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The Four Foundations of Greatness

Tom Morris

Philosophy Friends!

You may have clicked this page of the website because you've heard me speak somewhere on The Four Foundations of Greatness, or perhaps you've read or heard of my book If Aristotle Ran General Motors, where these ideas were first proposed long ago, in 1997.

As I conveyed in the book, and as I explain in talks on this topic, I've come to believe that the deepest and most solid foundations of sustainable greatness are Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity. 


The Big Picture

In my analysis, there are two sides to life and business success. One side involves goal setting and attainment (the ancient Greek word for a goal, or target, is ‘telos’), and the other side focuses on the proper conditions for long-term personal fulfillment and solid relationship-building. 

The Teleology of Success = Outer Goal Setting and Goal Attainment

The Sociology of Success = Inner Happiness and Relationship Building

Most of the success books of the past century have tended to stress only the former of these enterprises, and have neglected the latter. But unhappy people can't sustain excellence in their endeavors, no matter how good they otherwise might be with goal setting. And, as we all know, relationships rule the world. That's why I get so excited about being able to speak on what I often call The Four Foundations, which correspond to the Four Dimensions of our experience:

Truth: The goal for The Intellectual Dimension of our experience - it's all about honestly confronting and grappling with what there is, refusing self deception and deception with others. This puts reality on your side.

Beauty: The pinnacle for The Aesthetic Dimension of our experience - This ranges from the pleasant to the delightful to the sublime, and positions people for peak creativity in their work.

Goodness: The quest for The Moral Dimension of our experience - This is all about kindness, fairness, and justice in the little things as well as the big things, from good manners to true empathy.

Unity: The ultimate quarry for The Spiritual Dimension of our experience - This is all about connectedness or harmony, with each other, and with the peak purposes for our lives. In Aristotle's formula, it's about People in Partnership for a Shared Purpose.

These are the basic building blocks of sustainable greatness precisely because they are the most fundamental foundations for personal fulfillment and engagement, and they together form the most effective basis for developing strong, resilient relationships of trust with the people around us. They are the necessary basics for reaching greatness together with others, and they are absolute requirements for sustaining it.



I often speak around the world on the topic of "True Success," using my special framework of seven universal conditions derived from all the great thinkers - "The 7 Cs of Success."  It's a topic I've spoken on thousands of times and I’ve been able to see individuals and companies apply the framework in amazing ways.  As you can see in more detail on another page at this website, these ideas are simple but profound. In any challenge, we need:

The 7 Cs of Success

C1 - A clear CONCEPTION of what we want,

C2 - A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain the goal,

C3 - A focused CONCENTRATION on what it will take,

C4 - A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision,

C5 - An emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we're doing,

C6 - A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course,

C7 - A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.

I first developed these seven conditions in a book called True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence, and I think I've been able to take them to an even greater level of depth and practicality in The Art of Achievement. They also underlie the ideas in another book of mine, The Stoic Art of Living. The 7 Cs of Success can be powerful guides to masterful goal setting and goal attainment. There is profundity beneath their surface simplicity. But I am sure you recognize that right away from your own successful endeavors in the past. 

My understanding is that these widely known conditions for success should never be thought of as standing alone. They should always be fit together with the Four Foundations and, in combination, these two frameworks can provide a complete philosophy of sustainable excellence.

I hope that these ideas can help you to have many new insights about your life and work, and that they will help you to think through the opportunities you face, the challenges that stretch you, and the relationships that sustain you day to day, at work and at home.



The Intellectual Dimension of human experience needs Truth.

The Aesthetic Dimension of human experience needs Beauty.

The Moral Dimension of human experience needs Goodness.


The Spiritual Dimension of human experience needs Unity.

We have here something like a classic acrostic tool: This is the great "I AM" of traditional philosophy: I am all these things: an intellectual, aesthetic, and moral being, living a spiritual existence, in need of Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Unity. If I forget any of these dimensions, or any of these needs, I will diminish myself. If I neglect or fail to respect these things in my relationships with others, we all will suffer as a result.

If I use Truth, Beauty, and Goodness to create greater and stronger forms of Unity with the people around me, and within my own soul, I can experience a higher and more sustainable form of excellence in everything I do. The same is true for each of us.

We should employ the Four Foundations as a diagnostic tool in everything we do. Are we respecting Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Unity? Could more be done? How can you put one or more of these insights into better practice right away? Acting in accordance with these things inspires the trust of others and unleashes their energy to join with us in making new things happen. They create a safe place for true innovation, and a culture that embodies them tends to attract and keep the best talent.

Always remember that ideas are important only if they're implemented. Study, reflect, and then act. In doing new things with them, you will learn. When the ideas were first promulgated in 1997, lots of CEOs told me they were excited about the profound practicality of this simple framework. But in too many contexts, old habits held people back from fully implementing the ideas. They often require a sort of fierce self-examination and courage in order to be used to their fullest.

Put to work the thoughts given to us by the great thinkers of the past to stimulate your own insights today and tomorrow. Claim your philosophical heritage, and use these concepts to enhance every aspect of your life. And then let me know how it goes! I'm sure I'll learn a lot from you about them.


The Four Foundations Book

I hope you get to read my book where the four foundations are developed, If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. It’s the full-length presentation of the ideas we talked about together. These ideas are also supported in various ways in my new novel series that begins with the short prologue The Oasis Within, and continues with Book One: The Golden Palace. There will be other volumes published shortly, and they'll all reinforce and extend these ideas.



As my schedule allows, we’ll be doing some weekend retreats on these and related ideas at the beach near where I live in Wilmington, NC. Drop me an email if you’d like to be put on a list of people who will be informed when the planning begins on these great events. You can come alone, or with a spouse, or bring a team to town to explore how the wisdom of the ages can enhance your business and life. I’d love to be able to discuss these ideas with you over an extended period of time!