Island of Freedom
To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher. -- Blaise Pascal
The Tao
Confucius Corner
Bhagavad Gita

Martin Buber



Martin Buber Homepage
Philosophy of Religion: I and Thou by Martin Buber

Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish religious philosopher, who developed a philosophy of encounter, or dialogue. Born in Vienna, Austria, Buber was educated at the Universities of Vienna and Berlin, Germany. In 1901 he became the editor of Die Welt (The World), a Zionist journal. His first publications, the works that established his literary fame, were the free re-creations of Hasidic legends and tales collected in The Tales of Rabbi Nachman (1907; translated in 1956) and The Legend of the Baal-Shem (1908; translated in 1955). In 1916 Buber founded Der Jude (German for "The Jew"), a periodical that he edited until 1924 and that became under his guidance the leading organ of German-speaking Jewry. His most widely known work, I and Thou (1922; translated in 1937), a concise poetic expression of his religious philosophy, and On Judaism (1923; translated in 1967), which established his intellectual leadership of the German-Jewish community, appeared in a collected edition in 1923.

Buber was professor of Jewish religion and ethics from 1923 to 1930 and then honorary professor of the history of religions from 1930 to 1933 at the University of Frankfurt in Germany. He resigned from the university after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, rather than await the dismissal notice later issued to Jewish faculty members. Soon after his resignation, Jewish educational leaders appointed Buber director of the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education in Germany. In 1938 he immigrated to Palestine (now Israel), and from 1938 through 1951 he was professor of social philosophy at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. In 1949 he founded and until 1953 directed the Israeli Institute for Adult Education, which trained teachers for work in the immigration camps. He was editor in chief of the Israeli Encyclopedia of Education in 1958. He was also a leader of the Ichud (Hebrew for "Union") Association, a group seeking reconciliation of the Jews and Arabs.

Buber is best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between direct, mutual relations (called by him the "I-Thou" relationship, or dialogue), in which each person confirms the other as of unique value, and indirect, utilitarian relations (designated the "I-It" relationship, or monologue), in which each person knows and uses others but does not really see or value them for themselves. In the former, a true dialogue exists because the I interrelates totally with the Thou, creating a union, a bonding, between the two. The I-Thou relationship involves risks, because total involvement cannot calculate injuries that may be inflicted on the I by the Thou. Human relationships can only approximate the perfect I-Thou dialogue. When people are in a genuine dialogue with God (the only perfect Thou), the true I-Thou relationship is present. Buber's philosophy of dialogue has had a wide influence on thinkers of many faiths, including such important Protestant theologians as Swiss Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, German-born American Paul Tillich, and American Reinhold Niebuhr.

Apart from Buber's philosophy of dialogue, and his lifelong work translating and interpreting the Old Testament, he is best known for his re-creation and interpretation of Hasidism, the popular mystical movement that swept East European Jewry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Almost single-handedly, he transformed Hasidism into one of the most recognized mystical movements of the world. Scarcely less important was his role in Zionism. In his 20s Buber was the leader of those Zionists who advocated a Jewish cultural renaissance as opposed to a purely political Zionism. One of the most influential Zionist leaders after Hungarian-born Theodor Herzl, Buber renewed the prophetic demand that Israel build a community of righteousness and peace through just means, particularly as regarded the relations of the Jews to the Arabs.

In his later years Buber tried to apply the I-Thou principle to biblical interpretation, psychotherapy, and political philosophy. Among Buber's works, in addition to those already cited, are Between Man and Man (1947), The Prophetic Faith (1950; translated in 1952), Good and Evil (1952; translated in 1953), The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism, 2 vols. (Eng. trans., 1960), A Believing Humanism: My Testament, 1902-1965 (Eng. trans., 1967), and The Knowledge of Man (1966).

1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.

Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, Copyright 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation.