Often, it is the nature of language to be ambiguous; certain words and phrases have literal context and application, while also establishing a more subjective threshold for prerequisite behavior and attributes. So it is with the word nobility, and the adjective noble.
Nobility is a term historically and currently used to define a class of people who maintain a certain rank or title given to them as a birthright. Literally speaking, nobility is as straightforward as whether one’s eyes are blue or brown; there is only room for yes or no, for have and have not. But nobility as an attribute is an entirely separate matter. It is classified not by the literal nobility of one’s birth, but by the tested, proven, nature of one’s character. To be noble of character is to be honorable, principaled, just, and worthy of being raised above that which is common, dull, vulgar and base. To be noble is to know when to employ virtues like justice and mercy, and when to withhold them. In essence, nobility is always the same; its ultimate purpose is the same. To be noble, by birth or by virtue, or a combination of the two, is to be set apart from — placed above — all the rest.
It was once assumed these characteristics, that which make one noble, were as inherent and predetermined as the literal birthright and subsequent title. And while this ideal initially manifested in ways which were apparent and true, thus giving the title of “nobility” an application that was appropriate, admirable, and reliable, it became corrupted over time. Titles were bestowed on people for reasons that were less than noble, through the dominance of politics and ego, and the nobility found itself polluted; its purpose and clarity obscured. And regardless of the harsh reality brought about by corruption and loss of purpose, solidified by countless blatant and inevitable consequences, these higher qualities would still be ascribed to every action and deed of a noble–good, bad, or otherwise. Because if the actions by which one should be considered worthy of praise are defined, first and foremost, by those who then are bound by the subjective definition, and that group is invaded by those who do not belong, it unfortunately follows that there is room for error; situations where the perception of entitlement obscures the purity of nobility itself.
So what is noble, then, when removed from its literal companion, nobility? How does one separate noble qualities, noble truths, from the literal person of nobility, with the understanding that the ultimate goal is to marry the two again?
In the ninth chapter of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explores what he believes is the difference is between the actions of a soul longing to be noble, as opposed to the longings of a noble soul. For our purposes, the mark of a true and noble soul is not only theoretically independent from inherent rank and title, but from the certainty of an external formula. There is a necessity to recognize one cannot simply look at the actions of a person and determine that person’s nature; the truth, in this case, is both subtle and obvious. Because while noble actions do manifest from a noble soul, there are other souls who engage in noble acts with the sole purpose of being perceived as such. And while this may seem like a subtle distinction to some, those who have seen the difference between the aim of noble soul and a soul seeking nobility never question the fundamental divide between the two.
What is noble? What does the word “noble” still mean for us nowadays? How does the noble man betray himself, how is he recognized under this heavy overcast sky of the commencing plebeianism, by which everything is rendered opaque and leaden?—It is not his actions which establish his claim—actions are always ambiguous, always inscrutable; neither is it his “works.” One finds nowadays among artists and scholars plenty of those who betray by their works that a profound longing for nobleness impels them; but this very NEED of nobleness is radically different from the needs of the noble soul itself, and is in fact the eloquent and dangerous sign of the lack thereof. It is not the works, but the BELIEF which is here decisive and determines the order of rank—to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning—it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.—THE NOBLE SOUL HAS REVERENCE FOR ITSELF.—
But recognizing the nobility of one’s soul is only the beginning.
In the dragon philosophy, it is the belief that literal nobility and nobility of character, while independently defined, are ideally inextricable. That within the personal spectrum of a dragon’s innate potential, the natural range of self-realization and its affects, it’s never a question of whether or not noble virtues exist in a dragon; it’s only a matter of how fully they’re understood, and how effectively they manifest.