I and Thou

by: Martin Buber

Part II, aphorisms 9–13

What does Buber think is wrong with these two responses? Why are they not adequate to calm our fears and alienation? He phrases his indictment like this: "But the moment will come … when man … looks up and in a flash sees both pictures at once. And he is seized by a deeper horror". This passage seems to claim that the problem with these two pictures is that they are incompatible, and so man will realize, when he sees both, that neither one is correct. Clearly Buber is right in claiming that they are incompatible, but this should not rule out either one individually. Any theory, true or false, will necessarily be incompatible with numerous other theories. Presumably anyone (except possibly Schopenhauer) would believe only in one of these pictures or the other. So what, then, is really wrong with them? The real reason that they are inadequate seems to lie earlier in the aphorism when Buber says, "he summons thought in which he places … much confidence: thought is supposed to fix everything." The problem with these responses, it seems, is that they are purely philosophical responses. They try to solve man's concerns by supplying him with a theoretical way of interpreting the world. But this theoretical picture can only go so far. One must constantly remind oneself of it and try to deflect any objections to it. When objections and doubts do creep in, for instance when one is confronted with a plausible and incompatible alternative theoretical picture, the theoretical solution loses its power to soothe.

What is really needed, as Buber will demonstrate in the next section of the book, is an active solution rather than a philosophical one. Man must enter into a relationship with God.