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I and Thou | Study Guide

Martin Buber

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I and Thou | Quotes


The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one's whole being. The basic word I-It can never be.

Narrator, Part 1

Martin Buber makes a distinction between the "I" in each of these pairs. When speaking from one's whole being, the I lives in the present, going out, as it were, to confront another in their whole being as a You. In the case of I-It, one's whole being cannot operate because a person or thing has been objectified. Both they and the I enter the past, as the I considers these objects of experience.


The world as experience belongs to ... I-It ... I-You establishes the world of relation.

Narrator, Part 1

Buber notes there is no relation between I and It, for I has appropriated It as a thing to be used. On the other hand, when I beholds You, they enter into a partnership, or a world of relation. If the You does not reciprocate in beholding the I, the two are still in the world of relation rather than experience.


Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing.

Narrator, Part 1

Buber is pointing out the reality of existence, which is that it is impossible to live continuously in I-You relations. To operate successfully in the world, it is necessary to see people and things as objects of one's experience. Nonetheless, the It always has the potential to be turned into a You when It is confronted by an I or is called out by I-saying.


In the pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged.

Narrator, Part 1

Buber notes that people can build a life only in the realm of experience, which is necessarily what has already passed or has been reflected upon. Although to do so is necessary and good, to do that alone—to live in the past, continually in the It world—is to renounce one's humanity.


Spirit in its human manifestation is man's response to his You.

Narrator, Part 2

Although Buber believes God is both inside and outside of the human frame, he believes God can be accessed only within that frame. Spirit is God's presence in the world and arises when humans respond to their own You inside of them—that is, God. Spirit is not in the I, but between the I and You. Thus, when a human responds to their own You, they are responding as a spirit, between the You and the I.


The severed It of institutions is a golem, and the severed I of feelings is a fluttering soul-bird.

Narrator, Part 2

In Jewish lore, a golem is an animated clod of materiality without a soul. Here Buber waxes poetic, calling institutions something living without a soul that has no ability of relation. Meanwhile, feelings severed from I-saying are also quite useless, fluttering around with no connection. "Neither knows person nor community," Buber says. Institutions cannot create genuine public life, and feelings alone cannot create a personal life.


The I of the unconditional relation: how powerful, even overpowering, is Jesus's I-saying, and how legitimate.

Narrator, Part 2

Buber uses Jesus as an exemplar of I-saying or living from the place of I-You. Such a relation is unconditional because when I confronts You, it does so without conditions and seeks to embrace the You in its totality. Buber is referring specifically to Jesus saying he and his Father are one. In this I-saying, Jesus is calling the Eternal You Father; he meets him in the Between. This is Buber's Jewish Jesus, different from the Christian Jesus who is believed to be God. In a Christian context, Christ's identification with his Father denotes his own Godhead.


All names of God remain hallowed— ... they have been used ... to speak of God but also ... to him.

Narrator, Part 3

According to Buber, all names of God, spoken in all religions, are sacred. This is not because the names themselves are sacred but because they have been used to speak to God in I-saying. Their association with the relation between I and You makes them sacred.


When you consecrate life you encounter the living God.

Narrator, Part 3

Buber says that in treating life in the manifest world as sacred, a person encounters God in their relation to the manifest world—in the Between of the I and You.


There is a cosmos for man ... when the universe becomes a home ... with a holy hearth where he sacrifices.

Narrator, Part 3

In this part of the text, Buber says the manifest world turns into a cosmos, inhabited by God, only when the spirit is experienced in the Between of I and You. The holy hearth refers to the eternal You, accessed both without and within. In this metaphor, other people become "images of the eternal, and community with them becomes a revelation." A human being sacrifices their ego (separation from Other) to participate with God in the cosmos.

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