Arete Explained

9:34 AM

Cross posted at Manly Excellence!

We are now manly excellence. A great deal of our early content is going to be focused on elaborating on what that means. This is not a particularly pleasant task from our point of view. We are putting forth principles that should be eternal…indeed they should be self evident. But it seems at some point we lost our way. We forgot what it means to be us. It is our task at manly excellence to force you to remember what you are…to remember your manly excellence…your arete.

A casual glance at at our new forum will reveal that we use the word arete a great deal. In fact we often use it interchangeably with “manly excellence” and in a strict linguistic sense this is correct. To put it simply arete is what you are by nature, and what you have the potential to be through action. But as with so many Greek words which are commonly used in English untranslated there tends to be something of a loss in the deeper shades of meaning which Greek concepts are wont to have.

Arete is a word but it is also an idea which implies a whole worldview. The ancient Greeks (and specifically Aristotle) had a system of thought where they viewed the natural world in a very specific way. To understand this you need to understand two more Greek words-telos and aiton. Telos literally means purpose but it may be more accurately translated “organizational principle of existence” Aiton literally means cause but it is generally understood to mean “an explanation for why something exists”. Telos and aiton work together to form the way the Greeks saw the universe. If you put these two things together it becomes clear that in the Greek mind the basis for reality is deliberate organization which can be explained with specific causes. In other words nature is not chaotic…things are the way they are supposed to be and since everything can be explained there is no randomness. This idea is actually the basis for what would become the scientific method and probably the single most decisive explanation for the primacy of western civilization in human affairs.

But let us go back to arete. How does arete fit in with telos and aiton? To put it simply: arete is a form of aiton and is determined by telos…or in English arete is a part of what it means for a thing to exist and is determined by the nature of that thing. There are many kinds of aiton. For example how may one account for the fact that they exist? You may point to the coupling of your parents which begat you. You may point to the presence of human DNA. You may even point out the substantial nature of the matter which constitutes your body. But you aren’t just your genetic code or chemical composition. It is not just what you are it is what you do and what you have it in yourself to do. You have potential. You are a man but you aren’t all the man you can be. You can always grow and get better.

Consider an arrow. What distinguishes a good arrow from a bad arrow? A good arrow does what it is supposed to do. It flies true and strikes its target. A bad arrow breaks, misses its mark, or fails in some other way; so too with man. Within yourself you possess not only actuality but potentiality. You can be more than what you are. This is your telos-the orientation of your existence. You are a good man insofar as you achieve the heights of what you manly nature allows you to be. You are a bad man insofar as you fail. In the act of becoming what you can be you fulfill your nature. This is arete. Arete is the terminal aiton. It is the existential principle of excellence. God, providence, or nature has written onto the book of your existence that which is inside you. You accomplish arete in bringing it out. This allows you to enter into the fullness of your existence.

The manly nature is the highest in nature therefore excellence in manliness is the paramount excellence. At the same time this makes the failure to realize manly potential the greatest tragedy…worse still is the fact that our whole society is based around this. We think this is foolish and suicidal. A society based on a worldview where potential for greatness is not only left unpursued but positively suppressed is antithetical to everything we stand for. We recognize that a good man is better than a bad man. We recognize achievement is better than apathy. We recognize arete. We believe in manly excellence.

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