Philosophy Psyche psychotherapy

Dialogical Thought – Martin Buber


I and Thou – Amazon

Aquote follows from the Buber website:

Dialogical thought

As Buber himself wrote in his autobiographical fragments, his dialogical thought evolved from his occupation with Hasidism. In the relation to God (which he calls the relation to “the eternal thou” in his dialogical philosophy), Buber realized that human existence is determined by two fundamentally different kinds of relation: I-It relations and I-Thou relations. It is characteristic for I-Thou relations that only in them real encounter happens when all is left behind, all preconceptions, all reservedness is given up, when one fully engages in the encounter with the other and carries on a real dialogue with him.

The relation to the Thou is immediate.

Between I and Thou there is no terminology, no preconception and no imagination, and memory itself changes, since it plunges from singularity into the whole.

Between I and Thou there is no purpose, no greed and no anticipation; and longing itself changes, since it plunges from dream into appearance.

All means are impediment. Only where all means fall to pieces, encounter happens.
(I and Thou)

The real novum in these thoughts is the expansion of the notion of relation over interhuman and God-man relations to the whole of existence. My whole existence is determined by the kind of relation I have to the elements. I can have an I-It relation toward my life when I imagine it as a destiny imposed upon me or a targetless accident, but I can also have a dialogical relation toward it, I can conceive it as an address to me, as an request to give answer. This means that I have to respond to the actual situation – and not to have to make plans for it and realize them, i.e. self-responsibilty instead of self-realization, or in short: response.

And it is the same with history, an element of life extremely important to Buber and man in general. How do I conceive the river of times: without target or determined by a ruler of the world? Or after all as a dialogue betweeen this “ruler of the world” and man:

If history is a dialogue between God and mankind, then we can perceive its purpose respectively there where the address hits us, and only in so far as we let ourselves be hit by it.

The purpose in history is no idea I can formulate independently of my personal life, it is only with my personal life that I can absorb it, for it is a dialogical purpose.
(Geschehende Geschichte)

With man being called to respond, man having to be able to be responsible, it should not be misunderstood that a human being only finds his I with the help of a Thou. For at the same time it has to be clear: there can be no Thou without an I, for without an I there can be no facing, no encounter:

It is true that a child first says Thou before it learns to say I; but on the height of personal existence one must be able to say truly I in order to experience the secret of Thou in its whole truth.

Human relations are the place where dialogic life takes place; that does not mean that one has much to do with people; but it is a life “in which one has really to do with the person one has to do with.”

Then, it requires me time after time to thank my fellow-man even when he has not done anything special for me. But for what? For encountering me for real when he encountered me; for opening his eyes and perceiving reliably what I had to tell him; yes, for opening what I talked to: the well-closed heart.

2 replies on “Dialogical Thought – Martin Buber”

I’m glad to see that Buber is still a matter of interest.
In Israel, Unfortunately, most people don’t know much about him.

I’m planning to carry on a study about Buber’s developmental ideas (child development from a Buberian viewpoint),
any input is welcome

Hani Vitelson, PhD.
Developmental physical therapist

The “I – Thou” idea is such a simple short phrase that says it all. I can see ho just that would influence the way we realte to children. Dialogue.

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