Quotations about   virtue

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It is our conviction that if souls were visible to the eyes, we should be able to see distinctly that strange thing, that each one individual of the human race corresponds to some one of the species of the animal creation; and we could easily recognize this truth, hardly perceived by the thinker, that from the oyster to the eagle, from the pig to the tiger, all animals exist in man, and that in each one of them is in a man. Sometimes even several of them at a time.

Animals are nothing else than the figures of our virtues and our vices, straying before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls. God shows them to us in order to induce us to reflect.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Les Misérables, Part 1, “Fantine,” Book 5, ch. 5 (1862) [tr. Wilbour]
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Introducing Javert.

Alt. trans. [Fahnestock/MacAfee]: "It is our belief that if the soul were visible to the eye, every member of the human species would be seen to correspond to some species of the animal world, and a truth scarcely perceived by thinkers would be readily confirmed, namely, that from the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger, all animals are to be found in men and each of them exists in some man, sometimes several at a time. Animals are nothing but the portrayal of our virtues and vices made manifest to our eyes, the visible reflections of our souls. God displays them to us to give us food for thought."
Added on 31-May-19 | Last updated 31-May-19
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The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do and, in addition, will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people. They say “no” to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds, but in their quiet refusals to commit villainies. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) American writer
“How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978)
Added on 28-Feb-19 | Last updated 28-Feb-19
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An opinion, right or wrong, can never constitute a moral offense, nor be in itself a moral obligation. It may be mistaken; it may involve an absurdity, or a contradiction. It is a truth; or it is an error: it can never be a crime or a virtue.

Frances "Fanny" Wright (1795-1852) Scottish-American writer, lecturer, social reformer
A Few Days in Athens, Vol. 2, ch. 14 (1822)
Added on 1-Jan-19 | Last updated 1-Jan-19
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Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Isaiah 1:16-17 [NRSV]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." [KJV]
  • "Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done -- help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows." [GNT]
  • Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow." [NASB]
Added on 26-Nov-18 | Last updated 26-Nov-18
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A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Summarizing Montaigne.
Added on 5-Apr-18 | Last updated 5-Apr-18
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Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to Alexander Hamilton (28 Aug 1788)
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Added on 3-Apr-18 | Last updated 3-Apr-18
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I gladly come back to the theme of the absurdity of our education: its end has not been to make us good and wise but learned. And it has succeeded. It has not taught us to seek virtue and to embrace wisdom: it has impressed upon us their derivation and their etymology. We know how to decline the Latin word for virtue: we do not know how to love virtue. Though we do not know what wisdom is in practice or from experience we do know the jargon off by heart.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
The Complete Essays, II:17 “On Presumption” [tr. Screech (1987)]
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Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 2-Sep-17
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Character is simply habit long continued.

Plutarch (AD 46-127) Greek historian, biographer, essayist [Mestrius Plutarchos]
Moral Writings [Moralia], “On the Education of Children,” 4.3 [tr. Babbitt and Goodwin]
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Added on 29-Aug-17 | Last updated 29-Aug-17
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Be careful how you live your life, it is the only Gospel many people will ever read.

Hélder Câmara (1909-1999) Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, social and political activist
(Attributed)

Quoted in 1985 in Basta, the national news letter of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America.

Alt. trans.: "Watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your brothers and sisters will ever read."
Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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In our judgment of men, we are to beware of giving any great importance to occasional acts. By acts of occasional virtue weak men endeavour to redeem themselves in their own estimation, vain men to exalt themselves in that of mankind.

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
The Statesman: An Ironical Treatise on the Art of Succeeding, ch. 3 (1836)
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Added on 8-Aug-17 | Last updated 8-Aug-17
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… a noble aim,
Faithfully kept, is as a noble deed,
In whose pure sight all virtue doth succeed.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) English poet
“Brave Schill! By Death Delivered, Take Thy Flight” (1809; pub. 1815)
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Sometimes misquoted "is a noble deed".
Added on 21-Jul-17 | Last updated 21-Jul-17
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Loving-kindness is greater than laws; and the charities of life are more than all ceremonies.

The Talmud (AD 200-500) Collection of Jewish rabbinical writings
(Unreferenced)
Added on 1-Jun-17 | Last updated 13-Jul-17
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There is only one question which really matters: why do bad things happen to good people?

Harold S. Kushner (b. 1935) American author, rabbi
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, ch. 1 (1981)
Added on 3-Mar-17 | Last updated 3-Mar-17
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Virtue is not always amiable.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Diary (9 Feb 1779)
Added on 25-Jan-17 | Last updated 25-Jan-17
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The slander of some people is as great a recommendation as the praise of others. For one is as much hated by the dissolute world, on the score of virtue, as by the good, on that of vice.

fielding-slander-recommendation-praise-wist_info-quote

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist, dramatist, satirist
The Temple Beau, Act 1, sc. 1 (1729)
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Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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When all is said and all is done,
When all is lost or all is won —
In spite of musty theory,
Of purblind faith and vain conceit,
Of barren creed and sophistry:
In spite of all — success, defeat,
The Judge accords to worst and best,
Impartially, this final test:
What hast thou done with brawn and brain,
To help the world to lose or gain
An onward step? Canst reckon one
Unselfish, brave or noble deed,
That thou — nor counting cost! Hast done
To help a brother’s crying need?
Not what professed nor what believed
But what good thing hast thou achieved?

James Ball Naylor (1860-1945) American physician, writer, poet, politician
“The Final Test”
Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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The only reward of virtue is virtue.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Friendship,” Essays: First Series (1841)
Added on 23-Jan-17 | Last updated 23-Jan-17
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It is necessary to stifle the domestic and foreign enemies of the Republic or perish with them. Now, in these circumstances, the first maxim of our politics ought to be to lead the people by means of reason and the enemies of the people by terror … The basis of popular government in time of revolution is both virtue and terror. Terror without virtue is murderous, virtue without terror is powerless. Terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice — it flows, then, from virtue.

Maximilien Robespierre (1758-174) French lawyer, politician, revolutionary leader
Speech, National Convention (7 May 1794)
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Added on 16-Jan-17 | Last updated 16-Jan-17
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Convinced that character is all and circumstances nothing, [the Puritan] sees in the poverty of those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926)
Added on 15-Dec-16 | Last updated 15-Dec-16
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He that is good will infallibly become better, and he that is bad will as certainly become worse; for vice, virtue, and time are three things that never stand still.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, #457 (1821 ed.)
Added on 21-Nov-16 | Last updated 21-Nov-16
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Imposed virtues are not virtuous — they are conformist.

Graham Ericsson (b. 1947) American writer, aphorist
Into a New Day (2008)
Added on 2-Nov-16 | Last updated 2-Nov-16
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The meaning of good & bad, of better & worse, is simply helping or hurting.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (27 Aug 1838)
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Added on 10-Oct-16 | Last updated 10-Oct-16
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It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Journal (1820)
Added on 26-Sep-16 | Last updated 26-Sep-16
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Content thyself to be obscurely good.
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
Cato, Act 4, sc. 1, l. 319 (1713)
Added on 23-Aug-16 | Last updated 23-Aug-16
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“Do unto others …” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
“Why I’m an Atheist,” Wall Street Journal (19 Dec 2010)
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Added on 4-Aug-16 | Last updated 4-Aug-16
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Nations are never virtuous, though they might sometimes think they are.

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
Solar (2010)
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The virtues, like the body, become strong more by labor than by nourishment.

Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [pseud. Jean-Paul]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
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A man should fear when he enjoys only what good he does publicly. Is it not the publicity, rather than the charity, that he loves?

Beecher - what good he does publicly - wist_info quote

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
In Henry Ward Beecher and Edna Dean Proctor, Life Thoughts: Gathered From the Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (1858)

See Matthew.
Added on 8-Jul-16 | Last updated 8-Jul-16
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I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue. The Roman word is better, impedimenta. For as the baggage is to an army, so are riches to virtue. It cannot be spared or left behind, but it hindereth the march: yea, and the care of it, sometimes, loseth the victory.

Bacon - loseth the victory - wist_info quote

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Riches,” Essays, No. 34 (1625)
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Added on 2-Jun-16 | Last updated 2-Jun-16
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Obstinacy in a bad cause is but consistency in a good.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Religio Medici, 1.25 (1642) [ed. Symonds (1886)]
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One of the temptations of upper-middle class life is to create sharp edges of our moral sensitivities that allows comfortable confusions about sin and virtue. The difference between rich and poor is not that the rich sin more than the poor, it is that the rich find it easier to call sin a virtue. When the poor sin, they call it sin; when they see holiness, they identify it as such. This intuitive clarity is often absent from the wealthy, and that absence easily leads to the atrophy of the moral sense.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
Encounters with Merton (2004)
Added on 22-Apr-16 | Last updated 22-Apr-16
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When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.

West - when im bad im better - wist_info quote

Mae West (1892-1980) American film actress
I’m No Angel (1933)
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Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.

Isidor Feinstein "I. F." Stone (1907-1989) American investigative journalist and author
International Herald Tribune (16 Mar 1988)
Added on 15-Mar-16 | Last updated 15-Mar-16
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There is a capacity of virtue in us, and there is a capacity of vice to make your blood creep.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1831)
Added on 9-Mar-16 | Last updated 9-Mar-16
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The way’s not easy where the prize is great:
I hope no virtues, where I smell no sweat.

Quarles - smell no sweat - wist_info quote

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Emblems, Emblem 11, Epigram (1634)
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Often given, "I see no virtue where I smell no sweat."
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I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, “Faith” (1952)
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Added on 6-Jan-16 | Last updated 6-Jan-16
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There is a sort of gratification in doing good which makes us rejoice in ourselves.

Montaigne - gratification - wist_info

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Of Repentance,” Essays (1588) [tr. Frame (1958)]
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Although men are accused of not knowing their own weakness, yet perhaps as few know their own strength. It is in men as in soils, where sometimes there is a vein of gold, which the owner knows not of.

Swift - vein of gold - wist_info

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable; for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.
Jonathan Swift - fortune - wist_info

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Comments on Pablo Casals (30 Mar 1953)

In Josep Maria Corredor, Conversations avec Pablo Casals [Conversations with Casals] (1955)

Variants / paraphrases:
  • "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."
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Step by step they were led to things which dispose to vice: the lounge, the bath, the elegant banquet. All this in their ignorance they called civilisation, when it was but a part of their servitude.

[Idque apud imperitos humanitas vocabatur, cum pars servitutis esset.]

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
Agricola, Book 1, para. 21 (AD 98) [tr. Church and Brodribb]

Alt. trans.: "Because they didn't know better, they called it 'civilization,' when it was part of their slavery."
Added on 7-Jul-15 | Last updated 7-Jul-15
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Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus. That values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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Anything I like is either illegal or immoral or fattening.

Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943) American critic, commentator, journalist, wit
(Attributed)

Apparently a gag attributed by Woollcott to a Frank Rand of St. Louis on his radio show in Sep. 1933; it was then directly attributed to Woollcott in Reader's Digest in Dec. 1933. It is sometimes cited to Woollcott's essay "The Knock at the Stage Door," The North American Review (Sep 1922), but not found there. See here for more information. Variants:
  • "All the things I like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening."
  • "All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal or fattening."
  • "Everything I want to do is either illegal, immoral or fattening."
Added on 20-Mar-15 | Last updated 20-Mar-15
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Perhaps we need, for worldly success, virtues which make us loved and vices which make us feared.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [tr. Collins (1928)]
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Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superior to all private passions.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Mercy Warren (16 Apr 1776)
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I believe long habits of virtue have a sensible effect on the countenance.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
“Busy-Body Papers,” American Weekly Mercury (18 Feb 1729)
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Righteousness cannot be born until self-righteousness is dead.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English mathematician and philosopher
Justice in War-Time (1916)
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But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
2 Peter 3 [NIV]

Alternate translation:

  • "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness." [KJV]
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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When the limit of suffering is overpassed, the most imperturbable virtue is disconcerted.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Les Misérables, “Saint Denis” (15.1) [tr. Wilbour (1862)]
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The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist #57 (19 Feb 1788)
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We measure the excellency of other men by some excellency we conceive to be in ourselves.

John Selden (1584-1654) English jurist, antiquary, politician, Orientalist
Table Talk (1689)
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We may have an excellent Ear in Musick, without being able to perform in any kind. We may judge well of Poetry, without being Poets, or possessing the least of a Poetick Vein: But we can have no tolerable Notion of Goodness, without being tolerably good.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, Vol. 1, “A Letter Concerning Enthusiasm” (1711)
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The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. There can be no true goodness, nor true love, without the utmost clear-sightedness.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Plague (1947)
Added on 1-Dec-14 | Last updated 1-Dec-14
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Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
“The Meaning of Life,” We Are Still Married (1989)
Added on 20-Nov-14 | Last updated 20-Nov-14
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Power always Sincerely, conscientiously, de très bon foi, believes itself Right. Power always thinks it has a great Soul and vast Views, beyond the Comprehension of the Weak; and that it is doing God Service when it is violating all his Laws.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson (2 Feb 1816)
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de très bon foi = "very candidly"
Added on 16-Oct-14 | Last updated 3-Aug-16
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