When speaking of the moral realm one must be clear on what is being referred to. One may refer to the set of limits to action that are voluntarily agreed to by the property owners who wish to associate. Such moral reference is hardly permitted in a state. Since the state decides what the limits to action are, and ignores the property owners that it wishes to ignore, we cannot find ourselves in such a moral realm. We are, as any state subjects, under hegemony.
One may still refer to persons and their moral status. Here the reference is to the capacity for freely adhering to commitments made. Here the reference is to choice and its causes. One may speak of the will of the person and its superiority. Here the reference is to that in a many that chooses contrary to other determining factors. Some of the determining factors are external. But, critically, all externals are processed through character, and it is here that fear and rashness, licentiousness and insensibility, greed and ostentatiousness, rage and calm are identified.
It is the state of character that processes the motivating forces beyond will. A person with courage will on average act differently than a person without even if a person without may summon the will to courage. The will to courage is to be praised in the young and undeveloped. But the will to courage in the old is a sign of maldevelopment and past failure.
It is the region of virtue and vice that Aristotle invested so much of his attention in his moral writings. Knowing that the rules consented to by those seeking association would be selected by characters Aristotle turns the attention of his reader to the role of passion and its foundational role in choice and action. I hear Aristotle say that the young man inexperienced and passionate is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science (association). I translate such judgment–don’t err in over-intellectualizing morality. Don’t turn it into a head game. The condition of the head is in the character. The thinking and considering (to speak loosely of such acts) done will be better or worse depending on the character. How can one who cannot sit still and aim at truth unbothered by passion have a chance of learning and judging correctly?
So, character. What follows are the principles I have developed in relation to this emphasis on character. They are found in Aristotle implicitly though his time was such that they were not often articulated so explicitly. Now, I think they must be. I meet young men who hear the principles and respond as if the principles are new and startling. But their response is a combination of overwhelmed and inspired. They are young, and have lived lives of material comfort, and so they are a mess. But, that they are a mess has left them to some degree interested in formation–formation of character. Here are, in no order, primary principles for character development.
Feelings (from emotions to tastes) are unstable and modifiable.
Feelings are indirectly modifiable by choice and action.
The time it takes to modify feelings is indeterminate but relative to the hardness of the state of character formation that produces them.
Feeling follows choice and action and so repetitious choice and action in a particular direction crystallizes the state of character produced and the feelings that follow.
To change a feeling one must act contrary to it.
To choose and act contrary to a feeling is to starve it.
The natural initial response to a feeling that is starved is another and stronger feeling to draw the attention to the lack of attention to the want present in the feeling.
Over time not feeding feeling and its wants reduces them.
When the state of character is modified to better suit voluntary association it is best described as the death of the old man and the birth of the new man.
Finally, the ultimate states of character that can developed is infinite. Patience, for instance is infinite. So, the possibility of development is endless.
Becoming more virtuous is always better. During good external conditions the virtuous one maintains higher quality association and the profit gained from it. During evil external conditions (such as being under the hegemony of a state) the virtuous one is a pillar for all those he associates with and so improves the external conditions wherever he exists.
External conditions cannot cause virtue (there are no pills).
External conditions are the limitless training ground for virtue development.
The will is the power the chooser has to act virtuously before virtue is developed.
The existence of virtue is verified by how it feels to act virtuously.