I am trying to find the right word for a person that believes that he/she always acts with pure morals. (Sort of like a religious leader, especially in terms of pure heart or pure morals.)

If you have seen the movie Dogville by Lars von Trier, I am trying to describe a person like Grace. Up to a certain point in the movie, she truly believes and acts in accordance with her strong morals even when it is detrimental to her.

Here are a few words/phrases similar to what I am thinking of:

  • self-righteous and holier-than-thou - this usually implies the person outwardly shows this but their actions are not in accordance with what they preach.
  • martyr or saint might be closer to what I am looking.
  • moral superiority - is close but it usually has a negative connotation similar to self-righteous.
  • 1
    Surely not a true martyr or saint; a characteristic of the latter, historically, is that they are well aware of their own sins and unworthiness and also do not presume to judge others. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 4:46
  • Surely not a true martyr or saint; a characteristic of the former, historically, is that they are dead.
    – Unrelated
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 6:30
  • @Unrelated - Being dead is a characteristic of a Saint too. The catholic church doesn't beatify living people [citation needed.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:14
  • @AndyT ah true true
    – Unrelated
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:28
  • 2
    If you wanted to describe someone who really is pure of heart and saintly in conduct, you could refer to him or her as a Prince Myshkin, after the protagonist in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. But then your audience would have to read The Idiot to see how apt the term is. In any case, Prince Myshkin didn't act on the basis of believing he was good; he simply did what he believed was appropriate to do. On the other hand, a person who sincerely but falsely imagines that his or her morals and motives are pure might very well be termed delusional.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:51

4 Answers 4


You can call them a righteous person.


righteous ADJECTIVE

1 Morally right or justifiable:
‘feelings of righteous indignation about pay and conditions’

‘Over the decades, his choice of roles has defined the perception we have of him as a decent, even righteous man of honour.’

1.1 (of a person) morally good; virtuous:
‘he stood up for what he knew was right and died a righteous person’

  • But what about the case when the person is being mistreated and abused and still acts righteously? It's kinda inhumane. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 5:25
  • @user2840286, that's the point, a truly righteous person won't change even if mistreated/abused. Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 5:43

I think that pious might work pretty well as an adjective:

1 Devoutly religious: ‘a deeply pious woman’

1.1 Making or constituting a hypocritical display of virtue: ‘his pious platitudes’

And of course there is the noun piety as well, to roughly define their belief structure:

1 [mass noun] The quality of being religious or reverent: ‘acts of piety and charity’

1.1 [count noun] A belief which is accepted with unthinking conventional reverence: ‘the accepted pieties of our time’

These have the advantage of spanning both "real religion" and put-on behaviors without a strong implication of one or the other, outside of context.


How about principled?


principled: exhibiting, based on, or characterized by principle

principle: 1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) habitual devotion to right principles a man of principle [emphasis added]


Consider the term altruistic.

Showing a wish to help or bring advantages to others, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself.

  • This might bear too positive a connotation for what the OP needs.
    – fev
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 14:02

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