Hildebrand is well known for his philosophy of value and value-response, which grounds many of his most important philosophical insights and appears in nearly all his works. Value, according to Hildebrand, is a basic datum of experience appearing as the “important in itself” as distinct from the “merely subjectively satisfying” and the “objective good for the person.” For example, suppose I see a case of moral excellence, such as a person forgiving an enemy under difficult circumstances. The encounter with this excellence presents itself as something more than merely neutral, something that demands a kind of respect even though it may not hold any element of subjective pleasure for me or involve a benefit to me at all. This second aspect of Hildebrand’s philosophy interacts with his phenomenological realism because the revelation of something as important in itself leads us on to inquire into the ways that reality must be structured such that it could contain this dimension of value. According to Hildebrand, we must avoid the temptation to think of value as merely the projection of our own interests or preferences because we can discern in experience a clear distinction between the sense that something is important in itself and the sense that something is important because of a particular connection to us.

His treatment of value is pluralistic in the sense that he does not reduce what appears as important in itself to some single type of value such as moral or aesthetic value. Instead, he welcomes into his analysis a great variety of different kinds of value. For example, the kind of value present in a living organism is distinct from the kind of value present in a beautiful symphony, which in turn is distinct from the kind of value present in the act of forgiveness. Throughout Hildebrand’s work we see a systematic attempt to catelogue all these various kinds of value and understand the distinctions between very specific sub-varieties within these. Hildebrand is not a pluralist, however, in the sense that he would consider all these various kinds of value to be on an equal footing. Instead, moral goodness holds for Hildebrand a kind of preeminence among the values. Further, within this sphere, as within others, different kinds of moral goodness ought to be prioritized above others.

Characteristic of all his ethical writings, Hildebrand understands our experience of value to include the sense that values call for some fitting response on our part. This response varies according to the kind of value and our circumstances: for example, when I observe a heroic act of forgiveness, I may be called upon to imitate it by forgiving my own enemies. In an experience of aesthetic value, however, such as my encounter with the terrible grandeur of a mountain vista, I may be called upon to appreciate the vista’s magnificence in humble admiration. This understanding of value and value response establishes a balance between a thorough analysis of the phenomena on the object side and a thorough analysis on the subject side. While metaphysically realist thought sometimes focuses so heavily on an analysis of the object that it leaves an analysis of our subjective response underdeveloped, Hildebrand devotes a great deal of his thinking to an inquiry into the inner workings of the subject. He does this, however, without lapsing into any form of subjectivism.

We see an especially important case of value response in Hildebrand’s analysis of affectivity. When he investigates this dimension of our response we see at work the importance of the balance between an analysis of the object and an analysis of the subject. In much of his writing but especially in The Heart, Hildebrand seeks to rehabilitate our understanding of the affective dimension in our response to value, which remains underdeveloped, he claims, in the philosophical tradition. It is not enough, he contends, to see an act of forgiveness and will to act in a similar manner. We certainly ought to will thus, but we ought also to be moved in our affectivity.