ARETE - Raising the Bar

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SELF-KNOWLEDGE: The famous Socratic paradox, "Virtue is knowledge," in Greek, "Areté is knowledge," is the foundation of both Socratic and Platonic philosophy. The highest human potential is knowledge and all other human abilities are derived from this central capacity. Aristotle also locates the highest human potential in knowledge: theoretical knowledge and self-knowledge.

Volition drives our moral choices. Aristotle used the word to indicate the only thing fully in our power, control of our own volition (prohairesis) which exercises the faculty of choice that we use to judge our impressions. The importance of prohairesis (will, volition, or choice), people can choose rationally how to react to impressions. In Stoicism it exerts a power that allows people to choose how they will react to impressions rationally, rather than be carried away by impressions.




Arete is an ancient Greek concept for the 'spirit of virtue,' natural excellence without necessarily being heroic, a usually flawed archetype. Even if it cannot be taught, perhaps it can be cultivated from within, building character. It's time to reclaim the high-ground of our national honor for all Americans by redefining what that means. Partisan groups that lay claim to "values" should be sure they are prepared to uphold them.

This spirit of arete was the basis of the Human Potential Movement, a non-miliant version of "be all you can be." Arete shares a root with the term 'aristocrat,' meaning naturally noble. Phronesis, the concept of practical wisdom, was a cornerstone of Aristotle's political and ethical theory. In modern life, all acts are political acts, therefore, the arete of the citizen has a holistic effect. Our personal acts affect our whole lives and culture.

SPIRIT, STRENGTH & SKILL: For Aristotle, phronesis is "an adult power of insight into practical matters, cultivated and developed by experience -- a kind of sophia, gnosis, or inherent wisdom. Quality is based on inherent qualities. It is the root of being oneself, well-being, thriving, fortitude, health. It is also the root of justice and wellness in a healthy state.

ROOT OF ETHICS: This optimal action potential or excellence emerges spontaneously as goodness, virtue, ethics -- the quality of being the best - but without the self-serving narcissistic taint of toxic egotism. It is not am overweening fight for personal glory. Prudence in political cunning means canniness, instead of ambitious power-ridden competition, working with natural rhythms - nature's rhythms.

CULTURE HEROES. The phenomenon of Barrack Obama is like the Greek hero. The successfl political hero wraps himself in the mythic mantle of his nation. To the people, the hero is a symbol of a particular ideal. The prophet whose vision and prophecy surpasses the mundane and overtakes the reality is the hero. His time and sacrifices in the pursuit of the those ideals are consuming.

Politics is simply that which concerns the community. Exemplars silently challenge us to live up to their example to the extent we are capable, rather than relinquishing personal power. True statesmen aren't just characters on the world stage, they have character that embodies the positive potential Zeitgeist of the times.

We no longer expect modern heroes to be perfect. Sometimes weaknesses can be turned into virtues by overcoming adversity, especially those of youthful folly. Arete is a quality of one's ethical and essential nature beyond social and political skill that results in positive strides for the community.

VIRTUES are not inherently devoid of choice. We can learn to recognize those things over which we have absolte influence and those we cannot control. Naturally expressing the virtue of the group, arete encompasses seven virtues: kindness, sincerity, passion, justice, courage, perseverance and growth.

Those who possess this inherent nature are recognizable without awards. True statesmen have arete, which shows in measured choices that reflect the essence of the moment, that embrace the empowering opportunities of that integral moment, without personal ego getting in the way.

In this sense we are all artists, composers of or lives or in the freedom of being to express our personal genius, as creaors and designers of our own unique perspective, our essential nature, our own constant quality of energy expressed in our personal choices, even when improbable. Even the failures of our chosen goals, immediately makes alternative action viable.

Thus, our personal and social status is mutable, moldable. The importance of our actions is that we can chose to be more effective in the face of challenge, conflict and difficulty. this is the source of value and meaning. In the Socratic paradox, 'arete is knowledge,' about oneself and one's place in the environment -- a western reflection of the I Ching's "superior man." Contemplation, perspective and simple awareness in the moment are among the highest human abilities and foster contentment and happiness.

In philosophy, Prohairesis is a faculty not only able to evaluate all other faculties but one impossible to enslave or subordinate. Will, volition, intention, choice, moral choice, moral purpose, moral character, soul’s disposition is not a choice, a pre-choice or a judgement, but the faculty that distinguishes human beings from all other creatures.

We are the arbiters of which future we choose. when we are making a real choice there isn't one future but many - at least two.  each future has a probability universe just like the cat paradox before we open the box. conscious free will is a way of opening the box in a certain kind of way. that is by taking the shady path or the rocky path we cause one of the probability futures to become the real one. we aren't being sucked towards either future. nor are we sucked towards THE future. generally we are splitting the wave function dramatically into myriads of possible futures - all of us at once - and trying to make the best free-will interventions we can for our own survival.

In the West virtue ethics was the prevailing approach to ethical thinking in the ancient and medieval periods. The tradition suffered an eclipse during the early modern period, as Aristotelianism fell out of favour in the West. Virtue theory returned to prominence in Western philosophical thought in the twentieth century, and is today one of the three dominant approaches to normative theories (the other two being deontology and consequentialism).

Although concern for virtue appears in several philosophical traditions, notably the Chinese, in the West the roots of the tradition lie in the work of Plato and Aristotle, and even today the tradition’s key concepts derive from ancient Greek philosophy. These concepts include arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing).

Eudaimonia is a state variously translated as 'well-being', 'good fortune' or 'happiness', although in the context of virtue ethics, the expression 'human flourishing' might be more appropriate. Eudaimonia in this sense is not a subjective, but an objective, state. It characterizes the well-lived life, irrespective of the emotional state of the person experiencing it. According to Aristotle, the most prominent exponent of eudaimonia in the Western philosophical tradition, eudaimonia is the proper goal of human life. It consists of exercising the characteristic human quality -- reason -- as the soul's most proper and nourishing activity. Aristotle, like Plato before him, argued that the pursuit of eudaimonia was an activity that could only properly be exercised in the characteristic human community-- the polis or city-state.

Although eudaimonia was first popularized by Aristotle, it now belongs to the tradition of virtue theories generally. For the virtue theorist, eudaimonia describes that state achieved by the person who lives the proper human life, an outcome which can be reached by practicing the virtues. A virtue is a habit or quality that allows the bearer to succeed at his, her, or its purpose.

Like much of the Western tradition, virtue theory seems to have originated in ancient Greek philosophy . Discussion of what were known as the Four Cardinal Virtues - prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance - can be found in Plato's Republic. The virtues also figure prominently in Aristotle's moral theory (see below). The Greek idea of the virtues was later incorporated into Christian moral theology. During the scholastic period, the most comprehensive consideration of the virtues from a theological perspective was provided by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae and his Commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics.

The tradition was eclipsed in the Renaissance, and throughout the early modern period, when the Aristotelian synthesis of ethics and metaphysics fell into disfavour. Though the tradition receded into the background of European philosophical thought in these centuries, the term "virtue" remained current during this period, and in fact appears prominently in the tradition of classical republicanism or classical liberalism.

Non-Western moral and religious philosophies, such as Confucianism, also incorporate ideas that may appear similar to those developed by the ancient Greeks. Like ancient Greek ethics, Chinese ethical thought makes an explicit connection between virtue and statecraft. However, where the Greeks focused on the interior orientation of the soul, Confucianism's definition of virtue emphasizes interpersonal relations.

Other proponents of virtue theory, notably Alasdair MacIntyre, respond to this objection by arguing that any account of the virtues must indeed be generated out of the community in which those virtues are to be practiced: the very word 'ethics' implies 'ethos'. That is to say that the virtues are, and necessarily must be, grounded in a particular time and place.

The aretaic turn is a movement in contemporary moral philosophy and ethics to emphasize character and human excellence or virtue, as opposed to moral rules or consequences. This movement has been extended to other philosophical disciplines, including epistemology, political philosophy, and jurisprudence. The word "aretaic" is derived from the ancient Greek word arete, meaning excellence or virtue. "Aretaic" thus means "of or pertaining to virtue or excellence."



Arete (Greek: á¼€ρετή; pronounced /ˈærÉ™teɪ/ in English), in its basic sense, means "goodness", "excellence" or "virtue" of any kind. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function; the act of living up to one's full potential.

"The root of the word is the same as "aristos', the word which shows superlative ability and superiority, and "aristos" was constantly used in the plural to denote the nobility." [1] (See Aristocracy.) The Ancient Greeks applied the term to anything: for example, the excellence of a chimney, the excellence of a bull to be bred and the excellence of a man. The meaning of the word changes depending on what it describes, since everything has its own peculiar excellence; the arete of a man is different from the arete of a horse. This way of thinking comes first from Plato, in whose "Allegory of the Cave" it can be seen.[2].

By the fourth and fifth centuries BC, arete as applied to men had developed to include quieter virtues, such as dikaiosyne (justice) and sophrosyne (self-restraint). Plato attempted to produce a moral philosophy that incorporated this new usage (and, in so doing, developed ideas that played a central part in later Christian thought), but it was in the work of Aristotle that the doctrine of arete found its fullest flowering. Aristotle's "Doctrine of the Mean" (not to be confused with Confucius's "Doctrine of the Mean") and "The Four Causes" are good examples of his thinking.

In Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, "arete" is used mainly to describe heroes and nobles and their mobile dexterity, with special reference to strength and courage, but it is not limited to this. Penelope's arete, for example, relates to co-operation, for which she is praised by Agamemnon. The excellence of the gods generally included their power, but, in the Odyssey (13.42), the gods can grant excellence to a life, which is contextually understood to mean prosperity. Arete was also the name of King Alcinous's wife.

Further information: Virtus (deity)

Arete was occasionally personified as a goddess, the sister of Homonoia (a personification of concord), daughter of the goddess of justice Praxidike.

Arete and Homonia were known jointly as the Praxidikai (Exacters of Justice). As with many minor Greek deities, there's little or no real mythical background to Arete, who is used at most as a personification of virtue. The only story involving Arete was originally told in the 5th century BC by the sophist Prodicus, and concerns the early life of the hero Heracles.

At a crossroads, Arete appeared to Heracles as a young maiden, and offered him glory and a life of struggle against evil; her counterpart, Kakia (κακία, "badness"), offered him wealth and pleasure. Heracles chose to follow the path of Arete.

This story was later used by Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Basil of Caesarea, use Prodicus' story, but Justin and Basil change Arete from a modest and attractive maiden into a squalidly dressed and unattractive figure.

Arete is a significant part of the paideia of ancient Greeks: the training of the boy to manhood. This training in arete included: physical training, for which the Greeks developed the gymnasion, mental training, which included oratory, rhetoric, and basic sciences, and spiritual training, which included music and what is called virtue.

  • "Virtue (arete) then is a settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it." Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, II vi 15, translated H. Rackham (1934: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press)
  • "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." New Testament, Philippians 4.8.
  • Robert Pirsig uses "arete" as a synonym for Quality in his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This includes an extensive discussion of Plato's "Phaedrus" and the historical contrast between Dialectic and Rhetoric. "And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?" - Socrates

  • Greek-English Lexicon, Liddell & Scott (1883: Oxford, Oxford University Press)
  • Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Werner Jaeger, trans. Gilbert Highet (1945: New York, Oxford University Press)
  • "Arete/Agathon/Kakon", G.B. Kerferd (in Paul Edwards [ed.-in-chief] The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967: New York, Macmillan & The Free Press)


What's New with My Subject?

We all make decisions based on our internal map of reality and unconscious hierarchy of values. Values and beliefs drive our behavior.

If we make our own values and beliefs conscious and focus on them, we can direct our energy toward what we really want in life. Question WHY certain values are important to you, what situations you want and what you want to avoid at any cost. Have a friend prompt you with the comparisons to make it easier. List and relist them as you adjust their relative importance. Don't analyze it and don't overthink it or add any other strategy in this exercise.



2. Look again and add more values later; they may be more important than your first thoughts.

3. Think about when you were highly motivated and what values drove you.

4. Which values are most important? Rank them in order and re-compare them.

5. Compare each to all the others: If I could have this and not that...would it work for me?

6. IS THIS ME? What is the thing that generates what I ACTUALLY spend my time on, not what I think I should spend it on?

7. Identify conflicts in values. Am I moving away from any values? WHY is that important? Don't pretend or censor yourself.

8. Frame values positively.

What you FOCUS ON is THE secret of life.  You can EXPAND your internal map of reality. The most important variable is how you spend your time and EVALUATE what you've done.  You can feel bad or guilty if you act on others' values, not your own. Values tell you the deeper structure of how you create your life.  Ask yourself WHY each value is crucial and what you fear without it.  If a caring partner is important, have you had uncaring partners? If you crave financial security what would it mean to be poor? Would you rather be happy and poor or rich and unhappy? What do you want to avoid?  What are you with or without it?

How do you rank the values of happiness, guidance, learning, career, money, reknown, success, good relationships, mentoring, balance, integrity, novelty, excitement, comfort, service, compassion, IF those are some of your values? Is balance or success more important than family or communication? Is peace of mind more important than a partner? than personal growth? Can you have money and integrity at the same time; money and family; money and happiness; freedom and relationship simultaneously? Health, avoiding failure, or avoiding pain?

WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN LIFE? If you could have balance but not family, or family without health or health without family, what would you choose?  Family or security; success or family? Which would you choose first?  Family but not love; fame but not family?  Family or financial security?  Family or social commeraderie?  How do you rank your values?  Is excitement, challenge or opportunity more important than balance, honesty, integrity, security?  Using your own values, make your own comparisons between them to determine your own ranking.  Are there any values you are trying to avoid? Dig deeply within yourself.

Is security more important than challenge, excitement more important than love? Accomplishment more important than romance? Personal fulfillment more important than family? What works for you? What two are in conflict and how do you resolve that dissonance?  Are security and excitement compatible for you?  Are spirituality and financial security incompatible for you?  Can you identify your conflicting values and the dissonance that creates in your mind/body and life?

We all have an M.O., a method of operating in the world at large.

How we act is governed by our motives and opportunities.

Beliefs and values direct our M.O. and WHY we do what we do.

Do you value excitement more than family, peace of mind more than truth or love or financial security; or balance, devotion, learning, honesty, integrity or friendship more than romantic love?  Pair them and ask yourself which you want more, to be loved or to be honest? Can you be dishonest to be loved? Can you be loving if you are dishonest?

Whether you think your top values SHOULD rank that way or not, for example, peace of mind over family, it motivates you anyway.  You need to know yourself, to know your M.O. in an accurate, considered way to achieve the life satisfaction you seek.  If a value leads to another value, it ranks higher. Examine WHY certain values are more important to you.

Are you living an authentic life, doing what you really want? What do you move toward, and what do you move away from?  Is that 90-10% or 50-50%? How much is what you move toward and how much away from?  What makes you depressed, restless, frustrated, anxious? Behind what's important can be something you want to avoid. What's holding you back?  Do you stand up for the values you hold?

If you focus on what you don't want, it's because you had a negative emotional experience, wounding, or trauma.  You watch out for it by focusing on what you don't want - a negative experience.  You focus harder on the path you don't want to go down.  You must heal the emotional trauma and root causes, initial events and neutralize the emotional charge.  This eliminates the emotional charge and you don't move away from it and you can focus on what you WANT.  Once you remove the charge, it seems like something that happened to someone else - you no longer identify with it and aren't motivated by decisions you made about yourself or the world in that root cause. Coping mechanisms (ego) can buffer us from true feelings, creating unwanted outcomes and feelings.

Once you clear these charges, your values list may change; some things may drop off and others change their order, through resolution of conflicts.


Values and goals interact to create a MISSION infused with a deep sense of personal satisfaction. You can formulate your own Mission Statement with a few simple steps:

1. Identify a goal or desire, then ask yourself "What do I want or need from this selected goal? What is important about it; what do I value about it?

2. Higher. more important, values can be discovered by asking, "What will these higher values do for me?" They may reveal greater happiness, success or achievement, but will reveal the direction your motivation comes from: Toward (achieve, attain, gain) or Away From (avoid, relieve, out).

3. Your highest value is found by asking, "What will having the highest value do for me?" Your answer helps you determine your Mission, your creative passion.

4. Your MISSION includes and fulfills all of your highest values.


Values control and organize our beliefs associated with those values. They tell us what's important and help us create operational rules for our lives. Some are empowering and some are disempowering. Values determine what we spend our time on by creating what's important to motivating us to spend time on certain things.

How we evaluate that can lead to conflicting values. They arouse emotion. When you are totally motivated what feelings do you have? Notice how important it is and find its value. If something isn't on your list of values, you won't be motivated. If there is conflict, sometimes you do one thing while other times you do something totally opposite. You spend more time on the most important values whether they contribute or stand in your way of taking action.

Value hierarchies are created in youth (uncritical, unfiltered imprinting up to age 7; modelling and hero worship at ages 7-14; chosen socialization from society at large, 14-21) but the conflicts can be resolved by focusing on their order of importance. Safety is the biggest criteria for value choices. Parents, peers, media, church, local culture effect us. So do historical events and cultural differences.

The part of you that creates a sense of safety also resists positive change, consciously and unconsciously. Part of us wants to remain the same despite our conscious desires. There is a price to pay for changes because it involves moving through the fear and pain to create the results we want.

The main distinctions in hemispheric processing are between thinking and feeling; intellect and intuition; objective analysis and subjective insight. The two modes of conscious can each be the leader or the follower.  They may also conflict, one half trying to do what the other knows it can do "better." Each  has its own way of keeping knowledge from the other hemisphere, and this is especially true when it comes to memories and patterns locked in from trauma and abuse.