Moral Virtue according to von Hildebrand with Respect to Aristotle

Martin Cajthaml

The article presents Dietrich von Hildebrand´s account of moral virtue in comparison with Aristotle´s account of the same topic. The article is thus a contribution to the more general question of what relationship von Hildebrand´s material value ethics has to the traditional Aristotelian ethics, and ultimately to the question of the actual place of von Hildebrand’s ethics in the Western philosophical tradition. As von Hildebrand elaborates the concept of moral virtue on the basis of both implicit and explicit critique of Aristotle’s account of the moral virtue as he understood it, our understanding of the objective relationship between the two conceptions critically depends not only on this (both implicit and explicit) critique but also on the occasional misrepresentations of Aristotle´s conception upon which the critique is at times based. Once these misrepresentations are set aright, von Hildebrand´s conception turns out to be much closer to Aristotle’s than von Hildebrand himself thought.
The article first demonstrates both similarities and differences in the ways both authors understand virtue as a habit (“a settled disposition determining choice, involving the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by reason, as the practically wise person would determine it” in Aristotle and “a general superactual value-response” in von Hildebrand). Then it shows that von Hildebrand’s implicit critique of Aristotle´s emphasis on the positive importance of the habit for acquiring moral virtue is based on a (notorious) misunderstanding of what Aristotle considered to be the role of habituation in the process of acquiring virtue. Thus we find that the actual difference between Aristotle´s and von Hildebrand’s understanding of the relationship among habit and the dispositional character of moral virtues is much smaller than von Hildebrand thought it to be. A similar conclusion is reached on the basis of a critical evaluation of von Hildebrand´s explicit critique of Aristotle´s doctrine of the mean.