Course Hero Logo

I and Thou | Study Guide

Martin Buber

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "I and Thou Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Dec. 2019. Web. 2 Feb. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, December 1). I and Thou Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "I and Thou Study Guide." December 1, 2019. Accessed February 2, 2023.


Course Hero, "I and Thou Study Guide," December 1, 2019, accessed February 2, 2023,

I and Thou | Part 2 | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • History reflects the growth of the It-world. Each culture has its own artifacts, and as one culture builds on another, it uses the objects of the previous culture even while creating new objects. This accumulation of knowledge and things is how the objects of the world proliferate.
  • People's basic relation to the It-world includes experience, or reconstituting the world, and use, or fulfilling the purpose of the world (defined as sustaining life). Buber allows that direct experience of the world can be replaced more and more by indirect experience, or the acquisition of information.
  • Meanwhile, the use of things, through technology, can become increasingly specialized. People mistakenly look at these developments as "progression of the spirit." The ability to experience and use the world is a necessity of life, but generally as people improve these abilities, they lose their powers of I-You relation.
  • "Spirit in its human manifestation is man's response to his You," says Buber. For Buber, You first resides within a person, not outside. Spirit is not I, but rather "between I and You." When a person can respond to their You, the person lives in the spirit and "enters into relation with his whole being."
  • In the I-It relation, there are institutions, called "the It-district," and feelings, called "the I-district." In the It-district, a person works, negotiates, organizes, preaches, and so forth. In the I-district, a person "lives and recovers from institutions."
  • Buber calls the "severed It of institutions" a "golem," which in Jewish lore is an animated clod without a soul. Buber calls the "severed I of feelings" a "soul-bird."
  • Neither of these has access to real life. The state mistakenly tries to promote community without promoting real fellowship. True community exists when people stand in "reciprocal relationship to a single living center" and in "reciprocal relationship with one another." While such a community has feelings, the community is not derived from them but, rather, from relation.
  • A person may reasonably ask if communal life by necessity must be submerged in the It-world. Buber describes the It-world as consisting of two "chambers"—the economy and the state—that are not run by people but have become self-perpetuating mechanisms.
  • Communal life requires the It-world, "over which the presence of the You" floats "like the spirit over the face of the waters" (a reference to a description of God in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible).
  • People's "will to power and will to profit are natural and legitimate, as long as they are tied to the will to human relations and carried by it."
  • Drives in themselves are not evil—they become evil when detached from our being.
  • Thus, while the spirit must be subjected to the state and economy, it must also incorporate itself, again and again, in communal life. The spirit needs the world to act, and it has the power to transform the It-world. The spirit must confront the world and give itself to it, thus redeeming both the world and the spirit.
  • Causality rules over the It-world and is necessary for ordering the world.
  • Causality need not be oppressive to the person who can step out of it periodically into the world of relation.
  • The idea that we are at the mercy of causality or of karma (previous action affecting present or future action) is based in the belief that life is running down. In such a situation, a person can either "observe the rules or drop out." But this attitude prevents "the movement of return" to the You. Anyone who moves with fervor toward the You (both inside and outside) finds their freedom.
  • Human freedom consists of meeting a situation or person instead of imposing our own designs on them. A person whose whole being is open transcends themselves, in that the world is no longer merely reflecting their projections.
  • Buber states his central idea about existence in Part 2 as: "All actuality [reality] is an activity in which I participate without being able to appropriate it." This free person, who shares without appropriation, believes in both the reality and the duality of I and You.
  • Real subjectivity, or that which belongs to the consciousness of the self, is the I's comprehension of its loneliness and the accompanying desire for higher and more unconditional relation as a person's spirituality matures.
  • Buber distinguishes between the I of the I-You relation and the I-It relation. The ego of I-It says, "That is how I am," whereas the ego of I-You simply says, "I am." Such a person wishes to know themselves as a being, whereas the ego of I-It sets itself apart and moves away from being.
  • Although the more mature ego does not give up its individuality, the person's uniqueness, or differentness, is not their overarching perspective. The immature ego wallows in its difference, which is for the most part a self-created fiction. "For at bottom self-knowledge usually means to him the fabrication of an effective apparition of the self that has the power to deceive him more thoroughly," explains Buber. This is the very definition of a false self.
  • While no human being is pure person or pure ego, some people are more person oriented, while others are more ego oriented. Between these two poles, history takes place, says Buber.
  • Buber addresses alienation, which fills people with anxiety when they find themselves feeling alone and cut off.
  • One coping strategy for alienation is to see ourselves as an I contained in the world, meaning there is no I, and thus we cannot be harmed.
  • The other strategy is to see that the world is contained in the I, so no external world can harm us.
  • At some point we see both points of view at once, which fills us with the deepest dread.
Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about I and Thou? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!