Saturday, January 13, 2007

Martin Buber: I and Thou

In The Essential Marx, Ernst Fischer writes,

Marx speaks with passion against the mentality of having, which sees immediate physical possession as 'the unique goal of life and existence. This mentality has infected love itself, twisting the relationship between man and woman into a relationship of ownership and domination... Man educates himself to be man by humanizing his nature, by refusing to degrade other men inot objects, but instead, by making the objects of nature his own--humanly apprehended, recognized, formed objects by means of whose human appropriation he develops the wealth of his capabilities and the plenitudes of his own self

Another way of expressing Marx's insight--though from a theistic point of view--is that offered by Martin Buber, in his book, I and Thou.

Buber is best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between direct, mutual relations (called by him the "I-Thou" relationship, or dialogue), in which each person confirms the other as of unique value, and indirect, utilitarian relations (designated the "I-It" relationship, or monologue), in which each person knows and uses others but does not really see or value them for themselves. In the former, a true dialogue exists because the I interrelates totally with the Thou, creating a union, a bonding, between the two. The I-Thou relationship involves risks, because total involvement cannot calculate injuries that may be inflicted on the I by the Thou. Human relationships can only approximate the perfect I-Thou dialogue. When people are in a genuine dialogue with God (the only perfect Thou), the true I-Thou relationship is present. Buber's philosophy of dialogue has had a wide influence on thinkers of many faiths, including such important Protestant theologians as Swiss Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, German-born American Paul Tillich, and American Reinhold Niebuhr

Check out more about Buber and his existentialist philosophy of encounter at


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