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I and Thou

Martin Buber

Important Quotations

Part III, aphorisms 15–17: Revelation through Action

Key Facts

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

This statement is the basic foundation on which Buber's entire project is built. His aim is to get his readers to recognize the two modes available to man for engaging the world. Modern society, he claims, only recognizes one of these modes, the mode of experience, through which man treats the world (including his fellow men) as an object to be analyzed and utilized. Modern man ignores the second mode, the mode of encounter, through which man enters into relation with the world, engaging as active participant rather than as objective observer. It is only by opening ourselves up to this second mode of engaging the world, Buber thinks, that we can escape the ills of the modern human condition.

Nothing can doom man but the belief in doom, for this prevents the movement of return.

In this claim, Buber sums up his diagnosis of modern man's ills. The reason that modern man feels alienated from the world, that life is meaningless, and that he is oppressed by inescapable laws of nature, is because modern man no longer recognizes the second mode of engaging the world, the mode of encounter. Modern man believes that the It-world, the world of strict causal laws, of using and being used, is all that exists. It is only this belief that dooms him to feel alienated. If he could only open himself up to the possibility of encounter, he would find salvation.

Extended, the lines of relationship intersect in the eternal You.

Until Buber opens the third part of the book with his statement, his work looks like a more of a theory of psychology and sociology than of religion. In this claim, however, Buber ties his psychological and sociological observations to the notion of God. Most encounters, he tells us, are fleeting; they last for only a moment and then fade, leaving us unfulfilled. In these fleeting encounters, and in the sense of disappointment that we suffer as they fade, we glimpse the fact that there is a higher sort of encounter, one that will not be fleeting, and will fulfill our inner yearning for relation. This is the absolute relation, the encounter with the eternal You, or God. Every encounter then, leads us toward encounter with God, because every encounter shows us that there is something higher for which we are yearning.

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.

Just as every encounter with nature and with man leads us to the encounter with God, Buber here tells us that the purpose of our encounter with God is to lead us back to encounter with all the world. The man who has encountered God does not go on to spend all his time contemplating the mysteries of divinity like some monk or holy hermit. Rather, the holy man, the man who has encountered God, lives out that encounter by loving the entire world, and feeling a responsibility for everyone and everything in the world. The holy man is a man of action and is fully engaged in the world.

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.

In this statement, Buber argues against critics of religion who claim that religious experience is nothing but a crutch for the weak. Buber asserts that opening oneself up to encounter is an act of incredible bravery. It requires us to leave behind the realm of experience, which is the realm we can understand and predict and master. To enter the realm of encounter is to enter an unknowable, unpredictable world that we cannot manipulate. In order to do this, we must give up our inner drive for self-protection and our greed for power and possessions. We must not, however, give up our entire selves, as some mystics advise, because there is no possibility of relationship if there is no self there to do the relating.

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No absolute l-You and I-It

by anon_2223131039, December 03, 2014

Relations are not either / or, but varry in degree. The closer one comes to a genuine I-You relationship, the more likely one is drawn to service, and increasing I-You relationships.

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