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Quaestiones Disputatae

Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013

Selected Papers on The Philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand

Fritz Wenisch
Pages 120-134

Self-Regarding and Non-Self-Regarding Actions, and Comments on a Non-Self-Regarding Interest in Another’s Good

One of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s most significant contributions in his Ethics is the distinction between three “categories of importance,” three types of motives for human actions as well as voluntative and affective responses. They are the “subjectively satisfying,” the “objective good for the person,” and “value” (in the sense of the important in itself). Although the second is called “objective good for the person,” von Hildebrand understands it as the good for the agent or the person responding. Thus, this category comprises those objects which are truly in the agent’s (or responding person’s) interest (rather than what is only satisfying or pleasing for the moment, but possibly opposed to one’s true interest). In his Moralia, von Hildebrand presents the objective good for another as an additional “source of morality” (as he calls it). There, he argues, however (as he does in his book The Nature of Love in which he discusses that source in detail), that the interest in another’s good is an outgrowth of love. Contrary to that, I intend to show that in human motivation, a concern for another’s good may exist prior to and independently of love as von Hildebrand understands it; that acting out of a sincere concern for the well-being of others can occur on behalf of those persons of whom the agent would not be prepared to say that he loves them. I further intend to show that this motive is to be distinguished from intending to do what one understands to be right (which includes cases in which one wishes to act in accordance with one’s duty), as well as from aiming at the realization of a value. Thus, human actions are to be divided into self-regarding and non-self-regarding ones. The first comprise those aiming at the subjectively satisfying and those aiming at the (objective) good for the agent; the second comprise those aiming at the (objective) good for someone other than the agent, those aiming at conforming one’s conduct to what one understands to be right, and those aiming at the realization of an object that is important in itself.

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