Aim for excellence – How do you judge success? Is it the amount of money you have or how much you earn ? We all have differing attributes and character and each of us has taken our own path in life. One way to judge success or excellence is to be the best you can be at whatever you do. The Greeks have a term to describe achieving excellence arete, we do not.
That does not mean simply because we are English that one should not strive towards being the best at what you do. No English word or phrase captures the exact meaning of arete. The nearest equivalents are ‘excellence’ and ‘virtue’. But there is something more to arete which cannot be expressed in words. There is something of the Divine in it. Perhaps the only true way to understand arete is to consider two or more examples of excellence and to contemplate what it is they share.
What does it mean when we say of an action, an artistic work, or some flawless athletic maneuver, that it is excellent? To behold what is excellent, in whatever form, brings us the same joy. We perform an action with excellence and say, “perfect!”. In the moment of excellence, something transcends the mundane and touches the Ideal.
For Plato, arete is mainly associated with moral excellence. It is superordinate to specific moral virtues of Courage, Temperance, Justice, etc.; something they all share, a special, unnamed quality, their essence. It is clearly related to Goodness, but not the same thing.
For Aristotle, something is excellent when it manifests its unique purpose or telos. The unique, defining quality of human beings, for Aristotle, what makes them distinct from other creatures, is the capacity for rational thought. Human excellence, then, involves the correct use of reason, principally in connection with moral choice.
What do you think? Is it worthwhile to strive to achieve or better not to ?