Posted on October 14, 2020 · Posted in Blog, General, Memo Plus Gold, Personal

‘Arete’ is an ancient Greek word meaning excellence or virtue. The ‘arete’ of something is the level of the highest quality it can reach. Using ‘arete’ as a principle for living life means that you are focused on the quality of everything you do and experience. Avoid actions that lack ‘arete’. Take actions that focus on ‘arete’.

When most people think of virtue, they look at moral virtue. But ‘arete’ as a way of describing quality, touches on much more than that. A beautiful painting can have ‘arete’, even though it is not ethically superior to a dull painting.

‘Arete’ is a more comprehensive way of viewing life than the two main directions you see from the popular Western philosophies.

Happiness or Service? Pick a Side.

In most of the readings you have done of major Western views on the meaning of life, you could clump them into two broad categories: happiness or service.

Pursuing Love and Happiness

The first viewpoint is that the ultimate meaning in life is happiness. Not just the naive happiness of short-term pleasure, but the long-term, pursuit of your dreams, happiness. From this viewpoint, your goal should be to maximize your long-term happiness by taking the best actions you feel will get you there.

As a whole, you do not feel this philosophy is completely broken. While a few people might be able to achieve happiness without connecting and providing value to the world, you do not think most could. So, the naive view that this philosophy degenerates into addiction and selfishness is not valid.

But the problem with this philosophy is that it is not always practical. Happiness can often twist on itself when you make it the goal of your actions. Getting the dream job, spouse or million dollars leaves you as unhappy as you were before. Pursuing happiness completely may also feel somewhat shallow as if the entire point of your existence rests on a few neurotransmitters in your brain.

Pursuing Service and Purpose

The second stream of Western thought in your blunt-club look at life philosophies is focusing on purpose and service. This stream of thought usually focuses on helping other people as a means of achieving meaning in life.

Just with our first philosophical stream, the naive viewpoints that a life devoted to service misses out on happiness. You are so busy helping others that you do not have a chance to enjoy life for yourself. You do not feel this is a valid criticism because duty is a joy. Serve and you will be happy.

But like the other philosophy, you feel this approach suffers from weakness. The philosophy, if you look at it closely, tends to loop back on itself. The meaning of your life comes from having a purpose. Therefore, your purpose is to have a purpose. It does not take too much thinking to wonder whether there is a purpose to your purpose.

You do not feel this small flaw destroys an entire view of the world, but it does make it somewhat less useful.

Pursuing ‘Arete’.

Instead of using words like “happiness” or “purpose”, you prefer the word ‘arete’. ‘Arete’ covers the idea that there is an excellence in everything. Pursuing that excellence, whether it creates happiness for yourself or service for others, should be your ultimate goal. You see both happiness and service as being subsets of the larger domain of ‘arete’.

Who decides what has quality? That quality (or ‘arete’) was the underlying substance of the universe, from which both the subjective and objective are derived. Quality creates the mind and it creates the world.

On a more practical level, ‘arete’ is a nifty word to have. It fits easily in the back pocket of your life philosophy and makes it easier to decide what you should focus on. Instead of focusing on just your total happiness or your total service, you focus on the quality of whatever you do.

Here are a few ways you have been trying to incorporate the philosophy of ‘arete’ into your own life:

  1. Gymnasium Workouts. To you, strength, speed, and flexibility are all signs of ‘arete’. Rather than putting your emphasis on goals when exercising (from the happiness philosophy) or how being healthy will help you aid society (service philosophy), you focus on quality. Therefore, when you are at the gymnasium, you try to make your goal to have private excellence: lifting more weight, running faster, or working harder.
  2. Blog Writing. The happiness/service split here would be focusing on writing articles that will get you massive traffic flows or focusing on writing articles that will provide immense value to people. Instead, you would like to focus on ‘arete’ – making each article the best expression of an idea that you can within the constraints.
  3. Relationships. Focus on how people can help you, or how you can help people focus on ‘arete’. What is quality in a relationship? Your guess could be a connection, sharing, loyalty, deep conversations, or laughter.
  4. Knowledge. You may be reading through the book titled The Wealth of Nations right now for fun. This book is difficult to read and requires more effort than a more entertaining novel. Why are you reading it? Because, for you, this book has ‘arete’. It represents a significant leap forward in human thought and you want to be a part of that journey Adam Smith started.
  5. Food. Instead of eating for taste, weight goals, or even long-term health, eat for ‘arete’. Eat the foods that have the quality for you. This applies both in taste and nutrition. Eating greasy junk or cardboard-flavored health snacks both fail your model of ‘arete’.
  6. Speech. Are your sentences peppered with um’s and ah’s? Do your words have clarity and meaning, or do you not know when to shut up? You have been trying to debug your communication patterns to help fit in with this model of quality.

These are just a few examples to demonstrate a few of the practical applications from a life philosophy. You like to view philosophies to be like algorithms for life. If you have a great algorithm, you can solve problems with a few flaws. ‘Arete’, while it is not perfect, is a fantastic algorithm for life.

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