FUNDAMENTAL MORAL ATTITUDES
Dietrich Von Hildebrand
Moral values are the highest among all natural values. Goodness, purity, truthfulness, humility of man
rank higher than genius, brilliancy, exuberant vitality, than the beauty of nature or of art, than the stability
and power of a state. What is realized and what shines forth in an act of real forgiveness, in a noble and
generous renunciation; in a burning and selFess love, is more signi±cant and more noble, more important
and more eternal than all cultural values. Positive moral values are the focus of the world, negative moral
values, the greatest evil, worse than suffering, sickness, death, or the disintegration of a Fourishing
This fact was recognized by the great minds, such as Socrates, or Plato, who continually repeated that it is
better to suffer injustice than to commit it. This pre-eminence of the moral sphere is, above all, a basic
proposition of the Christian ethos.
Moral values are always personal values. They can only inhere in man, and be realized by man. A
material thing, like a stone or a house, cannot be morally good or bad, just as moral goodness is not
possible to a tree or a dog. Similarly, works of the human mind (discoveries, scienti±c books, works of
art), cannot properly be said to be the bearers of moral values; they cannot be faithful, humble and loving.
They can, at the most, indirectly reFect these values, as bearing the imprint of the human mind. Man
alone, as a free being, responsible for his actions and his attitudes, for his will and striving, his love and
his hatred, his joy and his sorrow, and his super-actual basic attitudes, can be morally good or bad. ²or, far
above his cultural accomplishments, rises the importance of the man's own being: a personality radiating
moral values, a man who is humble, pure, truthful, honest and loving.
But, how can man participate in these moral values? Are they given to him by nature like the beauty of his
face, his intelligence, or a lively temperament? No, they can only grow out of conscious, free attitudes;
man himself must essentially cooperate for their realization. They can only develop through his
conscious, free abandonment of himself to genuine values. In proportion to man's capacity to grasp
values, in so far as he sees the fullness of the world of values with a clear and fresh vision, in so far as his
abandonment to this world is pure and unconditional, will he be rich in moral values.
As long as a man blindly disregards the moral values of other persons, as long as he does not distinguish
the positive value which inheres in truth, and the negative value which is proper to error, as long as he
does not understand the value which inheres in the life of man, and the negative value attached to an
injustice, will he be incapable of moral goodness. As long as he is only interested in the question of
whether something is subjectively satisfying or not, whether it is agreeable to him or not, instead of