Moral perfectionism

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Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. ~ Moses
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew

Moral perfectionism is the conviction that human beings have a duty to aspire to moral perfection.

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  • The Dhamma is heard by a householder or a householder's son. ... And after some time, he abandons his property, small or great, leaves his circle of relatives, small or great, shaves off his hair and beard, dons yellow robes and goes forth into the homeless life.

    Having gone forth, he dwells restrained by the restraint of the rules, persisting in right behaviour, seeing danger in the slightest faults, observing the commitments he has taken on regarding body, deed and word, devoted to the skilled and purified life, perfected in morality, with the sense-doors guarded, skilled in mindful awareness and content.

    • Gautama Buddha, Digha Nikaya, as translated by Maurice Walshe (1987), p. 63


  • Fan Ch'e asked about perfect virtue. The Master said, "It is in retirement, to be sedately grave; in the management of business, to be reverently attentive; in intercourse with others, to be strictly sincere."
    • Confucius, The Analects, in The Ethics of Confucius, p. 79

  • Tsze-chang asked Confucius about perfect virtue. Confucius said, "To be able to practise five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue: ... gravity, generosity, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness."
    • Confucius, The Analects, in The Ethics of Confucius, p. 79


  • Very quickly the church found intolerable and inapplicable features in what Jesus Christ demanded and proclaimed. Let us simply take two themes. First, he tells us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. But how can anyone take this impossibility seriously? … Again, Jesus says, “Go, sell all your goods, give them to the poor, and then come and follow me.” How are we to take this? …

    The way opens, then, for the sapping work of theologians of all kinds, then of lawyers, in an attempt to explain that Jesus wanted to say something other than what is written, or that these commandments are meant only for a spiritual elite and are simply counsels for others, or that the order given to the rich young ruler was meant for him alone. In other words, the texts have been wrested in all kinds of ways so that we should not be driven into a corner or forced to recognize the distance between God and us.

    • Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity (1982), G. Bromiley, trans. (1986), pp. 41-42


  • Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


  • Εἰ θέλεις τέλειος εἶναι, ὕπαγε πώλησόν σου τὰ ὑπάρχοντα καὶ δὸς πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.
    • Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

  • תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה עִ֖ם יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃ ס


  • 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?


  • For the majority of mankind, religion is a habit, or, more precisely, tradition is their religion. Though it seems strange, I think that the first step to moral perfection is your liberation from the religion in which you were raised. Not a single person has come to perfection except by following this way.


  • 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

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