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Buber, Martin (1878–1965)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J042-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 14, 2024, from

Article Summary

Martin Buber covered a range of fields in his writings, from Jewish folklore and fiction, to biblical scholarship and translation, to philosophical anthropology and theology. Above all, however, Buber was a philosopher, in the lay-person’s sense of the term sense: someone who devoted his intellectual energies to contemplating the meaning of life.

Buber’s passionate interest in mysticism was reflected in his early philosophical work. However, he later rejected the view that mystical union is the ultimate goal of relation, and developed a philosophy of relation. In the short but enormously influential work, Ich und Du (I and Thou). Buber argued that the I emerges only through encountering others, and that the very nature of the I depends on the quality of the relationship with the Other. He described two fundamentally different ways of relating to others: the common mode of ‘I–It’, in which people and things are experienced as objects, or, in Kantian terms, as ‘means to an end’; and the ‘I–Thou’ mode, in which I do not ‘experience’ the Other, rather, the Other and I enter into a mutually affirming relation, which is simultaneously a relation with another and a relation with God, the ‘eternal Thou’.

Buber acknowledged that necessity of I–It, even in the interpersonal sphere, but lamented its predominance in modern life. Through his scholarly work in philosophy, theology and biblical exegesis, as well as his translation of Scripture and adaptations of Hasidic tales, he sought to reawaken our capacity for I–Thou relations.

Citing this article:
Wright, Tamra. Buber, Martin (1878–1965), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J042-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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