The Merchandising of Virtue
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

One of the traps the Human Condition sets for us as we pursue virtue is the fact that true virtue is a small slice of human conduct bounded by vast stretches of human nature just as visible light is a small slice of the vast spectrum of electromagnetism.

The major problem with this reality is that the boundaries of true virtue can often be indistinct. People like Captain Ahab, for example, pursue virtue so relentlessly that it degenerates into a fetish that overbears other important values. The obsession that afflicts such people can turn virtue into an end in itself and displace the true source of right conduct, which is a visceral impulse that springs from the core of a person’s character.

The impulse to “do the right thing” is often a byproduct of half-conscious inclinations to act in certain ways in certain contexts rather than a fully conscious decision to adhere to a given code of conduct. Actions you take because you believe them to be virtuous are different from actions you take reflexively without regard to their virtuousness or lack of it. The former are legalistic and defined by ratiocination whereas the latter spring from moral conditioning that has been integrated into one’s core personality. Both forms of virtue come with risks and advantages and together they help us recon-cile ourselves to the consequences of our choices.