dietrich von hildebrand good

Is a Good Man hard to Find?

6:30:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

When you meet someone, one of the first things you want to find out is whether or not they are “a good person.” But what, exactly, is goodness? Even the word “good” itself has been applied to millions of things that don't seem to be on the same level. The term has been used for a range of objects and persons from ice-cream to God. This week in my continued blog series on The Art of Living we'll talk about Chapter 5, Goodness.

Dietrich von Hildebrand begins the first page of the chapter with the statement “goodness is the fruit of moral life” (p 47). It is different than all the other virtues we have previously discussed on this blog before such as reverence, faithfulness, responsibility, or veracity. Goodness is different because it is not a presupposition of moral life. For Hildebrand, goodness comes about as a result of moral striving. Again, Hildebrand calls goodness a “fruit.”

The fruit of goodness can only blossom in the human person through manifestations of love. Among all of the responses to value, love is the most outspoken. Hildebrand says "love is, as it were, flowing goodness, and goodness is the breath of love" (p 48). In the response of love, one affirms the beloved and has a will to bestow happiness on the beloved. Love can also reveal the ultimate interest in the growth and unfolding of the beloved.

There are different types of men who embody the very opposite and antithesis of the man who radiates goodness and who responds to others in love. One such man is like Cain. The man like Cain is full of envy and rebellion against the good man and the world of values. He “feeds himself upon hatred” (p 50). He is explicitly hostile, not neutral. He is at war with all of humanity as a whole. In him is found "a destroying search for nothingness, a being imprisoned in a spasm of negation" (p 51).

Another example is the hardhearted man, who refuses to give of himself when values call for a response. He is a “brutal superman” (p 52) empty of any compassion or empathy. Finally, there is the cold, indifferent man. His gaze is centered only upon himself. He sees the entire world as existing only for his enjoyment and satisfaction. He is “incapable of deeper inward emotions; in the end everything leaves him indifferent” (p 53).

It is not in accord with goodness to be angry, brutal, or indifferent. Nor is goodness confined to good-naturedness. Yet goodness is not weak, for it possesses great strength.

"In its mysterious strength, goodness shakes the world to its very foundations; it bears on its forehead the sign of victory over wickedness and disorder, over all hatred and all unfeeling coarseness" (p 55).

In life we seek to find people who are good because goodness is a virtue that brings peace, harmony, warmth, love, and many other qualities that serve to bring light into man's life. Where goodness is absent, we find a deep void in the life of man.

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Dietrich & Alice von Hildebrand, The Art of Living (Manchester: Sophia Institute, 1994)

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