Volume 3, Issue 2, Spring 2013
Selected Papers on The Philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand
Paola Premoli De Marchi
Dietrich von Hildebrand and the Birth of Love as an I-Thou Relation
The Nature of Love has rightly been defined as a Summa of von Hildebrand’s thought, but Hildebrandian philosophy is an organic whole, and many insights contained in that treatise are rooted in works written many years before. Understanding his other inquiries into the essence of the spiritual relations which can be performed only by persons is a necessary prerequisite for understanding the significance of von Hildebrand’s masterpiece on love. This paper focuses on von Hildebrand’s phenomenological investigations into the “birth” of human relationships and their effects on the self-realization of the person as they are described mainly in Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft, in some other works, and in a few unpublished pages. This paper, then, is divided into three parts: (1) The first part is dedicated to summarizing von Hildebrand’s analysis of the essence of personal relationships as spiritual acts, as social acts, and as acts which involve value responses. Von Hildebrand’s anthropology is essentially a metaphysical and relational philosophy of the person: the person is a spiritual substance—an individual subject—and at the same time a subject who is called to realize himself through his relationships to the world, to other human subjects, and to God. (2) On the basis of this framework, the second part of the paper develops a phenomenological description of the path that begins from the initial spiritual contact between persons and leads to the I-Thou relation. This analysis, according to von Hildebrand, must consider above all the communication between persons and the conditions for interpersonal reciprocity, union, and communion. On the basis of these investigations, we can understand why love is the most perfect kind of relationship. This is true from the point of view of the relation in itself, since love is the relationship which can produce the deepest link between persons; but it is also true from the point of view of the relata (the terms of the relation), since love fosters the highest realization of the persons as individuals. This inquiry also reveals the deep connection between von Hildebrand’s works Metaphysik der Gemeinschaft and The Nature of Love. (3) The third and final part of the paper aims to further deepen our understanding of von Hildebrand’s insights into the effects of love on the human person by drawing on some of his minor works and unpublished writings. Von Hildebrand’s crucial argument in this regard is that love is the most perfect act, since it affects the perfection of the persons involved, that is, both the lover and the beloved. Only in loving and in being loved is the human being re-affirmed in his being and awakened to his full personal existence and essence.