Martin Buber's I and Thou has long been acclaimed as a classic. Many prominent writers have acknowledged its influence on their work; students of intellectual history consider it a landmark; and the generation born since World War II considers Buber as one of its prophets. The need for a... read more
Martin Buber was one of the great religious thinkers of the 20th century. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1878, but sent at the age of three to live with his grandfather in Lvov, Galicia, because of his parents' failing marriage. Buber ended up spending his entire childhood in Lvov, and was... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Martin Buber was one of the great religious thinkers of the 20th century. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1878, but sent at the age of three to live with his grandfather in Lvov, Galicia, because of his parents' failing marriage. Buber ended up spending his entire childhood in Lvov, and was greatly influenced by the towering figure of his caregiver, Solomon Buber. Solomon Buber was a successful banker, a scholar of Jewish law, and one of the last great thinkers of the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah. He was also a deeply religious man who prayed three times daily, shaking with fervor. Solomon Buber exposed his grandson to two of the three obsessions that would guide the younger Buber's thought: the mystical Jewish movement of Hasidism which tries to imbue the ordinary routines of daily life with a divine joy rooted in communal living, and the more intellectual movement of the Haskalah which tries to link the humanist values of the secular Enlightenment to the tenets of Jewish belief.
As an adolescent, Buber began his search for religious meaning by separating himself from the Jewish community. He ceased to observe the myriad strict Jewish laws and immersed himself in his own questions. He described himself as living "in a world of confusion." In 1897, early in his university career, Buber returned to the Jewish community, drawn by what would become the third fundamental influence in his life: modern political Zionism. Zionism sought to redefine Judaism as a nationality rather than simply a religion, with Hebrew as the Jewish language and Israel as the Jewish homeland. Buber quickly became active in the movement, particularly in its cultural and religious aspects. In 1901 he was appointed editor of the Zionist periodical "Die Welt", and in 1902, after leaving "Die Welt", he founded the publishing house of Judische Verlag.
I and Thou is written as a series of long and shorter aphorisms, divided into three sections. The aphorisms within each section are arranged without any linear progression; that is, they are not supposed to be read as subsequent steps in an argument, but as related reflections. Each of the three sections taken as a whole comprises a stage in Buber's larger argument. The first part of the book examines the human condition by exploring the psychology of individual man. Here Buber establishes his crucial first premise: that man has two distinct ways of engaging the world, one of which the modern age entirely ignores. In the second part of the book, Buber examines human life on the societal level. He investigates both society itself and man as he exists within society. In this section, Buber claims that modern society leaves man unfulfilled and alienated because it acknowledges only one of our modes for engaging the world. The third part of the book deals with the subject of religion. Building on the conclusions of the first two sections—that man has two ways of engaging the world, and that modern society leaves man alienated by valuing only the first of these—Buber tells us how to go about building a fulfilling, meaningful society (a true community) by making proper use of the neglected second mode of engaging the world, and by using this mode to relate to God.
The fundamental concept underlying the entire work is the distinction drawn in the first section between the two modes of engaging the world. The first of these, which Buber calls "experience" (the mode of 'I–it'), will be familiar to any reader, since it is the mode that modern man almost exclusively uses. In Experience, man collects data, analyzes it, classifies it, and theorizes about it. The object of experience (the It) is viewed as a thing to be utilized, a thing to be known or put to some purpose. In experience we see our object as a collection of qualities and quantities, as a particular point in space and time. There is a necessary distance between the experiencing I and the experienced It: the one is subject, and the other object. Also, the experiencing I is an objective observer rather than an active participant in this mode of engaging the world.
In addition to this familiar mode of engaging the world, there is also another mode available to us, one which we must necessarily make use of in order to be truly human. In this mode, which he calls "encounter" (the mode of I–You), we enter into a relationship with the object encountered, we participate in something with that object, and both the I and the You are transformed by the relation between them. The You we encounter is encountered in its entirety, not as a sum of its qualities. The You is not encountered as a point in space and time, but, instead, it is encountered as if it were the entire universe, or rather, as if the entire universe somehow existed through the You. We can enter into encounter with any of the objects that we experience; with inanimate objects, with animals, and with man. With man the phenomena of encounter is best described as love. We can also, however, enter into encounter with a being that cannot be the object of experience: God. This type of encounter is the subject of the third section of the book.
In part two, Buber takes the conclusions that he has drawn about man's fundamental psychology—the identification of man's two equally important means of engaging the world—and puts these conclusions to work in sociological reasoning. He looks at modern society and notes how it is entirely built up based on the mode of I–It. Politics, economics, public institutions, even much of personal life, are all fundamentally grounded in the fact that we view every other being as an It, rather than as a You. Modern man has come to feel alienated fundamentally because modern society is exclusively an It-world. Existential angst, worries of meaninglessness, and the sense of impending doom that most modern human beings feel at some point in their life (often in the dead of night, when they cannot sleep) are all the result of our strict reliance on experience to the exclusion of encounter.
In the third section, Buber gives us his solution to modern man's woes. He has already made it clear in the previous two sections that this solution will involve opening ourselves up to encounter and building a society based on relation to You's rather than experience of It's. In section three, he reveals how we should go about doing this. All encounters, he begins by telling us, are fleeting; it is only a matter of time before any You dissolves into an It again and as soon as we begin to reflect on the You it becomes an It. Love, then, is a constant oscillation between encounter and experience, and it does not wholly fulfill our yearning for relation. In every human encounter that we undergo, we feel that there could be something more, something more lasting and more fulfilling. This "more" is encounter with God, or absolute relation. We cannot seek our encounter with God, but can only ready ourselves for it by concentrating both aspects of our self (the I of experience and the I of encounter) in our souls. If we ready ourselves for encounter it will definitely occur, and the proof that it has taken place will be in the transformation that we undergo; after absolute encounter we come to see every other being (nature, animals, people) as a You. We come to feel affection for everyone and everything, and to have a sense of loving responsibility for the whole course of the world. This transformation, Buber tells us, is divine revelation. It is salvation. Filled with loving responsibility, given the ability to say "You" to the world, man is no longer alienated, and does not worry about the meaninglessness of life. He is fulfilled and complete, and will help others to reach this goal as well. He will help to build an ideal society, a real community, which must be made up of people who have also gone through absolute relation, and are therefore willing to say "You" to the entire world.
“The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.”Buber
“Nothing can doom man but the belief in doom, for this prevents the movement of return.”Buber
“Extended, the lines of relationship intersect in the eternal You.”Buber
“The encounter with God does not come to man in order that he many henceforth attend to God, but in order that he may prove its meaning in action in the world.”Buber
“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.”Buber
The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.Highlighted by 11 Kindle customers
Feelings one “has”; love occurs. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love. This is no metaphor but actuality: love does not cling to an I, as if the You were merely its “content” or object; it is between I and You.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
God is present when I confront You. But if I look away from You, I ignore him. As long as I merely experience or use you, I deny God. But when I encounter You I encounter him.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
True community does not come into being because people have feelings for each other (though that is required, too), but rather on two accounts: all of them have to stand in a living, reciprocal relationship to a single living center, and they have to stand in a living, reciprocal relationship to one another.Highlighted by 9 Kindle customers
Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
Every means is an obstacle. Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur.Highlighted by 8 Kindle customers
The world as experience belongs to the basic word I-It. The basic word I-You establishes the world of relation.Highlighted by 7 Kindle customers
The place of the sacred is not a house of God, no church, synagogue, or seminary, nor one day in seven, and the span of the sacred is much shorter than twenty-four hours. The sabbath is every day, several times a day.Highlighted by 7 Kindle customers
One should not try to dilute the meaning of the relation: relation is reciprocity.Highlighted by 5 Kindle customers
The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You. All actual life is encounter.Highlighted by 5 Kindle customers
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