Thursday, April 13, 2017


Cassandra Paragua

Martin Buber (1878-1965)
Martin  Mordechai Buber was a prolific author, scholar, literary translator, and political activist whose writings—mostly in German and Hebrew—ranged from Jewish mysticism to social philosophy, biblical studies, religious phenomenology, philosophical anthropology, education, politics, and art. (Zank, M. & Braiterman, Z., 2014). He was a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator. Born in Vienna, Austria in February 8, 1878, where he spent most of his life in Germany and Israel, writing in German and Hebrew. When he was three, his mother deserted him, and his paternal grandparents raised him in Lemberg until the age of fourteen, after which he moved to his father’s estate in Bukovina. Buber would only see his mother once more, when he was in his early thirties. This encounter he described as a “mismeeting” that helped teach him the meaning of genuine meeting. (Scott, S., 2014)

            He studied philosophy and art history at the University of Vienna, Leipzig, Berlin and Zurich. (Cruz, 1995).  He is best known for his book, Ich und Du (I and Thou), which distinguishes between “I-Thou” and “I-It” modes of existence. Buber often characterized as an existentialist philosopher, but he rejected the label, contrasting his emphasis on the whole person and “dialogic” intersubjectivity with existentialist emphasis on “monologic” self-consciousness. In his essays, he defines man as the being who faces an “other” and constructs a world from the dual acts of distancing and relating. (Scott, S., 2014) He is best known as "the philosopher of dialogue”. But he also was a gifted linguist and educational theorist. Indeed, he ranked among the most dedicated humanists and enlightened teachers of all time.  After his retirement from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Buber went on tours mostly in U.S. and Europe lecturing and joining dialogues on philosophy, education, and psychotherapy. As an educator Buber was tirelessly active for almost sixty years. He also enjoyed a sixty-year marriage, although he kept his personal life to himself. (Nguyen, 2014)

Buber was also the founder of Zoonism where he was the “respected and literate voice of German Jewry”. (Cruz, 1995).   Buber promoted Jewish cultural renewal through his study of Hasidic Judaism. He recorded and translated Hasidic legends and anecdotes, translated the Bible from Hebrew into German in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, and wrote numerous religious and Biblical studies. He advocated a bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state and argued for the renewal of society through decentralized, communitarian socialism. The leading Jewish adult education specialist in Germany in the 1930s, he developed a philosophy of education based on addressing the whole person through education of character, and directed the creation of Jewish education centers in Germany and teacher-training centers in Israel. (Scott, S., 2014)

There are certain philosophers who, in a way, influenced him to formulate his concept. He got his God-man relationship from Soren Kierkegaard, where he said that the man who appropriates and affirms his relationship with God in faith becomes what he really is. (Buber, 1994). Belief is a relation of life to what is believed, a relation of life which includes all life. Martin Heidegger influenced Buber when he emphasized that man can attain his wholeness not by relating to himself but in relating to “another self.” This another self may be just as conditioned and limited as he is, yet in being together, the unlimited and the unconditioned is experienced. (Buber, 1947).

Ludwig Feuerbach, on the other hand, said that man is situated not in his individual self, but in his relationship towards others. This influenced Buber to focus on philosophical anthropology, which is for him, “the study of the wholeness of man.” (Wood, 1969) And he studied specifically the relation of man to his “Thou.”

Theory of Dialogue
The fundamental fact of human existence is man to man. Human existence is defined by the way in which we engage in dialogue with each other, with the world and with God. (Buber, 2000) The heart of Buber's philosophy might be considered to be in his conception of dialogue.  In an ordinary sense, dialogue is often thought to be a situation where two people talk to each other. For Buber (1965) dialogue is a kind of movement—an essential action (i.e., the action of turning towards the other in his particularity, not necessarily in the physical sense, but rather in the spiritual (or in his response to the other). 

For Buber, it was important to understand the distinction between two different types of human existence “what one’s reality is” as opposed to “the image of what one wishes to be, for the main obstacle to dialogue is the duality of “being” (Sein) and “seeming” (Schein). Seeming is the essential cowardice of man, the lying that frequently occurs in self-presentation when one seeks to communicate an image and make a certain impression (Buber,1957). Buber (1965) distinguished three types of dialogue: genuine, technical, and disguise.
In genuine dialogue, whether it is spoken or silent, each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between them. The essence of dialogue is "not that you are to answer but that you are able (Clark Winright, 1991). In the characteristic manner of true dialogue, the I does not demand or order that the other respond to him. Rather, the critical factor of the dialogic relation is that the other has achieved the "ability" to respond to or to answer the I. Inanimate objects are seen as "able" to sensibly affect and/or penetrate the awareness of human subjects. Once viewed by such a subject as a being, an object becomes capable of further response and a dialogic relationship is established, even if no word is ever spoken.   Genuine dialogue, no matter whether spoken or silent where each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present or particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself and them. (Buber,1965)
 Technical dialogue is a product of modern times. This dialogue is prompted "solely by the need of objective understanding. The purpose of this dialogue is communication of technical particulars between two persons, necessary to achieve working agreement or compromise. (Buber, 1965). For example, when an architect discusses the specifics of a blueprint with a construction worker for the purpose of coming to some sort of understanding about the building project, technical dialogue occurs. There are some similarities in the structure of genuine dialogue and technical dialogue, however, the purpose of technical dialogue is focused upon the critical exchange of information rather than upon establishing a spiritual relation.
3Monologue disguised as dialogue, in which two men, meeting in space, speak each with himself in strangely tortuous and circuitous ways and yet imagine they have escaped the torment of being thrown back on their own resources. Monologue, as described by Buber (1965), also has a "basic movement". If turning toward the other is the basic movement of genuine dialogue, then one might assume "turning away" to be the basic movement of monologue.

The meeting involved in genuine dialogue is rare, and is, in a real sense, a meeting of souls. The life of dialogue involves “the turning towards the other” (Buber, 1965). Technical dialogue is driven by the need to understand something and need not engage the soul. Monologue, a distorted form of dialogue, is what happens most of the time. Words are stated, but there is little or no connection. This reflects Piaget’s (1995) notion of egocentric speech in which people find it cognitively difficult to keep in mind their own perspective, let alone another person’s view while they are talking. Instead, they rely on their own view. Hewes (1986) provided eloquent examples of egocentric speech at cocktail parties. Individuals tend to follow the basic conventions of dialogue including turn-taking and the use of trite acknowledgments of another person’s statements. Yet, the meaningful dialogue of a normal conversation is missing because collective monologues are used. Diminished cognitive capacity prevents people from integrating both halves of a conversation and they rely on their own half in order to demonstrate at a minimum, that they can articulate their own point of view well. Furthermore, Hewes (1986) noted that “It is difficult formulating your own thoughts while attempting to manage the flow of conversation with full consideration of the other’s contributions to it”.
Martin Buber’s most influential philosophic work, I-Thou (2000) designate two basic modes of existence: I-Thou” (Ich-Du) and “I-It” (Ich-Es)
1.      I–Thou is a relation of subject-to-subject.  In the I–Thou relationship, people are aware of each other as having a unity of being and you see yourself and others as whole persons who can-not be reduced to characterizations. In the I–Thou relationship, people do not perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, but engage in a dialogue involving each other’s whole being. The “I-Thou” relation is the pure encounter of one whole unique entity with another in such a way that the other is known without being subsumed under a universal..  “I-Thou” relation participates in the dynamic, living process of an “other”. Man's dialogue brings him into the "between man and man,” but also into the "between man and God." For God is the Eternal Thou in whom "the extended lines of relation meet."  "Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the Eternal Thou; by means of every particular Thou, the primary word addresses the Eternal Thou." God is the center of the circle of existence, the apex of the triangle of life.
2.      I–It is a relation of subject-to-object. In the I–It relationship human beings perceive each other as consisting of specific, isolated qualities, and view themselves as part of a world that consists of things. In I–It relation-ships, you think of the other person as an object to be labeled, manipulated, changed, and maneuvered to your own belief. “I-It” relation is driven by categories of “same” and “different” and focuses on universal definition. An “I-It” relation experiences a detached thing, fixed in space and time.  

Buber (1965) characterizes “I-Thou” relations as “dialogical” and “I-It” relations as
monological.” In his essay “Dialogue,” Buber explains that monologue is not just a turning away from the other but also a turning back on oneself (Rückbiegung). To perceive the other as an It is to take them as a classified and hence predictable and manipulable object that exists only as a part of one’s own experiences. In contrast, in an “I-Thou” relation both participants exist as polarities of relation, whose center lies in the between (Zwischen). The “I” of man differs in both modes of existence. The “I” may be taken as the sum of its inherent attributes and acts, or it may be taken as a unitary, whole, irreducible being. The “I” of the “I-It” relation is a self-enclosed, solitary individual (der Einzige) that takes itself as the subject of experience. The “I” of the “I-Thou” relation is a whole, focused, single person (der Einzelne) that knows itself as subject. In I - Thou, Buber explains that the self becomes either more fragmentary or more unified through its relationships to others. This emphasis on intersubjectivity is the main difference between I-Thou and Buber’s earlier Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (1965). Like I-Thou, Daniel distinguishes between two modes of existence: orienting (Rientierung), which is a scientific grasp of the world that links experiences, and realization (Verwirklichung), which is immersion in experience that leads to a state of wholeness. 

Buber identifies three spheres of dialogue which correspond to three types of otherness. We exchange in language, broadly conceived, with man, transmit below language with nature, and receive above language with spirit. That we enter into dialogue with man is easily seen; that we also enter into dialogue with nature and spirit is less obvious and the most controversial and misunderstood aspect of I-Thou. However, if we focus on the “I-Thou” relationship as a meeting of singularities, we can see that if we truly enter into relation with a tree or cat, for instance, we apprehend it not as a thing with certain attributes, presenting itself as a concept to be dissected, but as a singular being, one whole confronting another. Dialogue with spirit is the most difficult to explicate because Buber uses several different images for it. At times he describes dialogue with spirit as dialogue with the “eternal Thou,” which he sometimes calls God, which is eternally “other”. (Scott, S., 2014)

Buber (2000) summarizes the trappings of I-Thou and I-It in this way:
Every Thou in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thing hood again and again. In the language of objects: everything in the world can—either before or after it becomes a thing appear to some I as its Thou. But the language of objects catches only one corner of actual life.

Buber (2000) continues: “The It is the chrysalis, the Thou the butterfly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns so neatly; often it is an intricately entangled series of events that is tortuously dual”.  Because life is necessarily lived in a world of persons and things, every waking moment of man's life he confronts and/or is confronted by those aspects of reality. He is bombarded by sensory information demanding his attention. With those persons and/or things which he is able to single out and focus upon, bestowing his full and undivided attention, he establishes genuine relation. In reaching out toward the inanimate other as Thou rather than It, Buber (1965) says: ”...when a man draws a lifeless thing into his passionate longing for dialogue, lending it independence and as It were a soul, then there may dawn in him the presentiment of a world-wide dialogue”.

Man attains being, Buber posits, only through transcendence of the attitudes and arguments of subjectivism (i.e., perceiving the existence of objective reality as a construct of mind) and objectivism (I.e., perceiving the existence of objective reality as independent of mind.  For Buber, transcendence of these irreconcilable differences and/or limitations can be found exclusively within the context of the between. That is to say, the between (as a way of knowing reality) exists apart from either view as it represents the point at which man attains being or true existence (Wood, 1969). However, unless man consciously confronts the other in his particularity, meeting cannot take place, subsequently, where there is no genuine meeting, there can be no dialogue, no between, and therefore, no transcendence of the arguments of subjectivism and/or objectivism.

Model of Genuine Relationship
All real living is meeting (Buber, 1965). For Buber encounter has a significance beyond co-presence and individual growth. He looked for ways in which people could engage with each other fully – to meet with themselves. Persons and/or things are seen to exist only in relation to other things and/or persons. We can only grow and develop once we have learned to live in relation to others, to recognize the possibilities of the space between us. In common terminology, the word, "relation," suggests a state of affairs which in some way connects two separate entities. (Clark Winright, 1991). The very essence of any existence is this connecting state of relation, which he calls the between (Friedman, 2002.). As Aubrey Hodes (1971) puts it:
When a human being turns to another as another, as a particular and specific person to be addressed, and tries to communicate with him through language or silence, something takes place between them which is not found elsewhere in nature. Buber called this meeting between men the sphere of the between.
Relation, as an event or action, occurs between two entities—between a person, whose attention is completely turned toward someone or something other than himself, and another person or thing who/which confronts him in the same spirit. Buber (2000) posits: “In the beginning is the relation—as the category of being, as readiness, as a form that reaches out to be filled, as a model of the soul; the a priori of relation”.

When Buber speaks of relation, he refers to man's and nature's innate potential to relate. That is, each man and each thing of nature possess unique characteristics that set them apart from other persons and things. It is this uniqueness that endows man and/or thing with the potential to enter into relation. At the point in time when this confrontation of the other occurs, man enters into relation and thus comes to exist or to be. "It is solely by virtue of his power to relate that man is able to live in the spirit" (Buber, 2000). Spirit, or world transcendence occurs only in the between of man's relation to the other person or thing. This is not to suggest that spirit is some magical, mystical, elevated state of existence in which man, beyond and outside of himself, knowingly escapes or separates himself from the woes of a less fortunate world.  While in the spirit of relation, according to Buber, it would be more accurate to say that man is most genuinely himself. Accordingly, Buber would hold that man's participation in spirit enlarges and/or delimits his existence to the point of wholeness. Thus, spirit does not set man apart from his physical environment in the manner of an ascetic, rather, it creates a bond between the two--a dialogic bond leading to mutuality of purpose and concerted action. Man is born with the potential to relate to other persons and things, but he ceases to genuinely exist in spirit apart from the actualization of that potential, even though he may be physically alive. (Clark Winright, 1991)
Relationship exists in the form of dialogue. There are two kinds of relationships according to Buber: the I-It and the I-Thou relationships. The I-It relationship is simply monologue. The “I” treats the other as object, thus results to manipulation and utility. The I-Thou relationship is what Buber calls the “genuine dialogue,” (Nguyen, 2014)
Authentic human existence the dialogic life is existence in the I-Thou. The intrinsic value of dialogue lies in its ability to create, uncover, explore, and develop meaning; to manifest an I-Thou relationship which reveals and affirms self and other; and to serve as a way of being in and with the world. (Fishbane, 1998)
Buber, in what is considered his most significant work, I-Thou, first published in 1923, considers there to be only one genuine relation--that of the I-Thou (subject and subject).  Relationships between an I turned-toward a certain other (Thou) is characterized as brief, but intense meetings or encounters, grounded in mutual respect and appreciation and most often resulting in genuine dialogue (Friedman, 2002).  In this genuine dialogue, a person is not only conversing with the other, but affirming him as a person. Such true dialogue is an act of mutual affirmation. It involves the value of trust and openness to each other (Nguyen, 2014). Buber (2002) emphasizes genuine dialogues where presence is felt and there is “speech from certainty to certainty.” He also emphasizes that dialogue includes communication from “one open-hearted person to another open-hearted person”. Only then, in a spirit of openness, will dialogue manifest itself. Buber further clarified that even the in the absence of words, the mere presence of the other marks an expression of affirmation, and it uplifts one’s self-esteem and self-reliance.

I thou relationship is a relationship characterize by genuine dialogue. In the analysis of Vu Nguyen (2014) I-Thou relationship is a kind of relationship covers in as much as human relationships is concerned. It deals with the relation of man to things, to another man, and to the spirit. Being, as subject, is being experienced from within, not according to its object surface, but in itself as unique subsistent, as original center and source of free initiative. It is in which the “I” relates with a subject, same as he, only with certain peculiarity, which all actual determination presents itself as a sort of inexhaustible source. 

In the study of Elaine Clark Winright, entitled Martin Buber's I and thou as model for relationship between artist and visual artwork stated that the I Thou refers to a relation occurring as between subject and subject. To become the I of the I-Thou, man must, in a special sense, turn his attention outward toward some other (i.e., something apart from and other than himself), rather than inward toward himself. This turning outward is described by Buber as a sort of opening of oneself before approaching the other as Thou. Buber describes this event: The relation to the Thou is unmediated....No purpose intervenes between I and Thou, no greed and no anticipation. For this opening of self or turning outward to occur, man must first be aware of his own uniqueness-of those qualities which he possesses that set him distinctly apart from others. When this occurs, he begins to perceive the world of reality in terms of otherness. Man becomes increasingly aware of his own uniqueness as he focuses upon the unique characteristics of some other aspect of his environment or other.
In I-Thou man becomes whole not in relation to himself but only through a relation to another self. The formation of the “I” of the “I-Thou” relation takes place in a dialogical relationship in which each partner is both active and passive and each is affirmed as a whole being. Only in this relationship is the other truly an “other”, and only in this encounter can the “I” develop as a whole being. Buber (2000) maintains that in becoming the I of I-Thou, man cannot hold anything of himself back, he must confront the Thou with his "whole being." Withholding some aspect of self or placing it in reserve, destroys the opening or turning outward process. In that it derives from and signals the presence of some interfering purpose or intent. As the I of I-Thou turns toward the other as that which is apart and distinct from itself, a point of meeting occurs. Meeting refers to the event of becoming I and Thou, or the point at which the two relate. Buber often uses the word, encounter, as the synonym of meeting. When the two encounter each other in their particularity, the resulting mutuality of purpose lays the necessary groundwork for a genuine or authentic dialogue to occur between the two. One of the themes that Buber vigorously pursues in his thinking is the concept of separateness where there is, at the same time, unity. The I-Thou does not represent a complete merger—in that each of the partners retains his separate and unique identity as a being or an existent, even as he willingly puts aside his autonomy of purpose for the sake of relationship. For the partner that comes from the world of things (i.e., the environment), this means, for example, that the beauty of a rock confronts a man who attends to it as his Thou; the man may pick up the rock and admire It more closely, however, the rock retains its "rock-ness" and the man retains his "personhood." At the same time, the two have entered into a dialogue and have achieved a common or mutual purpose. (Clark Winright, 1991).
In love, as a relation between I-Thou is a subject to subject relation. Like the I- Thou love is not a relation of subject to object but rather a relation in which both members in the relationship are subjects and share unity of being. Love is a relation in which I-Thou share sense of caring, respect, commitment and responsibility. (Buber, 2002) 

I-Thou relationship is not only a relation between man to mam but also a relationship between man to God. The ethical response of the I-Thou relationship is central to Buber’s understanding of God. One of the major themes of the book I – Thou, is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. All relationships Buber contends, bring one ultimately into relationship with Eternal Thou.  For Buber, God is the “Eternal Thou.” God is the only Thou which can never become an It. In other words, while relationships with other people will inevitably have utilitarian elements, in a genuine relationship with God, God cannot be used as a means towards an end.

In addition, according to Buber, our relationship with God serves as the foundation for our I-Thou relationships with all others, and every I-Thou relationship–be it with a person or thing–involves a meeting with God. God, in a sense, is the unifying context, the meeting place, for all meaningful human experience. According to Buber, one encounters God through one’s encounters with other human beings and the world. “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.”
When one encounters the world in this way, revelation occurs. “God speaks to man in the things and beings he sends him in life,” Buber wrote. “Man answers through his dealings with these things and beings.” (Septimus & Beit-Halachmi, 2015)

Human existence is defined by the way we engage in dialogue with each other, with the world and with God.  The development and nurturance of genuine dialogical relationships is central to Buber's philosophy—those occurring between human beings, those occurring between humans and other entitles, and most importantly, those occurring between individual humans and God.  
Genuine relationship is only attained through genuine dialogue. Genuine dialogue becomes the revelation of the sacred in the sphere of the between, in thee meeting of I and Thou. Buber begins I and Thou, with a reference to what he calls "the twofold nature of man's world," which, he says, is in harmony with man's "twofold attitude". Man knows and can address the world of persons and things in two ways, as subjects and as objects. As a result of the twofold nature of the world, Buber maintains, there are only two basic or primary words which can be spoken. These two basic words are actually two word pairs: I-Thou and I-It. These word pairs are basic in the sense that every utterance of man necessarily revolves around one or the other of the concepts to which they refer. For I-It relationships, the “It” refers to entities as discrete objects defined set. Unfortunately, we frequently view people as an object. Rather than truly making ourselves completely available to them, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we observe them or keep them apart of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them respond in some preconceived way or to get something from them. We perceives the others to be an extension or likeness of himself. We sometimes miss the uniqueness of the other and instead focuses only on the qualities we identified as being most like their own. Viewing a relationship as security is another way of using other for selfish reasons. The man who attempts to relate to provide himself with security or for the purpose of having the other depend upon him deactualizes his partner and thwarts all development of the between. I thou in the other hand is a relationship where we place ourselves completely into a relationship to truly understand and "be there" with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. 

Such I-Thou relationships are not constant or static. People move in and out of I-It moments to I-Thou moments. Ironically, attempts to achieve an I-Thou moment will fail because the process of trying to create an I-Thou relationship objectifies it and makes it I-It. Even describing the moment objectifies it and makes it an I-It. The most Buber can do in describing this process is to encourage us to be available to the possibility of I-Thou moments, to achieve real dialogue. It can't be described. When you have it, you know it. Buber maintains that it is possible to have an I-Thou relationship with the world and the objects in it as well

Buber then moves from this existential description of personal relating to the religious experience. For Buber, God is the Eternal Thou. . God is the Thou who sustains the I-Thou relation eternally. In the I-Thou relation between the individual and God, there is a unity of being in which the individual can always find God. In the I-Thou relation, there is no barrier of other relations which separate the individual from God, and thus the individual can speak directly to God. Buber contends that the I-Thou relation between the individual and God is a universal relation which is the foundation for all other relations. If the individual has a real I-Thou relation with God, then the individual must have a real I-Thou relation with the world. If the individual has a real I-Thou relation.
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Hewes, D. E. (1986). A socio-egocentric model of group decision making. 

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Nguyen, V. (2014, April 4). Martins Buber Educational Theory. Retrieved from New Foundations:

Piaget, J. (1995). The child's construction of reality. New York: Meridian Books.

Scott, S. (2014). Martin Buber(1878-1965). Retrieved from The New School for Social Research
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  1. For your consideration.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you so much father. So inspiring .

  4. Thank you so much father. So inspiring .