Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013
Selected Papers on The Philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand
Dietrich von Hildebrand on Benevolence in Love and Friendship
A Masterful Contribution to Perennial Philosophy
One of the deepest contributions of Dietrich von Hildebrand towards a philosophy of love is the ingenious chapter seven of his book The Nature of Love on the intentio benevolentiae of love (the “intention of benevolence”). According to von Hildebrand, the intention of benevolence constitutes in some sense the inner core of love and its goodness and should always, as he explains, take priority over that other most distinctive trait of love, the intentio unionis, the “desire for union.” This paper shows that von Hildebrand’s distinction between the three “categories of importance” (of the “good”) allows us to understand the benevolent intention and desire for the happiness of the beloved person in a deeper way than was possible ever before. This benevolent intention enables the loving person to see and experience the objective goods for the beloved person from within. The loving person partakes in his affective and free response of love in the innermost and unique center of the beloved person to whom the objective good for him or her is directed. In the intentio benevolentiae, however, the objective good for the beloved person is desired and willed by the loving person not only inasmuch as it is endowed with intrinsic value, but also insofar as it addresses itself to the unique center of consciousness of the beloved person. This applies to all categories of love, even the love of an enemy. Above and beyond this, however, in the love of friendship and in spousal love, in parental love, etc., the objective goods and evils for the other person are not only desired and rejoiced in under the point of view that they are goods for the beloved person, as also in the love of neighbor. Rather, because they are goods and evils for the person beloved in friendship or spousal love, they also become (indirect) objective goods for the friend or spouse. The paper ends with a comparison between some of the texts of Saint Anselm on heaven and von Hildebrand’s chapter, showing that what Anselm says in a sublime text on heaven (that in heaven we will not rejoice more over our own good and blessedness than over that of the beloved persons, and even will rejoice in the beatitude of God more than in our own) can only be truly understood by analyzing it in the light of von Hildebrand’s insights and sharp distinctions. Thus von Hildebrand makes a decisive contribution to the clarification of a central topic in the philosophia perennis: the benevolence of love.