Buber’s I and Thou (Summary)

Martin Buber philosopher

Martin Buber : Biography

Martin Buber was born in Vienna in 1878 and died in 1965. He was a jewish philosopher and theologian. From 1925 Buber lectured on Jewish religion and ethics at the University of Frankfurt am Main until the rise of Nazi power forced him to leave in 1933. Settled in Palestine from 1938, Buber became professor of social philosophy at the Hebrew university. After his retirement in 1951, he lectured extensively outside Israel and also became the first president of the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities.

Buber’s Philosophy Summary – I and Thou

The basic formulation of Buber’s philosophy (the philosophy of dialogue) is contained in I and Thou (Ich und Du in German) where he makes a radical distinction between two basic attitudes of which men are capable, described as I-Thou  and I-It.

  • I-Thou designates a relation between subject and subject, a relation of reciprocity and mutuality
  • I-It is the relation between subjet and object, involving some form of utilization or control, the object being wholly passive.

The I in the two situation also differs : in the I-Thou it appears only within the context of the relationship and cannot be viewed independently, whereas in the I-it situation the I is an observer and only partly involved. The I-Thou situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and every Thou will at times become an It. Through this situation objective knowledge is acquired and finds expression. In a healthy man there is a dialectical interaction between the two situations : every I-it contains the potential of becoming I-Thou, the situation in which man’s true personality emerges within the context of his world.

Buber’s notion of God is that of te eternal Thou, the only I-Thou situation that man can sustain indifinitely; in it God is recognized in all things as the wholly other, not observed but revealing himself.

I and Thou Quotes

– All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware

– The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude

– What has to be given up is not the I but that false drive for self-affirmation, which impels man to flee from the unreliable, unsolid, unlasting, unpredictable, dangerous world of relation into the having of things

– No purpose intervenes between I and You, no greed and no anticipation; and longing itself is changed as it plunges from the dream into appearance. Every means is an obstacle. Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur

– Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling – the equality of all lovers

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