Martin Buber

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Martin Buber

Page 8

Only here does Buber’s I-and-Thou philosophy become clear; for the proper function of all the concepts that we have enumerated is to make it possible to express the Divine. All the distinctions between the I-Thou world and the I-It world are designed to enable us to express the idea of G-d in a new way. For the It-category is even less applicable to the Divine Being than to a human being. G-d is in no way an object. We already see a falling away of reality when we speak ‘in the third person’ of a living person, one who is properly only I or Thou and only improperly he or she. In the case of G-d, the inadequacy of such language is paradigmatic.

Buber avoids the word ‘person’ because the word denotes an object and instead uses the personal pronouns I and Thou; when we use the grammatical third person in speaking of someone, we have already modified and diminished his reality. Buber accordingly refrains from referring to a person in the It-language of science, whether biological or psychological; the essential hallmark is standing in relation to and addressing him or her. Buber is concerned to establish the sphere of relationship - in the emphatic sense described above – and the accessibility to address in its own right, alongside of objectivity and he seems to be doing so in a region still outside of religion. But the idea behind all of this is that we can only know or understand what is meant by G-d from within the sphere of relationship and not from the region of objectivity that we may associate with G-d. If personality is expressed by relationship and accessibility to address, which are prior to and independent of any biological or psychological characteristics; if personality can never be a function of the object, but is always autonomous, although at the same time is appears in association with an objective existence, then G-d is not merely personal, but is the very archetype of personality.

Buber writes: ‘It is not so that G-d can be inferred either from nature as its author, or from history as its ruler, or from the subject as its innermost thinking self. It is not so that something else was given and He is derived from it, but He is primordial and the immediate Being facing us uninterruptedly; and He can only be spoken to, not spoken of’.

These sentences, we believe, convey the core of Buber’s conception of G-d in I and Thou.