Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013
Selected Papers on The Philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand
Robert E. Wood
Dietrich von Hildebrand on the Heart
Dietrich von Hildebrand’s compressed treatment of the life of feeling is contained in his work, The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity, originally titled The Sacred Heart. This work focuses upon the “core” of the author’s written corpus. It attempts to place the phenomena of the heart on a plane co-equal with intellectual and volitional phenomena and to rescue devotion to the Sacred Heart from its tendency to mawkish sentimentality. This paper will focus upon a summary of the phenomenological description of affective life. Von Hildebrand sets himself against a dominant tendency in the philosophic tradition to downplay the role of the heart, though he explores the reasons for that tendency in the skewing of one’s judgment by emotionality or sentimentality. He explores the hierarchy of feelings and pays special attention to “spiritual feelings” in the religious, aesthetic, moral, and intellectual life. He also examines ways in which the heart is underdeveloped by the hypertrophy of intellectual, pragmatic, or volitional modes; also ways in which one cancels out altogether the work of the heart in the state of heartlessness; again, ways in which the heart becomes tyrannical and blocks the capacity for intelligent self-assessment. Properly developed, the heart “has its reason of which reason knows nothing”—a famous saying of Pascal that the author qualifies by viewing reason here as the kind of abstract reason that operates in logic, mathematics, and natural science. The alertness associated with the heart is that of “the whole man,” and not some separate aspect. The last part of the essay appends a friendly criticism of von Hildebrand’s tendency to “substantialize” the powers of the mind and what I take to be a misreading of Plato and Aristotle. Finally, the phenomena of the heart are located within a bipolar view of the field of human awareness, rooted in the sensory and open to the totality via the notion of Being.