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Mike Mentzer

Mike Mentzer

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Published by brian anderson
An exegesis and critique of the late Mike Mentzer's (Mr. Universe & Mr. Olympia competitor) philosophy of life and training. In this essay, I argue the connection between Mentzer's life-philosophy and that of the "virtue ethics" of the ancient Greeks.
An exegesis and critique of the late Mike Mentzer's (Mr. Universe & Mr. Olympia competitor) philosophy of life and training. In this essay, I argue the connection between Mentzer's life-philosophy and that of the "virtue ethics" of the ancient Greeks.

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Published by: brian anderson on Mar 16, 2008
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11/06/2012

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Facilitating Knowledge of the Excellent Life Through the Aesthetics of Mike Mentzer’s Bodybuilding
Brian Anderson
This essay focuses on the creative aesthetic of Mike Mentzer’s “Integrated Man,” andsuggests that his notion of virtue, as expressed creatively through knowledge andimagination, links him with the “virtue-ethics” of the ancient Greeks. To understandMentzer as a radically innovative bodybuilder and thinker, drawing inspiration from thisancient heritage for a virtuous and noble life, a life of excellent “humanflourishing”(
eudaimonia
), it is necessary to briefly explore this ancient cultures philosophy of knowledge, art, and virtue.“Knowledge is virtue,” is a fundamental Socratic thesis. Succinctly, it meanshaving the wherewithal to understand that a virtuous life, a life of excellence, is worth pursuing and requires work and dedication, i.e., training of the soul in thought and action,which expresses a living relationship to the knowledge of the interrelated cardinal virtues: piety, temperance, justice, courage, and wisdom, which assumed the role of the fifthvirtue, guiding the philosophers dialectic examination of the virtues.In the case of Socrates, wisdom was not a mode of detached theoreticalcontemplation, which transcended man’s experiential condition. For Socrates, wisdomwas a form of rational, clear-sighted thought, and when employed properly, it held the potential to uncover the knowledge of virtue (or virtues) by answering the ultimatequestion, “What is it to be a virtuous and excellent human?”Similar to the Greeks,
 
Mentzer’s artistic philosophy was based on the notion of virtue-ethics, for he was concerned with man’s character, the habitual ways of behaving
 
and living (
ethos
), and the moral purpose, or end, motivating man’s comportment in allsituations.
 
The six virtues, christened by Mike Mentzer with the acronym HUNGER, arestrikingly similar in character to the virtues of the ancients. Extending beyond the realmof competitive bodybuilding, they represented for Mentzer principles of value, indicativeof and essential to the pursuit of the excellent life.The values of Height, Uplift, Nobility, Grandeur, Exaltation and Reverence(HUNGER) apply to knowledge, philosophy, and character-building, inspiring man to hisfull human potential as a rational, moral, and creative being. In the manner of the ancientGreeks, Mentzer struck a working balance between various forms of knowledge: rational,scientific, and other modes of truth-disclosure, e.g., the intuitive knowledge that comes by way of the creative, aesthetic experience (
aisthesis
).Mentzer understood that knowledge exists in many forms, each holding its owndistinct place in our world-epistemology. When employing this philosophicalcategorization, I am fully aware of the implications, for although rational and scientific tothe end, Mentzer believed that art facilitated a highly complex form of knowledge, albeitsensate in nature, and further, that man’s creative ability to make and remake his worldand values, inspired by aesthetic knowledge, represented his most noble quality.Edith Hamilton’s description of the hallmark of Greek culture in terms of theunification of intellectualism and artistic creativity mirrors Mentzer’s contemporary philosophy of life, art, and sport. Discussing the integrated mind-body connection in
TheGreek Way
, Hamilton labels the Greeks “spiritual materialists,” for no struggle betweenthe body, the mind, and spirit existed for them. They were “clear, lucid thinkers,” whorefused to deny “the importance of the body (and the knowledge acquired via the senses)
 
and ever seeing in the body a spiritual significance.”
 
Mentzer understood the significant role of the body in renewing the sense of thespiritual, or religious, in man’s secular, earthly existence. For this reason, heenthusiastically worked to perfect the body and the presentation thereof. According toMentzer, the honed and perfected physique of the bodybuilder, when presented indramatic fashion, in affiliation with music of great power and emotion, expressed the artof living virtuously. The body, as unique
work-of-art 
, in a moment of aestheticattunement, transmitted and instilled the knowledge and ideal of the heroic conception of man as “the exalted hero, who stands noble and tall, proud of his ability and willingnessto be a creative, productive innovator.”Art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (
 Reflections on the Intimations of Greek Works of Art in Painting and Sculpture
) expressed a kindred notion regardingethical knowledge and the aesthetic experience. Writing in 1755, he offered an aestheticalternative for legitimately approaching the so-called “Socratic” virtues, suggesting that itwas possible to learn about the virtuous Greeks, not by reading their philosophy, butrather through the analysis of their art.Winckelmann sought to learn two crucial things about Greek art: First, heexamined the experience of art (spectator and work), trying to understand the way inwhich it communicates truth, along with the type of truth communicated. Second, whenseeking the meaning of the artwork (which emerges from the experience), he recognizedthe importance of the artist’s purpose and inspiration, which provided insight into thegeneral “health,” or worth, of the artist’s culture.Although the Greeks did not have a philosophy of art in the sense of our modern

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