Ever since Aristotle defined 'ethics' as 'habits,' Western morality has been backwards. Aristotle said that we become kind by acting kind, we become loving by acting loving, we become just by acting just, because kindness, love, and justice turn into habits.
But Spirit is who we already are before we act; and love, justice, wisdom, mercy are the inherent attributes of pure Consciousness before a single thought arises. Furthermore, everyone knows that, if we attempt to act kindly without being kind, we are just acting: our behavior is artificial.
When, on the other hand, we directly experience our transcendental divine Self through meditation, we awaken those divine qualities in our innate a priori awareness. Then we ARE kindness, we ARE love, we ARE justice, prior to acting them out.
But Aristotle believed the self was a blank slate. He literally called it the tabla erasa on which we inscribe our character by acting out ethical habits. He taught such ignorance because, unlike his master Plato, he never experienced a Self that transcends the intellect. He was a thinker, a philosopher, but not a yogi. He did not taste samadhi or breathe in "the peace which passeth understanding."
Before Aristotle, Plato taught that we must transcend the ordinary thinking mind, the mind of opinion - literally the Greek word he used. When practice the dialectic that takes us above mind into the realm of the Logos, we will gaze at the pure light of truth with the inward eye of the soul. He described this method quite carefully in The Republic. And for Plato, this ascent of the mind to pure seeing was not only a contemplative process, but was the method of science - again, his own word, scientia.
For Plato, it is this direct inward experience of the Light that changes our behavior into ethical action. Ethics are not inscribed in the soul through our material action; ethical actions flow out to the world from the Light within.
Like Plato, Buddha taught that we must transcend the cluttered multiplicity of the mind and awaken the unity of sunya, emptiness. Emptiness is the Buddha nature, the other shore, beyond the restless stream of thinking. Emptiness gives birth to compassion. This is the paradox of Buddhist ethics.
The Upanishads also taught transcendence. We must transcend waking thought, dreaming, and deep sleep, entering turiya, the fourth state of consciousness. The direct experience of turiya is the Self, the still and ever-silent witness of action. Then action arises spontaneously in harmony with Dharma, the moral law. This is also the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. Yogaastah karukarmani: "Be established in the state of Yoga, the eternal non-changing Self, then act."
In Chinese tradition, the same principle is the basis of the Tao Te Ching. It is the art of wei wu wei, "act by not-doing." When awareness surrenders to the Tao, the Te of ethical action arises spontaneous in harmony with nature.
Thus, the ancient masters of the East awakened the state of transcendental consciousness through deep meditation, prior to action. Consciousness preceded action. And Plato was deeply influenced by his master from the East. But the West followed the ignorance of Aristotle, rather than the wisdom of Plato.
Aristotle was a materialist. He taught that action precedes consciousness, and our habits in the material world are the foundation of our Spirit. The ancient masters taught just the reverse: consciousness precedes action, and Spirit is the source of matter.
We followed the materialism of Aristotle. We would have been a completely different civilization had we followed Plato.
Painting, Plato and Aristotle by Raphael, 'School of Athens,' Vatican Papal Apartments