I And Thou

Overview

Martin Buber's I and Thou has long been acclaimed as a classic. Many prominent writers have acknowledged its influence on their work; students of intellectual history consider it a landmark; and the generation born since World War II considers Buber as one of its prophets.
The need for a new English translation has been felt for many years. The old version was marred by many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, and its recurrent use of the archaic "thou" was seriously misleading....

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Overview

Martin Buber's I and Thou has long been acclaimed as a classic. Many prominent writers have acknowledged its influence on their work; students of intellectual history consider it a landmark; and the generation born since World War II considers Buber as one of its prophets.
The need for a new English translation has been felt for many years. The old version was marred by many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, and its recurrent use of the archaic "thou" was seriously misleading. Now Professor Walter Kaufmann, a distinguished writer and philosopher in his own right who was close to Buber, has retranslated the work at the request of Buber's family. He has added a wealth of informative footnotes to clarify obscurities and bring the reader closer to the original, and he has written a long "Prologue" that opens up new perspectives on the book and on Buber's thought. This volume should provide a new basis for all future discussions of Buber.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684717258
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1971
  • Series: Hudson River Editions Series
  • Edition description: NEW TRANS
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 144,342
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Kaufmann is Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. Born in Germany in 1921, he graduated from Williams College in 1941, and returned to Europe with U.S. Military Intelligence during World War II. In 1947 he received his Ph.D. from Harvard and joined the Princeton faculty. He has held visiting professorships at many American universities, and Fulbright professorships at Heidelberg and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

His books include Nietzsche, Critique of Religion and Philosophy, From Shakespeare to Existentialism, The Faith of a Heretic, Cain and Other Poems, Hegel, and Tragedy and Philosophy. Several of these books have been translated into various foreign languages.

Kaufmann's own translations of ten of Nietzsche's works, of Leo Baeck's Judaism and Christianity, and of Twenty German Poets have won wide recognition. Of his verse translation of Goethe's Faust, Stephen Spender said in The New York Times Book Review: "The best translation of Faust that I have read." And the Virginia Quarterly Review said: "There is little question that this is the translation of Goethe's Faust, both in poetic beauty and in comprehension of the original."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

Man's world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold. What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple. Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.

They like to be told that there are two worlds and two ways. This is comforting because it is so tidy. Almost always one way turns out to be common and the other one is celebrated as superior.

Those who tell of two ways and praise one are recognized as prophets or great teachers. They save men from confusion and hard choices. They offer a single choice that is easy to make because those who do not take the path that is commended to them live a wretched life.

To walk far on this path may be difficult, but the choice is easy, and to hear the celebration of this path is pleasant. Wisdom offers simple schemes, but truth is not so simple.

Not all simplicity is wise. But a wealth of possibilities breeds dread. Hence those who speak of many possibilities speak to the few and are of help to even fewer. The wise offer only two ways, of which one is good, and thus help many.

Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived. The truth is too complex and frightening; the taste for the truth is an acquired taste that few acquire.

Not all deceptions are palatable. Untruths are too easy to come by, too quickly exploded, too cheap and ephemeral to give lasting comfort. Mundus vult decipi; but there is a hierarchy of deceptions.

Near the bottom of the ladder is journalism: a steady stream of irresponsible distortions that most people find refreshing although on the morning after, or at least within a week, it will be stale and flat.

On a higher level we find fictions that men eagerly believe, regardless of the evidence, because they gratify some wish.

Near the top of the ladder we encounter curious mixtures of untruth and truth that exert a lasting fascination on the intellectual community.

What cannot, on the face of it, be wholly true, although it is plain that there is some truth in it, evokes more discussion and dispute, divergent exegeses and attempts at emendations than what has been stated very carefully, without exaggeration or onesidedness. The Book of Proverbs is boring compared to the Sermon on the Mount.

The good way must be clearly good but not wholly clear. If it is quite clear, it is too easy to reject.

What is wanted is an oversimplification, a reduction of a multitude of possibilities to only two. But if the recommended path were utterly devoid of mystery, it would cease to fascinate men. Since it clearly should be chosen, nothing would remain but to proceed on it. There would be nothing left to discuss and interpret, to lecture and write about, to admire and merely think about.

The world exacts a price for calling teachers wise: it keeps discussing the paths they recommend, but few men follow them. The wise give men endless opportunities to discuss what is good.

Men's attitudes are manifold. Some live in a strange world bounded by a path from which countless ways lead inside. If there were road signs, all of them might bear the same inscription: I-I.

Those who dwell inside have no consuming interest. They are not devoted to possessions, even if they prize some; not to people, even if they like some; not to any project, even if they have some.

Things are something that they speak of; persons have the great advantage that one cannot only talk of them but also to, or rather at them; but the lord of every sentence is no man but I. Projects can be entertained without complete devotion, spoken of, and put on like a suit or dress before a mirror. When you speak to men of this type, they quite often do not hear you, and they never hear you as another I.

You are not an object for men like this, not a thing to be used or experienced, nor an object of interest or fascination. The point is not at all that you are found interesting or fascinating instead of being seen as a fellow I. The shock is rather that you are not found interesting or fascinating at all: you are not recognized as an object any more than as a subject. You are accepted, if at all, as one to be spoken at and spoken of; but when you are spoken of, the lord of every story will be I.

Men's attitudes are manifold. Some men take a keen interest in certain objects and in other men and actually think more about them than they think of themselves. They do not so much say I or think I as they do I.

They "take" an interest, they do not give of themselves. They may manipulate or merely study, and unlike men of the I-I type they may be good scholars; but they lack devotion.

This I-It tendency is so familiar that little need be said about it, except that it is a tendency that rarely consumes a man's whole life. Those who see a large part of humanity — their enemies; of course — as men of this type, have succumbed to demonology.

This is merely one of the varieties of man's experience and much more widespread in all ages as a tendency and much rarer as a pure type in our own time than the Manichaeans fancy.

There are men who hardly have an I at all. Nor are all of them of one kind.

Some inhabit worlds in which objects loom large. They are not merely interested in some thing or subject, but the object of their interest dominates their lives. They are apt to be great scholars of extraordinary erudition, with no time for themselves, with no time to have a self.

They study without experiencing: they have no time for experience, which would smack of subjectivity if not frivolity. They are objective and immensely serious. They have no time for humor.

They study without any thought of use. What they study is an end in itself for them. They are devoted to their subject, and the notion of using it is a blasphemy and sacrilege that is not likely to occur to them.

For all that, their "subject" is no subject in its own right, like a person. It has no subjectivity. It does not speak to them. It is a subject one has chosen to study — one of the subjects that one may legitimately choose, and there may be others working on the same subject, possibly on a slightly different aspect of it, and one respects them insofar as they, too, have no selves and are objective.

Here we have a community of solid scholars — so solid that there is no room at the center for any core. Theirs is the world of It-It.

There are other ways of having no I. There are men who never speak a sentence of which I is lord, but nobody could call them objective. At the center of their world is We.

The contents of this We can vary greatly. But this is an orientation in which I does not exist, and You and It and He and She are only shadows.

One type of this sort could be called We-We. Theirs is a sheltered, childish world in which no individuality has yet emerged.

Another perennial attitude is summed up in the words Us-Them. Here the world is divided in two: the children of light and the children of darkness, the sheep and the goats, the elect and the damned.

Every social problem can be analyzed without much study: all one has to look for are the sheep and goats.

There is room for anger and contempt and boundless hope; for the sheep are bound to triumph.

Should a goat have the presumption to address a sheep, the sheep often do not hear it, and they never hear it as another I. For the goat is one of Them, not one of Us.

Righteousness, intelligence, integrity, humanity, and victory are the prerogatives of Us, while wickedness, stupidity, hypocrisy, brutality, and ultimate defeat belong to Them.

Those who have managed to cut through the terrible complexities of life and offer such a scheme as this have been hailed as prophets in all ages.

In these five attitudes there is no You: I-I, I-It, It-It, We-We, and Us-Them. There are many ways of living in a world without You.

There are also many worlds with the two poles I-You.

l-You sounds unfamiliar. What we are accustomed to is I-Thou. But man's attitudes are manifold, and Thou and You are not the same. Nor is Thou very similar to the German Du.

German lovers say Du to one another, and so do friends. Du is spontaneous and unpretentious, remote from formality, pomp, and dignity.

What lovers or friends say Thou to one another? Thou is scarcely ever said spontaneously.

Thou immediately brings to mind God; Du does not. And the God of whom it makes us think is not the God to whom one might cry out in gratitude, despair, or agony, not the God to whom one complains or prays spontaneously: it is the God of the pulpits, the God of the holy tone.

When men pray spontaneously or speak directly to God, without any mediator, without any intervention of formulas, when they speak as their heart tells them to speak instead of repeating what is printed, do they say Thou? How many know the verb forms Thou commands?

The world of Thou has many mansions. Thou is a preachers' word but also dear to anticlerical romantic poets. Thou is found in Shakespeare and at home in the English Bible, although recent versions of the Scriptures have tended to dispense with it. Thou can mean many things, but it has no place whatever in the language of direct, nonliterary, spontaneous human relationships.

If one could liberate I-Thou from affectation, the price for that would still involve reducing it to a mere formula, to jargon. But suppose a man wrote a book about direct relationships and tried to get away from the formulas of theologians and philosophers: a theologian would translate it and turn Icb und Du into I and Thou.

Copyright © 1998 by Charlotte Allen

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

Key

I AND YOU: A PROLOGUE by Walter Kaufmann

A Plan Martin Buber Abandoned

Martin Buber's I AND THOU

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

Afterword

Glossary

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Man's world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold. What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple. Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.

They like to be told that there are two worlds and two ways. This is comforting because it is so tidy. Almost always one way turns out to be common and the other one is celebrated as superior.

Those who tell of two ways and praise one are recognized as prophets or great teachers. They save men from confusion and hard choices. They offer a single choice that is easy to make because those who do not take the path that is commended to them live a wretched life.

To walk far on this path may be difficult, but the choice is easy, and to hear the celebration of this path is pleasant. Wisdom offers simple schemes, but truth is not so simple.

Not all simplicity is wise. But a wealth of possibilities breeds dread. Hence those who speak of many possibilities speak to the few and are of help to even fewer. The wise offer only two ways, of which one is good, and thus help many.

Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived. The truth is too complex and frightening; the taste for the truth is an acquired taste that few acquire.

Not all deceptions are palatable. Untruths are too easy to come by, too quickly exploded, too cheap and ephemeral to give lasting comfort. Mundus vult decipi; but there is a hierarchy of deceptions.

Near the bottom of the ladder is journalism: a steady stream of irresponsible distortions that most people find refreshing although on the morning after, or at least within a week, it will be stale and flat.

On a higher level we findfictions that men eagerly believe, regardless of the evidence, because they gratify some wish.

Near the top of the ladder we encounter curious mixtures of untruth and truth that exert a lasting fascination on the intellectual community.

What cannot, on the face of it, be wholly true, although it is plain that there is some truth in it, evokes more discussion and dispute, divergent exegeses and attempts at emendations than what has been stated very carefully, without exaggeration or onesidedness. The Book of Proverbs is boring compared to the Sermon on the Mount.

The good way must be clearly good but not wholly clear. If it is quite clear, it is too easy to reject.

What is wanted is an oversimplification, a reduction of a multitude of possibilities to only two. But if the recommended path were utterly devoid of mystery, it would cease to fascinate men. Since it clearly should be chosen, nothing would remain but to proceed on it. There would be nothing left to discuss and interpret, to lecture and write about, to admire and merely think about.

The world exacts a price for calling teachers wise: it keeps discussing the paths they recommend, but few men follow them. The wise give men endless opportunities to discuss what is good.

Men's attitudes are manifold. Some live in a strange world bounded by a path from which countless ways lead inside. If there were road signs, all of them might bear the same inscription: I-I.

Those who dwell inside have no consuming interest. They are not devoted to possessions, even if they prize some; not to people, even if they like some; not to any project, even if they have some.

Things are something that they speak of; persons have the great advantage that one cannot only talk of them but also to, or rather at them; but the lord of every sentence is no man but I. Projects can be entertained without complete devotion, spoken of, and put on like a suit or dress before a mirror. When you speak to men of this type, they quite often do not hear you, and they never hear you as another I.

You are not an object for men like this, not a thing to be used or experienced, nor an object of interest or fascination. The point is not at all that you are found interesting or fascinating instead of being seen as a fellow I. The shock is rather that you are not found interesting or fascinating at all: you are not recognized as an object any more than as a subject. You are accepted, if at all, as one to be spoken at and spoken of; but when you are spoken of, the lord of every story will be I.

Men's attitudes are manifold. Some men take a keen interest in certain objects and in other men and actually think more about them than they think of themselves. They do not so much say I or think I as they do I.

They "take" an interest, they do not give of themselves. They may manipulate or merely study, and unlike men of the I-I type they may be good scholars; but they lack devotion.

This I-It tendency is so familiar that little need be said about it, except that it is a tendency that rarely consumes a man's whole life. Those who see a large part of humanity -- their enemies; of course -- as men of this type, have succumbed to demonology.

This is merely one of the varieties of man's experience and much more widespread in all ages as a tendency and much rarer as a pure type in our own time than the Manichaeans fancy.

There are men who hardly have an I at all. Nor are all of them of one kind.

Some inhabit worlds in which objects loom large. They are not merely interested in some thing or subject, but the object of their interest dominates their lives. They are apt to be great scholars of extraordinary erudition, with no time for themselves, with no time to have a self.

They study without experiencing: they have no time for experience, which would smack of subjectivity if not frivolity. They are objective and immensely serious. They have no time for humor.

They study without any thought of use. What they study is an end in itself for them. They are devoted to their subject, and the notion of using it is a blasphemy and sacrilege that is not likely to occur to them.

For all that, their "subject" is no subject in its own right, like a person. It has no subjectivity. It does not speak to them. It is a subject one has chosen to study -- one of the subjects that one may legitimately choose, and there may be others working on the same subject, possibly on a slightly different aspect of it, and one respects them insofar as they, too, have no selves and are objective.

Here we have a community of solid scholars -- so solid that there is no room at the center for any core. Theirs is the world of It-It.

There are other ways of having no I. There are men who never speak a sentence of which I is lord, but nobody could call them objective. At the center of their world is We.

The contents of this We can vary greatly. But this is an orientation in which I does not exist, and You and It and He and She are only shadows.

One type of this sort could be called We-We. Theirs is a sheltered, childish world in which no individuality has yet emerged.

Another perennial attitude is summed up in the words Us-Them. Here the world is divided in two: the children of light and the children of darkness, the sheep and the goats, the elect and the damned.

Every social problem can be analyzed without much study: all one has to look for are the sheep and goats.

There is room for anger and contempt and boundless hope; for the sheep are bound to triumph.

Should a goat have the presumption to address a sheep, the sheep often do not hear it, and they never hear it as another I. For the goat is one of Them, not one of Us.

Righteousness, intelligence, integrity, humanity, and victory are the prerogatives of Us, while wickedness, stupidity, hypocrisy, brutality, and ultimate defeat belong to Them.

Those who have managed to cut through the terrible complexities of life and offer such a scheme as this have been hailed as prophets in all ages.

In these five attitudes there is no You: I-I, I-It, It-It, We-We, and Us-Them. There are many ways of li

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2013

    As a retired Ethics Prof. I say to appropriate this work is to instill everything you need to know about ethics and living it - for life comes down to no more than I and Thou.

    Martin Buber, Existential Jewish Theologian - an exquisitely deep, comprehensive thinker- has had a formidable influence on many disciplines. Of his many works, this text, I and Thou, has had far and away the greatest impact. A kind of philosophical anthropology / ontology- Prof. Buber has given the very useful distinct between the two most fundamental modes of being, of relation, those of the I-Thou and the I-it.
    Much more akin to poetic prose than anything like philosophical analysis, he offers a beautiful, yet absolutely trenchant "analysis" of humankind. An extremely (existentially, speaking) useful book, I have used it as the linchpin of the theoretical portion of my Ethics course for many years. In the end, to truly understand and appropriate this text, to live these words, is to have all the ethics you could possibly need. In fact, The I-Thou sums up the whole of Christian Ethics.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009

    Buber's I and Thou Is Essential REading for Thoughtful People

    I and Thou is essential for all students of philosophy and religion regardless of their religious thinking as a guide to personal and human interactions. Buber brings the working definitions of "I", "You" and "Thou" into perspectives which have vital ramifications for how people accept their responsibilities for themselves and with other people. His designation and distinction of "thing" as contrasted with "you" adds a strong dimension and depth to how one views others in relation to themselves. Although it has been said that Buber's work is very dense, I found it to be very understandable given the English interpretation. The English translation of the original German text also includes footnotes which describe how the translator interpreted the original text. It is likely that readers will refer to this reference frequently in relation to many circumstances including the works of other philophers as well as all religious works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2004

    A fundamental category of human understanding is revealed in this work

    The distinction between the I- It manipulative, impersonal relation and the I-Thou personal relationship in which one understands and sympathizes with the other is a fundamental distinction in human life and experience. In ethical terms it is tremendously significant. Thus Buber's little book in which he elaborates on this distinction is an important one. Buber is a great writer and thinker. This particular work however is somehow I found more difficult than most. Yet it is invaluable for those who would think soundly about the moral life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2001

    I need an easy version

    Although I've finished the book in two days, I found it rather difficult to understand. According to the translater, Buber himself didn't know what he meant by some of his writing. (Wondering, who knows then?) Nevertheless, there must be something to it, or why would this book be on the best books list. I would love to read a version, that is not translated word by word, but written into an easy read/and understand mode.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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