Arête: The Peak of Mankind

Sun setting over a mountain peak.

According to geologists, arête can be defined as “a sharp mountain range”. On the other hand, philosophers believe it is “excellence of any kind.” While experts in geology and philosophy study vastly different topics, they can both agree that arête distinguishes the pinnacle from the mundane.

Specifically, as it pertains to presocratic philosophers, arête defined the greatest of men, those who were be epitome of what mankind should strive to be: strength, intelligence and perfection. To a modern philosophy student this antiquated definition seems unachievable and elusive; but after further examination, perhaps obtaining such a title isn’t so impossible.

To me, achieving excellence of any kind can be simplified to a two step process. First, one must embrace the fact that they will never achieve the ancient philosopher’s definition of excellence. Even Socrates is aware of his lack of knowledge, “I do not think that I know what I do not know”. By clearing the mind of any egotistical beliefs, one can begin to examine what they are missing.

After becoming aware of various flaws, step two then requires that they must then dedicate themselves to improving their weaknesses. Over time, perseverance, grit and discipline will pay off, culminating in great character.

One will be able to distinguish a typical man from one who has achieved great things the same way the mountain peak towers over valleys and gorges. Over years, consistent pressure and work carves out an exemplary individual, rising above the rest in terms of virtue and morals.

Their success will be prominent, because although “wealth does not bring excellence, but that wealth, and every other good thing which men have, whether in public or in private, comes from excellence”.
Personally, arête does not mean one is perfect or even necessarily successful, it simply means focusing on creating the best version of yourself possible.

Annie Cui ’22

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