[ Martin Buber - Discussions ]

Written by Jesus Nacanaynay at 13 Jan 2001 22:48:15:

As an answer to: TELL ME MORE ABT.THE PHILOSOPHY OF BUBER written by MICHAEL MASANCAY at 12 Jan 2001 10:20:48:


Buber's well known little (and not so little) book is I and Thou, which is Ronald Gregor Smith's translation (1958) of the originally German work, Ich und Du (1923). Walter Kaufmann has come up with his own translation (1970), which, while retaining the I and Thou title, insists that a more proper rendition of I and Thou is "I and You". From this point, I'll try to explain what Buber's I and Thou philosophy is about.
Kaufmann's I-You definitely emphasizes a familiarity with one another, human person to fellow human person. I-You underlines the closeness, a necessary closeness between and among persons. Quite simply, to be myself, and need the other. But Buber goes beyond a naturalistic or sociological assertion. That is, it is rather obvious that human beings are social by nature, human life (biological) needs parents and household for basic necessities and the life of ideas, beliefs (even language) is from a society. Hence, there is some merit to Ronald Gregor Smith's use of "I and Thou". "I-Thou," instead of "I-You," tries to encompass something more than well accepted naturalistic and sociological tenets.
I-and-Thou is the basic Buber insight (some say Marcel was first) that our being human is intertwined with being with others. I think it is more accurate to say both our being human and our Being. The emphasis is on "being" and "Being". This assertion/emphasis is now properly a philosophical (ontological) assertion. (Things are getting complicated! But even Buber himself spoke of the I-Thou as comprehensible and incomprehensible!). This philosophical (ontological) assertion is to treat the existentialist aspects of being a person and the strictly ontological aspects of Being as being a person in the world.
I can only say that I am properly a human being as I see myself in relation with other human beings. Here, we entertain the naturalistic and sociological notions mentioned earlier. But further, we have identified the primary experience of what makes us human beings. Take the experience of friendship, of daughtership/sonship, fatherhood, motherhood, marriage. Here, one treats the other as having utmost significance to what one is. Most of us, I guess, can relate how such situations/experience are emotionally satisfying, but there is something more to it than just warm nice feelings. As with other existentialists, a question foremost in the mind of Buber is: Who am I? That "I" is not ready made. That "I" is only so within the context of our ongoing relationships with other people. What I have said so far refer to the existentialist aspects of being human. These are aspects that deal with the concrete particular and temporal aspects of being human, the conditions of being human so to speak. It is in this sense that that I can speak of "being" (small b) human.
Now, what about the strictly ontological aspects? The aspects wherein we speak of Being as being a person in the world? (Note the big B.)
This is not easy to explain, but I'll try....
If I were to ask where I come from, I can give a host of answers. For example, I come from the Philippines, I came from my parents, from my grandparents, from evolution (supposing I accept evolution), I came from the rest room, I came from my room... etc. The question is not exactly precise, and with that, we produce a host of answers coming from everywhere, and referring to certain degrees.
Regarding Being, Being is what is most ultimate, cutting through temporal aspects (like, I came from my grandparents, and then my parents). Being has been taken as the very ground of truth, the essence of a thing whatever. Buber is saying that the I-Thou relation itself is the very Being itself. (If I said ground of Being, I would be compelled to speak of the Being of the ground of Being, so on and so forth!) The I-Thou relation is the very encounter of Being itself. This, I'm quite certain, is how God comes into the picture for Buber. (Along this line, I think there are very interesting comparisons to be made between Buber and Heidegger, and Buber and Aquinas.)
How about the I-It relation? The I-It relation is to basically see the other and things as instruments, the other or thing to be used. The assumption of a person in an I-It relation is basically one of seeing the other as separate and used for certain advantages. A master-slave relationship is perhaps the most classical example (in contrast to the friendship, daughtership etc. examples I enumerated above). The master sees the slave as someone (the origins of slavery actually point to seeing the person as property) to be used. Caring for this slave is only within the boundaries defined by what is essential to the efficient use of the slave. The slave sees the master as someone who uses him/her. His/Her life can be so defined (narrowly) within the context of being used/ enslaved. The I-It relation very well carries over into other aspects, as our view of the world.
I'll stop here... hope this helps... I appreciate the chance to try to explain Buber.
[I cannot avoid asking: Is Masancay a Filipino name? Are you Filipino, Michael? I am Filipino. Well, Filipino American, but more Filipino.]


[ Martin Buber - Discussions ]