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The Nature of Love

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From The Cover

Early on Dietrich von Hildebrand distinguished himself as a thinker with an unusual understanding of human love. His books in the 1920s on man and woman broke new ground and stirred up fruitful controversy. Toward the end of his life he wrote a foundational book on love, The Nature of Love. He had in fact been preparing all his life to write this work; he was so drawn to the philosophical analysis of love that his students long ago had dubbed him doctor amoris, the doctor of love. This great work, the mature fruit of von Hildebrand’s genius, is now available for the first time in English, ably translated and introduced by the philosopher John F. Crosby, who had been a student of von Hildebrand.

The Nature of Love is a masterpiece of phenomenological investigation. Not since Max Scheler’s work on love have the resources of phenomenology been so fruitfully employed for the understanding of what love is and what it is not.

Previously von Hildebrand had distinguished himself mainly in the area of moral philosophy, but in this study on love a new side of his thought emerges. Von Hildebrand is here led into areas of personal subjectivity that he did not have the occasion to explore in his ethical writings. In a most original way he shows that the desire to be loved by the person whom one loves has nothing to do with selfishness; he shows that this desire to be loved and so to be united with the other person is itself a kind of self-donation to the other. Thus von Hildebrand resists the altruism that claims that one is selfless toward the beloved person only by willing the good of the other in such a way as to be indifferent to being loved in return. On the other hand, he equally resists the claim that the happiness of the one who loves is the primary motive of love. Von Hildebrand indicates the radically other-centered direction of love, while avoiding the pitfall of a depersonalized altruism. Thus he does justice both to the extraordinary selftranscendence of love as well as to subjectivity of love. This work constitutes a major contribution to the Christian personalism that von Hildebrand represents.

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