How can I be a good CNA

To a philosophy of good: 10. Value and objective good for the person

It is thanks to the ethicist Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) to have for the first time clearly and convincingly worked out the difference between the “good in itself” and the “good for me” (or for people in general).

The first he calls value, the second “the objective good for a person”. In addition to these two categories of importance (Hildebrand's generic term for everything that can be meaningful to us in any way and therefore has the power to motivate our will) there is a third one, the "subjectively satisfying" one. This includes the objects of sensual inclinations in the sense of Kant. The objective good for a person is what is beneficial and useful for me, e.g. my health and what contributes to it. I do not take medicine because it gives me subjective satisfaction, but because it is useful for my health.

Ultimately, value is what gives its wearer a meaning in itself. This includes, among other things, what Kant calls human dignity, its end in itself. I am not allowed to regard and treat my neighbor merely from the point of view of his use for myself, that is to say, not merely to use it as a means, as a good for me. It has a value in it that demands respect and recognition from me, regardless of my inclination and my own interests.

To explain these three categories of importance in a simple example: If I eat the pudding because I like it, then I am motivated by it for my action through its character, which it has for me through its taste as something “subjectively satisfying”. If I take bitter medicine, it is because for me it is an objective good. If I rush to the aid of my neighbor, it is for his sake: because he is a person and as such has a value that demands me in this concrete situation and directs an imperative to my conscience.

One could say: the subjectively satisfactory appeals to my inclinations and instincts, the objective good to my legitimate self-interest, the moral or morally relevant value to my conscience.

Hildebrand's doctrine of values ​​is far more complex. It distinguishes, for example, ontic and qualitative values, and among the latter a whole series of other values ​​such as aesthetic, intellectual and moral (or moral) values. There is no need to elaborate on that teaching here, and there are many details on which one may disagree. In our context, it is important to understand the distinction between what is intrinsically meaningful and valuable, namely value, and what is meaningful to me, the objective good for a person. Hildebrand also had this distinction ahead of Max Scheler (1874-1928), whose concept of value mixed both aspects. Furthermore, it is also important for Hildebrand to understand the term value as a terminus technicus exactly in the sense in which he understands it, without burdening it with all the manifold fragments of meaning that dominate the modern discussion of values. When, for example, “Western values” are mentioned, the values ​​of the Enlightenment or even Christianity, then these are often so different things that have nothing to do with Hildebrand's concept of value that you get lost in the reception of the Hildebrand's ethics of values ​​does not radically disregard all of this.

Hildbrand's “value” must also not be identified with the Kantian “price”. When Kant juxtaposes “price” and “dignity” (“Everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price, something else can be put in its place as equivalent; what is above all price, therefore no equivalent allowed, that has a dignity ”, GMS), then Hildebrand's“ value ”is clearly to be located on the side of“ dignity ”. It is also important to see that Hildebrand understands value as something that is independent of my valuation. When you say “This and that is important to me”, you often intend the statement: “It may be worthless to you or even in itself, but it has value to me.” Hildebrand just wants to exclude from his concept of value such a value, which merges with its significance, which it has for me. “Value” for him is precisely what gives his wearer meaning before and independently of my judgment about him. “Value” is that which deserves my appreciation, but does not owe itself to my appreciation. The valuable in Hildebrand's sense is not significant because I attach importance to it, but rather the other way round: Because it is valuable in itself, it claims to be meaningful to me too. The sensitivity to the value says something about my character. Of a person who is ready to commit any crime because nothing has any more meaning to him, one says: "Nothing is sacred to him." This aura of holiness in the broadest sense, which demands respect and respect from me, is what characterizes the moral and morally relevant values.

That is why Hildebrand is not hit by Pieper's criticism when he contrasts subject-oriented ethics with object-oriented ethics with the words: “Whoever wants to know and do good must direct his gaze to the objective world of being. Not on one's own 'attitude', not on 'conscience', not on 'values', not on arbitrarily set 'ideals' and 'role models'. He must refrain from his own act and look to reality ”(Reality and the Good, p. 11). In this dictum the values ​​appear as something subjectively posited. That cannot be said of Hildebrand. For him they form the heart of reality. In this respect, Hildebrand and Pieper are not that far apart. Both are concerned with an appropriate relationship to reality. But with his teaching on values ​​and the three categories of importance Hildebrand can provide the necessary conceptual instruments to avoid many confusions, confusions and misunderstandings, as we will have the opportunity to show. “The good is the reality”, Pieper writes (ibid.).

But why should I act according to reality at all? If I don't want to save the reality-compliant morality simply by recourse to my self-interest, I have to normatively charge the concept of reality. It is the values ​​that justify this charge. It is they who give reality such a normativity that the realization of what is morally good is more the mere submission to practical constraints that reality imposes on me. In this sense, for example, Andreas Laun writes that Thomism and ethics of values ​​are ultimately agreed “that the last source of moral and natural legal norms is reality, insofar as it contains morally significant values” (Article Norm and Normfinding, in: K. Hörmann , Ed., Lexikon der Christian Moral, Innsbruck 1976, Sp. 1198). Only a Thomism that has been purified in terms of ethical values ​​can counter the suspicion of having stolen the normativity of being.

From the Hildebrand spectrum of value types, only the moral value is important for our context at the moment. It forms the top of the hierarchy of values. Another value must never be preferred to it. In religious language this means: I must never sin for the sake of any good, pleasure or other value. “To sin” means that I care about something other than moral worth. I must never act against my conscience. As we have seen, conscience is exactly what shows me my moral worth. My inclinations only show me what is good for me. I am allowed to act against my inclinations, not against my conscience. If I do that, my will loses its moral goodness, precisely that goodness that Immanuel Kant also saw and emphasized more clearly than all scholastics (except Anselm) when he - as quoted in episode 6 - wrote that only a good will could be considered good without reservation.

I would only correct the exclusivity with which Kant presents the will as the sole bearer of moral value in this quote. It is more precise to say (but this does not necessarily have to be in contradiction to his overall philosophy): The will is the direct bearer of moral value. But it is also the person, and by virtue of their goodwill in the form of a good disposition. It is the action in a derivative form insofar as it is voluntary. It is perfectly legitimate to speak of a morally good act, and it is by virtue of the goodness of will that it is sustained. To put it religiously: Before God, the value of a good act depends on the magnitude of the love out of which it occurs. In any case, the moral value is always a personal value. Only people can be morally good.
The two categories of importance “value” and “objective good for a person” roughly coincide with the two terms agathon (the good) and kalon (the beautiful) in Plato. The agathon is mostly the good in the sense of what is beneficial to me, while the kalón is the good in itself. The shine of the beautiful therefore lies on it. An act of selfless charity is a beautiful thing. It is precisely because of such beauty that the saying goes: "Words teach, examples carry you away." Examples of good deeds that we witness drag us along, fascinate, or move us because we become aware of the immense beauty of moral goodness.

When we understand this, then we can see through the damage caused by an ethic of aspiration that sees the good merely as an object of inclination or an urge for self-realization. Such a conception also pushes what is intrinsically valuable into the Procrustean bed of a mere “good for me”, robs it of its beauty and authority, and wrests the chance of gaining a clear, reflective and explicit insight into the value from those caught in such thinking, to what Hildebrand used to say, a prize de conscience. This is exactly what we see in many scholastic writers.

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