Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ἀρετή "arete") is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being.
- 1 Ancient history
- 2 Classical antiquity
- 3 Religious traditions
- 4 Samurai virtue
- 5 Philosophers' views
- 6 Contemporary views
- 7 Vice as opposite
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
During Egyptian civilization, Maat or ma'at (thought to have been pronounced *[muʔ.ʕat]), also spelled māt or mayet, was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities. The deities set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her (ideological) counterpart was Isfet, who symbolized chaos, lies and injustice.
- temperance: σωφροσύνη (sōphrosynē)
- prudence: φρόνησις (phronēsis)
- courage: ἀνδρεία (andreia)
- justice: δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē)
This enumeration is traced to Greek philosophy and was listed by Plato in addition to piety: ὁσιότης (hosiotēs), with the exception that wisdom replaced prudence as virtue. Some scholars consider either of the above four virtue combinations as mutually reducible and therefore not cardinal.
It is unclear whether multiple virtues were of later construct, and whether Plato subscribed to a unified view of virtues. In Protagoras and Meno, for example, he states that the separate virtues can't exist independently and offers as evidence the contradictions of acting with wisdom, yet in an unjust way; or acting with bravery (fortitude), yet without wisdom.
In his work Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other. However, the virtuous action is not simply the "mean" (mathematically speaking) between two opposite extremes. As Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics: "at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue." This is not simply splitting the difference between two extremes. For example, generosity is a virtue that fits between the two extrema of miserliness and being profligate. Generosity the perfect between the two errors; it is hitting right on the target. Further examples include: courage as the golden mean between cowardice and foolhardiness and confidence the golden mean between self-deprecation and vanity. To find the golden mean requires common-sense smarts, not necessarily high intelligence. In Aristotle's sense, virtue is excellence at being human, a skill that helps a person survive, thrive, form meaningful relationships, and find happiness. Learning virtue is usually difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice over time until it becomes a habit.
Prudence and virtue
Seneca, the Roman Stoic, said that perfect prudence is indistinguishable from perfect virtue. Thus, in considering all consequences, a prudent person would act in the same way as a virtuous person. The same rationale was expressed by Plato in Meno, when he wrote that people only act in ways that they perceive will bring them maximum good. It is the lack of wisdom that results in the making of a bad choice instead of a prudent one. In this way, wisdom is the central part of virtue. Plato realized that because virtue was synonymous with wisdom it could be taught, a possibility he had earlier discounted. He then added "correct belief" as an alternative to knowledge, proposing that knowledge is merely correct belief that has been thought through and "tethered".
Loving God and obeying his laws, in particular the Ten Commandments, are central to Jewish conceptions of virtue. Wisdom is personified in the first eight chapters of the Book of Proverbs and is not only the source of virtue but is depicted as the first and best creation of God (Proverbs 8:12-31). Wisdom is also celebrated in the Book of Wisdom.
A classic articulation of the Golden Rule came from the first century Rabbi Hillel the Elder. Renowned in the Jewish tradition as a sage and a scholar, he is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud and, as such, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Asked for a summary of the Jewish religion in the most concise terms, Hillel replied (reputedly while standing on one leg): "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation; go and learn."
In Christianity, the three theological virtues are Faith, Hope and Love, a list which comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13 (νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα· μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη (pistis (faith), elpis (hope), agape (love)). The same chapter describes love as the greatest of the three, and further defines love as "patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude." (The Christian virtue of love is sometimes called charity and at other times a Greek word agape is used to contrast the love of God and the love of humankind from other types of love such as friendship or physical affection.)
The Bible mentions additional virtues, such as in the "Fruit of the Holy Spirit," found in Galatians 5:22-23: "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit it is benevolent-love: joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, benevolence, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is absolutely no law against such a thing."
In the musical "Camelot" Mordred sings a song referring to the "Seven Deadly Virtues", Courage, Purity, Humility, Honesty, Diligence, Charity, Fidelity.
In Islam, the Qur'an is believed to be the literal word of God, and the definitive description of virtue. Muhammad is considered an ideal example of virtue in human form. The hadiths, his reported sayings, are central to the Islamic understanding of virtue.
Virtue is defined in hadith also. Reported by An-Nawwas bin Sam'an, it is mentioned in a hadith that Muhammad said, "Piety/Virtue is good manner." [Muslim]. In another hadith, virtue is defined as "which contents soul and comforts heart." For Muslims fulfilling the human rights are valued as an important building block of Islam, According to Muslim beliefs Allah will forgive individual sins but the bad treatment of humans and injustice with others will only be pardoned by the humans and not by Allah.
Virtue is a much debated and an evolving concept in ancient scriptures of Hinduism. The essence, need and value of virtue is explained in Hindu philosophy as something that cannot be imposed, but something that is realized and voluntarily lived up to by each individual. For example, Apastamba explained it thus: "virtue and vice do not go about saying - here we are!; neither the Gods, Gandharvas, nor ancestors can convince us - this is right, this is wrong; virtue is an elusive concept, it demands careful and sustained reflection by every man and woman before it can become part of one's life.
The virtues that constitute a dharmic life - that is a moral, ethical, virtuous life - evolve in vedas and upanishads. Over time, new virtues were conceptualized and added by ancient Hindu scholars, some replaced, others merged. For example, Manusamhita initially listed ten virtues necessary for a human being to live a dharmic life: Dhriti (courage), Kshama (forgiveness), Dama (temperance), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (inner purity), Indriyani-graha (control of senses), dhi (reflective prudence), vidya (wisdom), satyam (truthfulness), akrodha (freedom from anger). In later verses, this list was reduced to five virtues by the same scholar, by merging and creating a more broader concept. The shorter list of virtues became: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Dama (self restraint), Asteya (Non-covetousness/Non-stealing), Saucha (inner purity), Satyam (truthfulness).
The Bhagavad Gita - considered one of the epitomes of historic Hindu discussion of virtues and an allegorical debate on what is right and what is wrong - argues some virtues are not necessarily always absolute, but sometimes relational; for example, it explains a virtue such as Ahimsa must be re-examined when one is faced with war or violence from the aggressiveness, immaturity or ignorance of others.
- Right View - Realizing the Four Noble Truths (samyag-vyāyāma, sammā-vāyāma).
- Right Mindfulness - Mental ability to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (samyak-smṛti, sammā-sati).
- Right Concentration - Wholesome one-pointedness of mind (samyak-samādhi, sammā-samādhi).
Buddhism's four brahmavihara ("Divine States") can be more properly regarded as virtues in the European sense. They are:
- Metta/Maitri: loving-kindness towards all; the hope that a person will be well; loving kindness is the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.
- Karuṇā: compassion; the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish; compassion is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.
- Mudita: altruistic joy in the accomplishments of a person, oneself or other; sympathetic joy is the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.
- Upekkha/Upeksha: equanimity, or learning to accept both loss and gain, praise and blame, success and failure with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity means not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but to regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind - not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.
There are also the Paramitas ("perfections"), which are the culmination of having acquired certain virtues. In Theravada Buddhism's canonical Buddhavamsa there arre Ten Perfections (dasa pāramiyo). In Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika), there are Six Perfections; while in the Ten Stages (Dasabhumika) Sutra, four more Paramitas are listed.
In the Bahá'í Faith, are direct spiritual qualities that the human soul possesses, inherited from God Himself. The development and manifestation of these virtues is the theme of the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh and are discussed in great detail as the underpinnings of a divinely-inspired society by `Abdu'l-Bahá in such texts as The Secret of Divine Civilization.
"Virtue", translated from Chinese de (德), is also an important concept in Chinese philosophy, particularly Daoism. De (Chinese: 德; pinyin: dé; Wade–Giles: te) originally meant normative "virtue" in the sense of "personal character; inner strength; integrity", but semantically changed to moral "virtue; kindness; morality". Note the semantic parallel for English virtue, with an archaic meaning of "inner potency; divine power" (as in "by virtue of") and a modern one of "moral excellence; goodness".
In early periods of Confucianism, moral manifestations of "virtue" include ren ("humanity"), xiao ("filial piety"), and li ("proper behavior, performance of rituals"). The notion of ren - according to Simon Leys - means "humanity" and "goodness". Ren originally had the archaic meaning in the Confucian Book of Poems of "virility", but progressively took on shades of ethical meaning. Some scholars consider the virtues identified in early Confucianism as non-theistic philosophy.
The Daoist concept of De, compared to Confucianism, is more subtle, pertaining to the "virtue" or ability that an individual realizes by following the Dao ("the Way"). One important normative value in much of Chinese thinking is that one's social status should result from the amount of virtue that one demonstrates, rather than from one's birth. In the Analects, Confucius explains de as follows: "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it." In later periods, particularly from the Tang dynasty period, Confucianism as practiced, absorbed and melded its own concepts of virtues with those from Daoism and Buddhism.
- Never to be outdone in the way of the samurai or bushido.
- To be of good use to the master.
- To be filial to my parents.
- To manifest great compassion and act for the sake of Man.
Yamamoto goes on to say:
If one dedicates these four vows to the gods and Buddhas every morning, he will have the strength of two men and never slip backward. One must edge forward like the inchworm, bit by bit. The gods and Buddhas, too, first started with a vow.
The Bushidō code is typified by seven virtues:
- Rectitude (義,gi)
- Courage (勇,yuu)
- Benevolence (仁,jin)
- Respect (礼,rei)
- Honesty (誠,sei)
- Honor (誉,yo)
- Loyalty (忠,chuu)
Others that are sometimes added to these:
- Filial piety (孝,kō)
- Wisdom (智,chi)
- Care for the aged (悌,tei)
For the Rationalist philosopher René Descartes, virtue consists in the correct reasoning that should guide our actions. Men should seek the sovereign good that Descartes, following Zeno, identifies with virtue, as this produces a solid blessedness or pleasure. For Epicurus the sovereign good was pleasure, and Descartes says that in fact this is not in contradiction with Zeno's teaching, because virtue produces a spiritual pleasure, that is better than bodily pleasure. Regarding Aristotle's opinion that happiness depends on the goods of fortune, Descartes does not deny that these goods contribute to happiness, but remarks that they are in great proportion outside one's own control, whereas one's mind is under one's complete control.
Immanuel Kant, in his Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, expresses true virtue as different from what commonly is known about this moral trait. In Kant's view, to be goodhearted, benevolent and sympathetic is not regarded as true virtue. The only aspect that makes a human truly virtuous is to behave in accordance with moral principles. Kant presents an example for more clarification; suppose that you come across a needy person in the street; if your sympathy leads you to help that person, your response does not illustrate your virtue. In this example, since you do not afford helping all needy ones, you have behaved unjustly, and it is out of the domain of principles and true virtue. Kant applies the approach of four temperaments to distinguish truly virtuous people. According to Kant, among all people with diverse temperaments, a person with melancholy frame of mind is the most virtuous whose thoughts, words and deeds are on the bases of principles.
Friedrich Nietzsche's view of virtue is based on the idea of an order of rank among people. For Nietzsche, the virtues of the strong are seen as vices by the weak and slavish, thus Nietzsche's virtue ethics is based on his distinction between master morality and slave morality. Nietzsche promotes the virtues of those he calls "higher men", people like Goethe and Beethoven. The virtues he praises in them are their creative powers (“the men of great creativity” - “the really great men according to my understanding” (WP 957)). According to Nietzsche these higher types are solitary, pursue a "unifying project", revere themselves and are healthy and life-affirming. Because mixing with the herd makes one base, the higher type “strives instinctively for a citadel and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority…” (BGE 26). The 'Higher type' also "instinctively seeks heavy responsibilities" (WP 944) in the form of an "organizing idea" for their life, which drives them to artistic and creative work and gives them psychological health and strength. The fact that the higher types are "healthy" for Nietzsche does not refer to physical health as much as a psychological resilience and fortitude. Finally, a Higher type affirms life because he is willing to accept the eternal return of his life and affirm this forever and unconditionally.
And to keep control over your four virtues: courage, insight, sympathy, solitude. Because solitude is a virtue for us, since it is a sublime inclination and impulse to cleanliness which shows that contact between people (“society”) inevitably makes things unclean. Somewhere, sometime, every community makes people – “base.” (BGE §284)
Nietzsche also sees truthfulness as a virtue:
Genuine honesty, assuming that this is our virtue and we cannot get rid of it, we free spirits – well then, we will want to work on it with all the love and malice at our disposal and not get tired of ‘perfecting’ ourselves in our virtue, the only one we have left: may its glory come to rest like a gilded, blue evening glow of mockery over this aging culture and its dull and dismal seriousness! (Beyond Good and Evil, §227)
They became known through Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.
- Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
- Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
- Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
- Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. Waste nothing.
- Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
- Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
- Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
- Tranquility: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another's Peace or Reputation.
- Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Virtues as emotions
Marc Jackson in his book Emotion and Psyche puts forward a new development of the virtues. He identifies the virtues as what he calls the good emotions "The first group consisting of love, kindness, joy, faith, awe and pity is good" These virtues differ from older accounts of the virtues because they are not character traits expressed by action, but emotions that are to be felt and developed by feeling not acting.
Ayn Rand held that her morality, the morality of reason, contained a single axiom: existence exists, and a single choice: to live. All values and virtues proceed from these. To live, man must hold three fundamental values that one develops and achieves in life: Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem. A value is "that which one acts to gain and/or keep ... and the virtue[s] [are] the act[ions] by which one gains and/or keeps it." The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality, which as Rand meant it is "the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action." These values are achieved by passionate and consistent action and the virtues are the policies for achieving those fundamental values. Ayn Rand describes seven virtues: rationality, productiveness, pride, independence, integrity, honesty and justice. The first three represent the three primary virtues that correspond to the three fundamental values, whereas the final four are derived from the virtue of rationality. She claims that virtue is not an end in itself, that virtue is not its own reward nor sacrificial fodder for the reward of evil, that life is the reward of virtue and happiness is the goal and the reward of life. Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality, not the degree of your intelligence but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.
In modern psychology
Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, two leading researchers in positive psychology, recognizing the deficiency inherent in psychology's tendency to focus on dysfunction rather than on what makes a healthy and stable personality, set out to develop a list of "Character Strengths and Virtues". After three years of study, 24 traits (classified into six broad areas of virtue) were identified, having "a surprising amount of similarity across cultures and strongly indicat[ing] a historical and cross-cultural convergence." These six categories of virtue are courage, justice, humanity, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom. Some psychologists suggest that these virtues are adequately grouped into fewer categories; for example, the same 24 traits have been grouped into simply: Cognitive Strengths, Temperance Strengths, and Social Strengths.
Vice as opposite
The opposite of a virtue is a vice. Vice is a habitual, repeated practice of wrongdoing. One way of organizing the vices is as the corruption of the virtues.
As Aristotle noted, however, the virtues can have several opposites. Virtues can be considered the mean between two extremes, as the Latin maxim dictates in medio stat virtus - in the centre lies virtue. For instance, both cowardice and rashness are opposites of courage; contrary to prudence are both over-caution and insufficient caution; the opposites of humility are shame and pride. A more "modern" virtue, tolerance, can be considered the mean between the two extremes of narrow-mindedness on the one hand and over-acceptance on the other. Vices can therefore be identified as the opposites of virtues - but with the caveat that each virtue could have many different opposites, all distinct from each other.
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (May 2013)|
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- Norman Rufus Colin Cohn (1993). Cosmos, Caos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. ISBN 978-0-300-05598-6.
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- Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a. See also the ethic of reciprocity or "The Golden rule."
- Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger and Allen Wikgren, The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993, c1979)
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- Quote: "(In Hinduism), srutis did not pretend to deal with all situations or irregularities in the moral life, leaving these matters to human reasons (Mbh Xii.109); Accordingly, that again which is virtue may, according to time and place, be sin (...); Under certain conditions, acts that are apparently evil (such as violence) can be permitted if they produce consequences that are good (protection of children and women in self defense when the society is attacked in war)
- Quote: "(The Hindu scripture) notes the interrelationship of several virtues, consequentially. Anger springs from covetousness; (the vice of) envy disappears in consequence of (the virtues) of compassion and knowledge of self (Mbh Xii.163);
- Crawford, S. Cromwell (1982), The evolution of Hindu ethical ideals, Asian Studies Program, University of Hawaii Press
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- Phillip Wagoner, see Foreword, in Srinivasan, Dharma: Hindu Approach to a Purposeful Life, ISBN 978-1-62209-672-5;
- Also see: Apastamba, Dharma Sutra, 1.20.6
- puNya Spoken Sanskrit English Dictionary, Germany (2010)
- search for pApa Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany (2008)
- What Is Hinduism?, Himalayan Academy (2007), ISBN 978-1-934145-00-5, page 377
- Tiwari, K. N. (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought: A Philosophical Study of Hindu, Jaina, and Buddhist Morals, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 978-81-208-1608-4, pp 52-55
- Gupta, B. (2006). BHAGAVAD GĪTĀ AS DUTY AND VIRTUE ETHICS. Journal of Religious Ethics, 34(3), 373-395.
- Mohapatra & Mohapatra, Hinduism: Analytical Study, ISBN 978-8170993889; see pages 37-40
- Subedi, S. P. (2003). The Concept in Hinduism of ‘Just War’. Journal of Conflict and Security Law, 8(2), pages 339-361
- Klaus K. Klostermaier (1996), in Harvey Leonard Dyck and Peter Brock (Ed), The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective, see Chapter on Himsa and Ahimsa Traditions in Hinduism, ISBN 978-0802007773, University of Toronto Press, pages 230-234
- Bakker, F. L. (2013), Comparing the Golden Rule in Hindu and Christian Religious Texts. Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, 42(1), pages 38-58
- "Buddhist Studies for Secondary Students, Unit 6: The Four Immeasurables". Buddhanet.net. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
- A View on Buddhism, The four immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity
- Buddhavamsa, chapter 2. For an on-line reference to the Buddhavamsa's seminality in the Theravada notion of parami, see Bodhi (2005).
In terms of other examples in the Pali literature, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 454, entry for "Pāramī," (retrieved 2007-06-24) cites Jataka i.73 and Dhammapada Atthakatha i.84. Bodhi (2005) also mentions Acariya Dhammapala's treatise in the Cariyapitaka-Atthakatha and the Brahmajala Sutta subcommentary (tika).
- Lin Yu-sheng: "The evolution of the pre-Confucian meaning of jen and the Confucian concept of moral autonomy," Monumenta Serica, vol.31, 1974-75
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- Lunyu 2/1, tr. James Legge
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- Blom, John J., Descartes. His moral philosophy and psychology. New York University Press. 1978. ISBN 0-8147-0999-0
- Leiter, Brian. "Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
- Franklin's 13 Virtues Extract of Franklin's autobiography, compiled by Paul Ford.
- Marc Jackson (2010) Emotion and Psyche. O-books. p12 (ISBN 978-1-84694-378-2)
- Rand, Ayn The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, p. 27
- Gotthelf, Allan On Ayn Rand; p. 86
- Rand, Ayn (1961) For the New Intellectual Galt’s Speech, "For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", p. 131, 178.
- Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
- Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
- Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. p. 36-39. (ISBN 0-19-516701-5)
- Jessica Shryack, Michael F. Steger, Robert F. Krueger, Christopher S. Kallie. 2010. The structure of virtue: An empirical investigation of the dimensionality of the virtues in action inventory of strengths. Elsevier.
- John Newton, Ph.D. Complete Conduct Principles for the 21st Century, 2000. ISBN 0967370574.
- Harned, David Baily. Patience: How We Wait Upon the World. Afterword: "Leadership and Unnatural Virtues: George Washington and the Patience of Power." Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015.
- Hein, David. "Christianity and Honor." The Living Church, August 18, 2013, pp. 8–10.
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