“The rules cannot be understood apart from the virtues at which they aim”


Telos is the Greek word for a human’s ultimate aim. Its kind of the smart version of today’s dumbed down “individual purpose. It represents his ultimate purpose and function — an essential nature that can only be realized by throwing off the inertia of default desires and actively striving after it. Its kind of like attaining “what you could be”, your potential best, if you could clear the decks and do it. to be clear, this isn’t excellence, it is more about flourishing as a human being.

Which leads me to virtuous.

Here is what I mean by virtuous:

  • Do good. I imagine I am suggesting that if you do good you will contribute in a meaningful way (some call this a purposeful life). We must simply follow Aristotle’s advice, or Emerson, that “the purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good.” The point is not merely to study the good, in a detached and academic way, but to invite oneself to develop as a person of character.

Believing that a virtuous life is not found in attitude, but behavior & actions.

I believe it was Aristotle who suggested being a good human was both functional and objective which means that being virtuous is not just lived within what you do (so asking to be judged by your actions may mean well but you are likely to be doomed within judgement of) but also within intent (your aspirations to be better). That said. I imagine the conflict of self, in life, mainly resides in the liminal space between who we are and who we could be at our best.

Which leads me to coherence.

Far, far, too often people suggest consistency is the key to attaining your purpose or even a life better lived. They would be wrong. It is coherence. Life, business, shit, everything, is driven by connections with others and other thoughts. And within each of those connections you have conversations – with others, their ideas and even in your own head. At some point, if you want to make any progress, this lends you some coherence within all the scattered ideologies and feelings and attitudes and opinions so you can shape some perspective. It shapes both imagination and reality all of which shapes identity.

I would argue they shape your telos as well as create the platforms for a better life, business, and society. And while these three things may never be completely in sync, I would argue that the constant coherence around seeking the sync is where things get better – everything.

That coherence establishes some parameters and ultimately people, not just an individual, get mobilized within those parameters to do better things, think better things, and become better.

I imagine this is an argument for each individual doing the right thing, and if they get close to individual telos, the greater good, the greater community and society, is positively impacted.

Which leads me to end with rules do not help.

While I don’t want to confuse, or conflate, morals and virtue, I will use philosopher Alasdair McIntyre, “when a moral culture lacks a teleological element, rules become the primary concept of the moral life to make a point. Rules do not define behavior nor do they define virtue. Rules are a default mechanism for people too weak to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is virtuous and what is not.  Simplistically, a societal system, or even a business culture, which lacks a coherent understanding of its telos, there can only exist negative proscriptions for appropriate behavior, i.e., rules shape behavior. The reality is rules are not meant to move people toward meaning or purpose or mattering, they are simply reductive, and restrictive parameters, to basic behavior. If you want to be better, as a person, as a business, as a society, rules will not get you there. I am not suggesting rules should be abolished, but I am suggesting the closer we get to a true telos mindset, the less we will ever have to use rules. Ponder.

Written by Bruce