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Τέλοs (telos), Reaching Your Full Potential

Updated: May 21

 


Aristotle opens his book Metaphysics with the statement “Man by nature desires to know." Anyone who’s been a parent has experienced a child's incessant questioning from the moment they can speak. "What's that?" "What are you doing?" And everyone's favorite unending "Why?" Why do they do this? Because we want to know.


In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle explores the nature of human happiness, or flourishing, and the virtues necessary to achieve it. He believes everything in nature aims at some end or goal, and this ultimate goal is the telos (τέλος) of human life. An acorn's telos is to become an oak tree. This is the best or highest thing that it can become. 


In City of God, St. Augustine also discusses the concept of telos. The overarching theme of the book is the contrast between the earthly city (City of Man) and the heavenly city (City of God), each with its own respective telos or ultimate purpose.


Throughout the book, Augustine argues that the City of God represents the eternal and perfect commonwealth whose telos is the enjoyment of God, while the earthly city pursues temporal and imperfect pursuits and goods. By contrasting these two cities, Augustine illustrates the different paths and destinies available to humanity based on their ultimate allegiance and pursuit of either temporal or eternal goods and ultimately emphasizes the importance of seeking God as the true telos of life.


If man’s telos is to become a flourishing adult, seeking God and living a virtuous life. How then do we attain that? What and how a child is taught is critical to this, and therefore a child's education should be carefully considered.


Schools were created to educate children. An education is not just about transferring knowledge and skills, but also about transferring a way of life and a way of being. Why are we here? Why is it important to be good? What is my purpose? In my experience, modern schools do not cultivate this philosophy of purpose. The roots of the word philosophy (philo = love and sophia = knowledge) indicate that this should be the primary objective of a school. Once I discovered Christian classical schools and learned they existed specifically to cultivate a love of learning, wisdom, and virtue in their students; to help them know and love God; and to expose them to the truth, goodness, and beauty that the world's best thinkers, artists, and musicians have to offer, I knew I that's where I wanted my children to be. Teachers fill our desire to know and expose us to wisdom and new ideas we never even thought of asking about.


It is our purpose, our telos, to flourish. My husband and I founded Telos Classical Academy because we wanted to create a school that would nurture students' desire to know and show them how to be virtuous along the way. Why? Because God made us that way.

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