dietrich von hildebrand moral

Learning the Art of Life

11:08:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

Having read Dietrich von Hildebrand's The Art of Living, I have to say it really struck me as a challenge. In everyday speech, when we say that something is “really deep and philosophical” we often mean that it is inaccessible. This book, and von Hildebrand's philosophy as a whole, is a direct challenge to this idea. The Art of Living addresses the reader wherever he or she may be, encouraging a greater awareness of values. Moral values call to everyone. The degree to which we listen is not how “deep” (in the popular sense) we are, but how open we are. Some persons harden their hearts, others are blinded. But even the one who is blinded has made a choice to believe what they want to see.

There is no stasis in the moral life. Feeling stationary is only an illusion. Either one is progressing forward by responding properly to value, or one is slipping away via an erosion of right response. The quality of the moral life is usually built on a series of small moral decisions that, when taken into account as a whole, result in an overall direction in life. An easy example of a small decision is running a red light because there is no other traffic. But sitting at the red light is not merely a safety precaution for cars or pedestrians you may not see—rather, it is an act of obedience to the law. From a certain perspective, this obedience seems pointless. Many people see laws as merely a formality or a guideline. However, obeying the law that states you stop at a red light is not simply a practical consideration for other drivers but a moral decision. Obedience to the law is about a transformation of the heart to desire what is right in every situation.

The Art of Living has eight chapters on common virtues, unpacking them and examining ways in which they impact our direct experience. Often, philosophy feels like something that happens after the fact. In the moment, we act quickly. Yet, the purpose of studying virtue is ultimately to practice virtuous action now and in the future. Socrates was not interested in chastising others as not being virtuous for his own aggrandizement. Rather, he spent his life in conversation with others, listening to the direct experience of the common man and posing questions with the intent of bringing about the other person's self-understanding.

If the reader tries to take in and apply all of The Art of Living at once, he or she will probably be overwhelmed. University students are used to a style of learning in which absorbing as much as possible is key to academic success. But that's not how the moral life works. The health of one's moral life comes from an ongoing continual commitment to gradual progress in the virtues and this is accomplished on a day to day basis, as a constant journey. Von Hildebrand's book is an excellent guide for reflection and inspiration for living a virtuous life.

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