4. Martin Buber’s Anthropology
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67 4. Martin Buber’s Anthropology for martin buber, there is no “nature of human being” in the sense of some isolatable capacity or metaphysical substance, such as the soul, located within an individual human being. Any attempt to understand human being in this way, in fact, runs contrary to the meaning of the concept. Rather, for Buber, human being can be understood only in terms of participation in relations, which he often described using the linguistic metaphor of “dialogue.” He was not the first to conceive of human being in this way. The nineteenth-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach also understood human being not in terms of some isolatable capacity or metaphysical substance located within the individual but as participation in the relationship of human being to human being, in the I and Thou.1 During Buber’s years as a student at the University of Vienna, one of his teachers, F. Jodl, was an editor of Feuerbach’s works. It has been suggested that Feuerbach influenced Buber’s work as a result of his studies with Jodl.2 A number of Buber’s contemporaries were also thinking in dialogical terms, including H. Cohen, F. Ebner, and G. Marcel, though the evidence of dialogical thought in Buber’s works appears as early as 1905, much earlier than works by these three authors.3 Despite this shared interest in dialogical thought, the distinctness of Buber’s work lies in his determination to remain focused on the concreteness of the world of actual human relations. He is intent upon remaining within “the stream” of life and giving a philosophical account of what is experienced from within that life.4 As a result, Buber expressed his skepticism about philosophical systems and even the philosophical attitude itself. His work has been criticized for lacking a systematic philosophical grounding; Buber himself admits the truth of this criticism.5 But Buber remains unapologetic. He criticized the abstract Haslam-Chapter-04.indd 67 Haslam-Chapter-04.indd 67 9/6/2011 12:32:33 PM 9/6/2011 12:32:33 PM 68 ‡ martin buber’s anthropology modes of philosophizing for removing us from the concrete world, from the stream of life. “Here you do not attain to knowledge by remaining on the shore . . . you must make the venture and cast yourself in . . . in this way, and in no other, do you reach anthropological insight.”6 Buber eschewed abstract concepts and ideas and turned to the world of concrete relations as the focal point of his philosophy and the primary location for his insight into the meaning of human being. As a result of Buber’s observations of concrete human relations, he identified two modes of discourse, or “words,” that reflect the two basic attitudes that human beings take or movements they make in relation to whomever or whatever she or he meets. The first movement, Ruckbiegung or “bending back to oneself,” develops into the attitude where the Other exists as a value-neutral object for the projects of the self. The word reflecting this basic attitude is what Buber called I-It. The second movement, Hinwendung or “turning toward the Other,” develops into the attitude in which the Other is valued for itself and is allowed to put its own claim on the self. The word reflecting this basic attitude is I-Thou.7 For Buber, our wholeness as human beings cannot be found through participation in I-It relations. He writes, “The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.”8 This is because the otherness that is manifest in these relations is not that of the Other as Other but as the Other-for-me, and if the Other as Other cannot be wholly manifest here, neither can the wholeness of the self. The Other that is manifest here is as an object for the use of the self, as based on biological , sensorial, perspectival, or intellectual functions of the self.9 Michael Theunissen speaks of the sphere of I-It relations as the “sphere of subjectivity” in which all entities are oriented toward the I as the acting subject and as the center point of the world, which she or he intentionally dominates. This is akin to the master-slave relationship in which the domination is not external domination but the domination of the constituting capacity of the subject that orders all entities in accordance with the intentional acts of the I.10 As a result of this world...


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