us by description and commonsense classification; and that (Lonergan’s) own functional analysis of production and circulation reveals an explanatory system known-first-in-itself. Only such an explanatory framework will enable the all-important discrimination either of the causes and the variations in prices … or of ‘a relative and an absolute rise or fall of monetarty prices,’ and only such an explanatory framework will make possible a correct interpretation of their significance. [CWL 15, Editors’ Introduction, lvi-lvii]
The priora quoad nos – first for us – are the things such as here and now, fast and slow, prices and profits because they are related to us in our everyday, routine application of sensations and common sense for survival. The priora quoad se – first among themselves – are the things or terms which are related to each other, e.g. basic income and surplus income, time lag, velocity and acceleration.
 Aristotle distinguishes ‘what is first by nature’ (proteron pros physei) and ‘what is first for us’ (proteron pros hymas) in Posterior Analytics, I, 71b 33-72a 5; compare Physics, I, 1, 184a 17-18 CWL 15, lv, note 90