According to my experience and knowledge, two main things account for the 'nobility' of individual human beings; this is therefore how I would define the phenomenon of 'nobility' (NOT, of course, in the sense of 'aristocrats'):
One, the fact that one continues to exist and to fight in the face of (and in spite of) incredible, overwhelming odds--to fight against a seemingly impersonal, apathetic universe which threatens at all times to completely overwhelm and defeat one. This is strength of character, and is my first criterion.
Two, to continue to fight KNOWING the power that the universe has over one. This requires DEPTH--depth of soul, depth of experience, depth of culture. Pascal, of course, wonderfully and poetically stated this point--perhaps better than I have seen it expressed elsewhere.
The first criterion expresses the Nietzschean sense of the individual--his primal strength of soul; the second, the Pascalian sense--his depth and breadth of soul. BOTH give to the individual that character which I would call true 'nobility' of soul; but NOT, I would say, either one of them separately.
For instance, one can be completely ignorant both culturally and in the sense of pure 'knowledge' (or experience) and yet still have enormous strength of character to continue to fight to exist. Street people, it seems to me, exhibit this trait. They exist, they survive, but they know not either who they are, nor where they might be going; and often--due to the immediacy of the problem of their mere survival, some would say--they do not even care to know any of these things.
Then there is the phenomenon of the person of fully knows his predicament, but has little or no strength of character to withstand it; and thus he frequently terminates his own existence.
It is only when and if the two traits are combined in one individual, I say, that we see the phenomenon of the 'noble' or 'great' soul--the MAHATMA (even if he also may eventually 'wreck' his own life): the great one, the great life, the noble example of a human life for us to wonder at and seek all our lives to try to emulate.
5 April, 1994.