Meditation #2: Noble Deeds Are Voluntary

Every noble deed is voluntary. 
— Seneca

There's no cheating or coincidence, virtue must be on some level a willful, conscious act.

Being compelled to do the "right" thing by external forces does not count as virtue and does not warrant praise, regardless of outcome. This applies to obvious cases (like someone's holding a gun to your head) but does it also apply to our own internal logic? If an act is done for any reason other than "this is what I want to do and I look forward to doing it" then is it not, to some degree, compelled? Perhaps by obligation, or one of the many other abstract tools reasoning employs?

When reason is employed, you are half-way to a virtuous act. You are making the "good" choice, but for some reason your spirit and soul needed to be persuaded into doing this. Even if it was only the tiniest push, your heart was not sold without it.

Why does this happen? Is this evidence that correction or re-alignment is needed within our soul, that it enters this world in need of instruction in order to do good? Or is it the other way around, and it is our soul that is "good" and forced to reason with some other, more base and selfish part of ourselves?

Perhaps our spirit and soul always know "Right", perhaps they are the source of our "gut feelings" and it is their job to stop our calculator brains from seeking every quantifiable advantage in a given situation? Consistently pursuing acts that provide maximum benefit to your self above all else certainly doesn't seem like a noble character trait, it sounds closer to ego.

Is it philosophical tradition to suppose the soul comes from a realm of eternal Good? In contrast, is it not easy enough to see with one's own eyes the nefarious acts human intellect has accomplished in any given age of history? Intellect is a morally neutral computer, and the soul has no physical form with which to lay hands on this machine and shut it down. We have only our internal dialogue, the dialectic, and our powers of reasoning.

To listen to our soul is a choice, one that, once again, can only be made voluntarily. There is an old saying along the lines of: 

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who want to see what they can get away with, and those who want to see what kind of person they can become.

Much could be said about the former personality type, but it indicates a "prime directive" that is motivated by the reasoning intellect, always weighing options and asking "is this risk worth the reward?" This personality type has it's benefits, it is particularly well-suited for entrepreneurs and perhaps some artists, but it seems inherently wrong for law makers, leaders, and moral authorities. Even more so during times of growth or crisis.

Choosing to do "the right thing" is NOT a calculation, it is not a risk to be weighed, it simply exists as intangible knowledge of how one should proceed. For those determined to see what they can get away with, it is this knowledge that is weighed against the odds. Those seeking to know what kind of person they can become, as they grow wiser, hope to align their goals with the path this knowledge presents. While neither the former nor latter is inherently "more moral" in all situations, it is important to acknowledge that there are some things one might be better suited for than the other.

Would we not all prefer the latter be the doers and thinkers who lay the bedrock philosophies and ideologies for human civilization? The opposite is a world where all notions of thought and progress compete in a race to the bottom in attempts to find what is the final, indivisible 'hack', the one 'move' that can't be countered. Does this not get to the heart of the matter, the dichotomy of all human beings: Are you guided by odds and data or by moral principles? And if we say the latter, our next task is to define those principles…