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We are able to discern not only what we already are, but what we may become, to see in ourselves germs and promises of a growth to which no bounds can be set, to dart beyond what we have actually gained to the idea of perfection as the end of our being. ~ William Ellery Channing
Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. ~ Deuteronomy
Those with wholeness of understanding will be primarily motivated towards Watchfulness by their coming to see clearly that only perfection and nothing else is worthy of their desire. ~ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul? ~ Plato
Culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world. ~ Matthew Arnold
It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we become towards the defects of others. ~ François Fénelon

Perfection is a state of completeness and flawlessness.

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  • Even in our poor old country, with its aristocratic class materialized, its middle class vulgarized, its lower class brutalized, there are to be found individuals, as I have again and again said, lovers of the humane life, lovers of perfection, who emerge in all classes, and who, while they are more or less in conflict with the present, point to a better future.
  • The whole scope of the essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world; and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.
  • Culture is then properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection.
    • Matthew Arnold, “Sweetness and Light,” Culture and Anarchy (1869), p. 7.
  • That is the true perfection of man to find out his imperfections.
    • Augustine of Hippo, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 449.
  • Let us, as many as are running our course to perfection, be thus resolved, that, being not yet perfected, we pursue our course to perfection along the way by which we have thus far run perfectly, in order that “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part may be done away;” (1 Corinthians 13:10) that is, may cease to be but in part any longer, but become whole and complete.
    • Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise Concerning Man’s Perfection in Righteousness, § 19 Works, vol. 4, p. 327.
  • Why should not such perfection be enjoined on man, although in this life nobody may attain to it? The course is a right one, even if it be not known whereunto it must finally run. How, indeed, could it be known at all, unless it were pointed out in such precepts? Let us therefore “so run that we may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:23) For all who run rightly will obtain,—not as in the contest of the theatre, where all indeed run, but only one wins the prize.
    • Augustine of Hippo, A Treatise Concerning Man’s Perfection in Righteousness, § 19 Works, vol. 4, p. 328.


  • In general, just as painters in working from models constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is anxious to make himself perfect in all the kinds of virtue must gaze upon the lives of the saints as upon statues, so to speak, that move and act, and must make their excellence his own by imitation.
    • Basil of Caesarea, Letter to Gregory, Saint Basil: The Letters, R. Deferrari, trans. (1926), vol. 1, p. 17.
  • Man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection. To attempt to suppress this most natural of all inclinations because of possible abuses is, almost literally, to throw out the baby with the bath. Utopianism is, as Plato taught us at the outset, the fire with which we must play because it is the only way we can find out what we are. We need to criticize false understandings of Utopia, but the easy way out provided by realism is deadly. As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But deprived of literary guidance, they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.


  • We should not insist on absolute perfection of the gospel in our fellow Christians, however we may strive for it ourselves.
    • John Calvin Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, pg. 21.
  • This is the highest honour of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete! Hence, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, when the apostle discusses largely the metaphor of a human body, he includes under the single name of Christ the whole Church.
    • John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 1:23, in Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 1854, Rev. William Pringle, tr., Edinburgh, p. 218. [1]
  • There is but one true good for a spiritual being, and this is found in its perfection. Men are slow to see this truth; and yet it is the key to God's providence, and to the mysteries of life.
    • William Ellery Channing, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 449.
  • Religious instruction should aim chiefly to turn men’s aspirations and efforts to that perfection of the soul, which constitutes it a bright image of God.
  • We are able to discern not only what we already are, but what we may become, to see in ourselves germs and promises of a growth to which no bounds can be set, to dart beyond what we have actually gained to the idea of perfection as the end of our being.
  • Perfection is the object always proposed, though possibly unattainable; hitherto at least, certainly unattained. However, those who aim carefully at the mark itself will unquestionably come nearer it, than those who from despair, negligence, or indolence, leave to chance the work of skill. This maxim holds equally true in common life; those who aim at perfection will come infinitely nearer it, than those desponding or indolent spirits who foolishly say to themselves, Nobody is perfect; perfection is unattainable; to attempt it is chimerical; I shall do as well as others; why then should I give myself trouble to be what I never can, and what, according to the common course of things, I need not be, perfect.
I am very sure that I need not point out to you the weakness and the folly of this reasoning, if it deserves the name of reasoning. It would discourage, and put a stop to, the exertion of any one of our faculties. On the contrary, a man of sense and spirit says to himself, Though the point of perfection may (considering the imperfection of our nature) be unattainable, my care, my endeavours, my attention, shall not be wanting to get as near it as I can.
  • It seems like the better it gets, the more miserable people become. There’s never a technological advancement where people think, “Wow, we can finally do this!” … And I think a lot of it has to do with advertising. Americans have it constantly drilled into our heads, every fucking day, that we deserve everything to be perfect all the time.


  • The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
  • As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.


  • When we consider what is our thought of God we find that it is our own soul stripped of all inferiority and carried out to perfection.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sermon 86 (1830), The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume 2 (1990), p. 243.
  • He who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and make the whole life complete and perfect. Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to be won save by labor and conflict.
    • Epicurus, “Principal Doctrines,” 21.
  • Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.
    • It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.


  • It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are the more gentle and quiet we become towards the defects of others.


  • When Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
  • Dos veces es eminente el que encierra todas las perfecciones en sí, y ninguna en su estimación.
    • The eminent person who takes no notice of his own perfection is twice eminent.
      • Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia, § 123 (Christopher Maurer trans.)
  • What interest could I take in myself, except as a perfectible being? This unknown perfection, vaguely as I imagined it, exalted my will as never before in my longing to achieve it.
    • André Gide, Michael in The Immoralist, R. Howard trans., p. 51.
  • Though the experience of perfection is feather-light it brands like fire.
  • The bliss of the elect in heaven would not be perfect unless they were able to look across the abyss and enjoy the agonies of their brethren in eternal fire.
    • Homily of St. Gregory as quoted in A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 by Henry Charles Lea, p. 241.


Those who aim at faultless regularity will only produce mediocrity, and no one ever approaches perfection except by stealth, and unknown to themselves. ~ William Hazlitt
  • Those who aim at faultless regularity will only produce mediocrity, and no one ever approaches perfection except by stealth, and unknown to themselves.
  • Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing.
    • Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (2006), #1


  • The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.


  • To act nobly, a noble heart is not enough. It needs help from a sharp mind. Though the beginnings of ethical virtue lie in habituation, starting in our youth, and though the core of moral virtue is the right-shaping of our loves and hates, by means of praise and blame, reward and punishment, the perfection of character finally requires a certain perfection of the mind.
  • Most people leave Earth not realizing that they will have to return again. If they could remember at least something of the past, and learn to think about the future, they would save themselves from many errors. It is not a fear of hell but a desire for perfection that will lead people to the betterment of life.


  • Celui qui n’a égard en écrivant qu’au goût de son siècle songe plus à sa personne qu’à ses écrits: il faut toujours tendre à la perfection, et alors cette justice qui nous est quelquefois refusée par nos contemporains, la postérité sait nous la rendre.
    • He who only writes to suit the taste of the age, considers himself more than his writings. We should always aim at perfection, and then posterity will do us that justice which sometimes our contemporaries refuse.
      • Jean de La Bruyère, Characters, H. Van Laun, trans. (London: 1885) “Of Works of the Mind,” #67.
  • We are morally and intellectually superior to all men. We are peerless. So, too, are our organizations and our institutions. [Germany was] the most perfect political creation known to history, [the Kaiser] deliciae humani generis, [and the Imperial Chancellor, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg] the most eminent of living men.
    • Adolf Lasson; The Times (London), History of the War (1915), vol. 5, p. 170. This Hegelian philosopher and German nationalist is also quoted by Georges Clemenceau in Grandeur and Misery of Victory, p. 278 (1930).
  • The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.
  • It is a union with a Higher Good by love, that alone is endless perfection. The only sufficient object for man must be something that adds to and perfects his nature, to which he must be united in love; somewhat higher than himself, yea, the highest of all, the Father of spirits. That alone completes a spirit and blesses it, — to love Him, the spring of spirits.
    • Robert Leighton, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 449.
  • Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God's providence, for the benefit of others.
  • Eben die Bahn, aus welcher das Geschlecht zu seiner Vollkommenheit gelangt, muß jeder einzelne Mensch (der früher, der später) erst durchlaufen haben.
    • Precisely the way on which the species reaches its perfection, every individual human being (one earlier, one later) must have traversed, too.
  • Those with wholeness of understanding will be primarily motivated towards Watchfulness by their coming to see clearly that only perfection and nothing else is worthy of their desire and that there is no worse evil than the lack of and removal from perfection. For after this has become clear to them, as well as the fact that the means to this end are virtuous deeds and traits, they will certainly never permit themselves to diminish these means; nor will they ever fail to make use of their full potential. For it would already have become clear to them that if these means were reduced in number or not employed with complete effectiveness, with all of the energy that they called for, true perfection would not be attained through them, but would be lacked to the extent that sufficient exertion was lacking in relation to them.


  • When we have weighed everything, and when our relations in life permit us to choose any given position, we may take that one which guarantees us the greatest dignity, which is based on ideas of whose truth we are completely convinced, which offers the largest field to work for mankind and approach the universal goal for which every position is only a means: perfection.
    • Karl Marx, “Reflections of a Youth on Choosing an Occupation” (1835), Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, L. Easton, trans. (1967), p. 38.
  • Ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ Πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.
    • Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  • If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.


  • In art, man enjoys himself as perfection.
  • Only the most perfect human being can design the most perfect philosophy.


  • One must therefore portray the meaning of the sacred writings in a threefold way upon one's own soul, so that the simple person may be edified by what we may call the flesh of the scripture, this name being given to the obvious interpretation; while the one who has made some progress may be edified by its soul, as it were; and the one who is perfect and like those mentioned by the apostle: "We speak wisdom among the perfect; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to nought; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the world unto our glory" (1 Cor. 2:6-7)--this one may be edified by the spiritual law, which has "a shadow of the good things to come" (cf. Rom. 7:14). For just as the human being consists of body, soul and spirit, so in the same way does the scripture, which has been prepared by God to be given for humanity's salvation.
  • The most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection, mere buoys that float on the waves.
  • The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals.
  • A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then, again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revaluation of prominent historical figures.


  • Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?
  • May I splinter away from myself
    break into whole units
    live in each with perfection!



Perfection is a costly flower and is cultured only by an uncompromising, strict husbandry.

  • You will remember that Christ said, "Judge not lest ye be judged." That principle I do not think you would find was popular in the law courts of Christian countries. I have known in my time quite a number of judges who were very earnest Christians, and none of them felt that they were acting contrary to Christian principles in what they did. Then Christ says, "Give to him that asketh of thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." That is a very good principle. ... Then there is one other maxim of Christ which I think has a great deal in it, but I do not find that it is very popular among some of our Christian friends. He says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor." That is a very excellent maxim, but, as I say, it is not much practised. All these, I think, are good maxims, although they are a little difficult to live up to. I do not profess to live up to them myself; but then, after all, it is not quite the same thing as for a Christian.
  • Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.


  • There is Humilitas quaedam in Vitio [humility taken to a fault]. If a Man does not take notice of that excellency and perfection that is in himself, how can he be thankful to God, who is the Author of all excellency and perfection?
  • The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable perfection,—even though nothing more than the pounding of an old piano,—is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star.
  • Place before thyself the ideal of perfection, not that of happiness, for by doing what makes thee wiser and better, thou shalt find the peace and joy in which happiness consists.
  • To love the perfection with which we do our work, or the company of those with whom we work, is the secret of learning to love the work itself.
  • Perfection is beyond our reach, but they who earnestly strive to become perfect, acquire excellences and virtues of which the multitude have no conception.
  • No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.
    • Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851), part 4, chapter 30, last sentence, p. 456.


  • Love is the perfection of consciousness. We do not love because we do not comprehend, or rather we do not comprehend because we do not love. For love is the ultimate meaning of everything around us. It is not a mere sentiment; it is truth; it is the joy that is at the root of all creation. It is the white light of pure consciousness.
  • We are all imperfect. We can not expect perfect government.
    • William Howard Taft, address at a banquet given in his honor by the Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce of Washington, D.C. (May 8, 1909); Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft (1910), vol. 1, chapter 7, p. 82.
  • Perfectly beautiful: let it be granted her: where is the fault?
    All that I saw (for her eyes were downcast, not to be seen)
    Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null,
    Dead perfection, no more.
  • The highest perfection of human life consists in the mind of man being detached from care, for the sake of God.
  • Avons-nous désiré, pour rendre notre séparation d'avec le monde aussi parfaite que demande la sainteté de notre état , que le monde eût aversion de nous, comme nous avons aversion du monde, suivant l'exemple que nous en donne l'Apôtre : Mihi mundus crucifucus est et ego mundo. Gai. 6. Enfin, gémissons-nous souvent avec les Saints de nous voir contraints de demeurer encore dans le monde; et avons-nous désiré d'en sortir pour fuir le danger qu'il y a de s'y corrompre?
    • Have we wanted, in order to render our separation from the world as perfect as the sanctity of our state demands, that the world have aversion to us, as we have aversion to the world, following the example the apostle has given us, “The world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Finally, have we lamented along with the Saints that we see ourselves constrained to endure in the world; and have we desired to leave it in order to flee the danger that there will be something it corrupts?
  • In order to feel complete love, we can either delude ourselves that some imperfect object of our love is “perfection” or we can love perfection, which is God.
  • They who have decided to dedicate their lives to spiritual perfection will never be dissatisfied or unhappy, because all that they want is in their power.
  • By his father he is English, by his mother he is American—to my mind the blend which makes the perfect man.
    • Mark Twain, introducing Winston Churchill, New York City (December 12, 1900); Paul Fatout, ed., Mark Twain Speaking (1976), p. 368.


  • In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless.


  • Aristotle especially, both by speculation and observation... reached something like the modern idea of a succession of higher organizations from lower, and made the fruitful suggestion of "a perfecting principle" in Nature. With the coming in of Christian theology this tendency toward a yet truer theory of evolution was mainly stopped, but the old crude view remained...
  • Private property ... has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.
  • What Jesus does say is that man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what he is.


  • The gentleman knows that whatever is imperfect and unrefined does not deserve praise. ... He makes his eyes not want to see what is not right, makes his ears not want to hear that is not right, makes his mouth not want to speak what is not right, and makes his heart not want to deliberate over what is not right. ... For this reason, power and profit cannot sway him, the masses cannot shift him, and nothing in the world can shake him.
    • Xun Zi, “An Exhortation to Learning,” E. Hutton, trans., Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2001), p. 260.


  • Math is perfect (in principle), but mathematicians are not (because they are humans), hence the mathematics that (human) mathematicians do is influenced by the weltanschauung of the people around them.
    • Doron Zeilberger "Computerized Deconstruction". Appeared in Adv. Appl. Math. v. 31 (2003), 532-543.


  • Perfect is the enemy of good.
    • Alternatively: Better is the enemy of good.
    • Modern form of traditional Italian Il meglio è nemico del bene, attested since 1603: Proverbi italiani [Italian Proverbs], by Orlando Pescetti (c. 1556 – c. 1624) (p. 30, p. 45)
    • Popularized by Voltaire in French form (virtually word-for-word translation):
      • Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
      • "La Bégueule" ("The Prude"), in Contes (Tales), 1772
    • Voltaire credits the Italian origin, ascribing it to an unnamed "Italian sage" or "wise Italian":
      • Dans ses écrits un sage Italien
        Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.
        • In his writings a wise Italian
          Says that the better is the enemy of the good.
    • He also gives the saying (without attribution) in Italian (Il meglio è l'inimico del bene [note spelling difference: l'inimico instead of nemico for "[the] enemy") in the article "Art Dramatique" ("Dramatic Art", 1770) in the Dictionnaire philosophique.
    • Variants:
      • Le plus grand ennemi du bon, c'est le mieux.
        • The better is the greatest enemy of the good.
      • Cited in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820), §216 as a French proverb.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 593.
  • What's come to perfection perishes,
    Things learned on earth we shall practise in heaven;
    Works done least rapidly Art most cherishes.
  • The very pink of perfection.
  • A man cannot have an idea of perfection in another, which he was never sensible of in himself.
  • In this broad earth of ours,
    Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
    Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
    Nestles the seed perfection.
  • What Jesus meant, was this. He said to man, ‘You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be yourself. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism at every step.’

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