GOD IN THE THOUGHT OF MARTIN BUBER
Dr. James D. Strauss
Lincoln Christian Seminary
The Death of God and Martin Buber
God is dead! Contemporary mass-man happily attended the burial services. NietzschŐs statement is the funeral eulogy. What was and still remains the pathology which took and continues to take the Living God out of any efficacious relationship with the human situation? This elementary statement is an effort to evaluate Martin BuberŐs contribution to the critical discussion of depersonalized man and what brought about this lethal status to the individual.
Buber denies that God is available to discursive reason. Therefore, logical or empirical proof of GodŐs activity is impossible. This paper shall present the problem of dehumanized man and how it finds overt expression in literature, art, and existential philosophy. Martin BuberŐs projected answer of the social-self will receive examination in light of God in his thinking. The paper was purposely not entitled the concept of God, because Buber denies that God can be conceptualized.
BuberŐs answer can best be evaluated within the framework of the problems created by the rise of technology and how these problems result in the extinction of the individual via mass-man.
Part I. The Problem
How did man attain his undesired status in the new society of scientific manipulation and control? Is man creator or slave to the technological giant which his ingenuity has structured? The basic answer to these interrogations will provide an adequate perspective from which to approach the creative genius of the Jewish mystic, Martin Buber.
The problem of depersonalized man has already motivated reams of written discussion, but almost none from a religious vantage point. Certainly no one would affirm that Buber was the first to conceive of an interpersonal relationalism, but few would deny that he was given this relationalism its most astute articulation. (There is an important distinction in BuberŐs thought between a relation and an experience and to this point I shall speak in the development of part two.)
The Zeitgeist of any given period will in a high intensity of probability be manifested in the literature which has attained any mass consumption.
BuberŐs brilliant essay (Between Man and Man, tr. R.G. Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, n.d.), pp. 118-205) on anthropological theories affirms that only in the recent existential emphasis has the problem of man reached maturity. This is so far Buber, because only in recent existential anthropological discussion has there been any effort to view man as anything other than an object.
The rebellion clearly manifested in the three areas to be considered in this paper is an effort to strike out at the dehumanization of man. Without the background of scientific manipulation of man and the statistical average replacing the individual it would be extremely difficult to understand the hostility projections and pathologies apparent in the first area of concern, literature.
The spiritual status of man can be evaluated by the content of the literature which makes the greatest impact upon mass culture both in America and the continent of Europe. The cry of the literature is that man is alienated! The crucial issue confronting us in this study is how can man be enthralled in boredom in an era of advanced technology, population explosion, sociological mobility, and general pragmatic success of the masses?
How can we account for the need of such books as The Organization Man, the Status Seekers, the Exploding Metropolis, and Mass Culture? These are some of the popular literary efforts to make critique of our mass culture which has brought about our concern for the lack of social empathy in an age which, if it is to survive, must experience a re-birth of the individual.
The machine-civilization can be and has been both creative and destructive. How has the great struggle for urbanization and industrialization affected man? It has depersonalized him! Frank Lloyd Wright has suggested that all of manŐs limbs will become paralyzed but his push button finger. This is a half-serious suggestion, but how far is it from the truth? Ours is a day when Shakespeare and Mickey Spillane are placed in juxta-position on the book shelves. I believe this is a sign of decadence which is in radical tension with the intellectual status of the age.
Our real concern is a theology of culture. How does western man cultivate the arts and how are they related to the coming of the masses? (Jose Artega y Gassett, The Revolt of the Masses (NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1932). One and the same civilization can simultaneously produce a T.S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song or a painting by Brague and a Saturday Evening Post drawing. These factors merely point to levels of creativity and in themselves do not point out the agony of depersonalized man. We shall turn to the literature manifesting this pathology.
Literature and The Image of Man
Here we find in varying degrees the unconscious urge to self-obliteration, the dissociation of personality. This urge is an escape mechanism of the sordid or sex perversion in order to find release from the doldrums of insignificance.
Paul TillichŐs brilliant insight into the types of anxiety shall be utilized as the point of departure into contemporary literature as it clearly destroys its philosophy of gloom and pessimism. From this perspective we can see the problem Buber seeks to overcome and how his social self seeks to redeem man from depersonalization (P. Tillich, The Courage To Be (ŇThe Terry LecturesÓ; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), pp. 46-57).
Tillich shows the anxieties of meaninglessness, guilt and condemnation, and despair or death are vital and this elementary section of the paper shall sustain the affirmation that these themes dominate modern existential literature. The literature comes from Jewish, Christian (Protestant and Catholic), and non-Christian sources. (S.R. Hopper, editor, Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature (NY: Harper and Bros., 1957), chps. 15-17; Hilda Graelf, Modern Gloom and Christian Hope (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1959), chps. 1,2,4; William B. Mueller, The Prophetic Voice in Modern Fiction (NY: Association Press, 1957), chps. 11,12) The authors are creators of poetry, drama, and novels, but I shall make no effort at literary criticism per se. (See Preston T. Roberts, Theology and Literary Criticism (NY: Harper Bros.); for a brilliant statement of this problem.)
Thomas S. Eliot is one of the few profound poets of the contemporary age. European tradition made a great impact upon this American born British citizen; at the same time the purposelessness and degeneration of society also became a stigma on his moral consciousness. His early bewilderment is perceptible in the books, The Waste Land, written in 1922 and The Hollow Man in 1925. In these poems we see his moral and religious impasse.
In The Hollow Man the symbolism of fertility cults and Grail legend are set in radical opposition to the barrenness of society. This society had degraded human love and marriage into a sexual exercise. This was the debt of dehumanization.. In The Waste Land the empty, meaningless world is set forth. The total absurdity and arid drought of this world, which is also the world of Kafka and Sartre and Camus and Anouilh, can be healed only by death. This world must end Ňnot with a bang but a whimper.Ó (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems (NY: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1958), see pp. 27-54 for the complete text of the poem..)
This is the impasse the men of the ŇWaste LandÓ must necessarily reach—from there they can go on only to ultimate spiritual death. Eliot did move out of this despair to hope through his conversion to Anglo Catholicism. This movement is seen in Ash Wednesday, Cocktail Party, et.al. But the main thrust of the early Eliot was gloom, despair, and depersonalization of the individual.
The French existentialist Albert Camus is another literary man whose main concern is to show the absurdity of existence. The ideas of the Nobel prize winning playwright and dramatist can be reduced to two—there is no God, and life is absurd.. His work, The Plague is an image of despair. Here spiritual insecurity and the preoccupation with the theme of the moral isolation of man is crystal clear. Man is a homeless derelict. The setting is simple and yet profound. The plague is raging in a town in North Africa. Dr. Rieux treats the sick with the devotion of a saint. A powerful climax is reached when a small boy dies in atrocious suffering after all the doctorŐs efforts have failed. This shocked not only Dr. Rieux but also a Jesuit priest who later dies apparently in a state of mental derangement.
When the plague is ended the meaninglessness of it all is uttered by Dr. Rieux. In this speech he wonders why a little joy could not be present once in a while in the miserable world. There is nothing beyond man. There is no ground of hope. All one can expect is a little tenderness from time to time and this is projected by RieuxŐs own words, Ňthe germs of the plague never disappear.Ó His play, ŇNo ExitÓ shows that there is no escape.
Jean Paul SartreŐs fundamental pessimism and utter loneliness is manifested most clearly in his novel Nausea. Here we see a world devoid of meaning in which man is condemned to live and make decisions without the help of any values or principles in radical freedom. Such a world is indeed apt to produce a feeling of nausea. In SartreŐs world the absolute is the absurd. Nevertheless, Sartre does not draw from his teaching the obvious conclusion that man in the loneliness of his absurd existence should either commit suicide or throw himself into the whirl pool of dissipation in order to forget the tragic predicament of his existence. Sartre teaches on the contrary, that man must face up to his existence of despair. But he never says why nor how.
It is almost an existential crime to omit even from this brief elementary statement such authors as Jean Anouilh and his gloomy view of existence, Simone de Beauvoir and her pathological attitude toward sex and life in general, and the eighteen year old female French existentialist, Francoise Sagan and her work, Bonjour Tristesse, and Francois MauriacŐs Despair.
Franz KafkaŐs thesis is a metaphysic of alienation. The dominant theme in Kafka is Ňplace.Ó The atmosphere of isolation pervades his work. He strives for acceptance in The Castle. Kafka arrives one night in the village to which he believes he has been called to be the land surveyor. But he discovered that there is no prepared place. He learns that the Castle controls the life of the village and that he must secure permission from the Castle officials to remain. The goal of the novel is acceptance and this is the only salvation one can know-but the goal is never realized. Kafka has no guide and this novel portrays the prototype of modern man. The depersonalized man of our era is one of this man always striving but never arriving. This is the futility with which contemporary man is viewed. (See Nathan A. Scott, Jr., Rehearsals of Discomposure: Alienation and Reconciliation in Modern Literature (NY: Kings Crown Press, 1952) and The Tragic Vision and The Christian Faith (NY: Association Press, 1952), chp. 11, pp. 281-305; also William R. Mueller, The Prophetic Voice in Modern Fiction (NY: Association Press, 1959), chp. 3)
The character of Joe Christmas in Nobel prize winner, William FaulknerŐs book Light in August, is a prototype of depersonalized man who belongs nowhere. He is definitely rootless. In Requiem For A Nun, the negress, Nancy, a former dope addict and prostitute, but is now redeemed, has suffered and learned of her need of salvation. In this work we see a powerful statement of the need for redemption and the necessity for confession of sin, but FaulknerŐs unwillingness to give the Christian answers leaves man hopeless and in destructive despair. The burden of FaulknerŐs work as a whole is compassion. We cannot go into the literary controversy as to whether or not Faulkner is suggesting the Christian answer to manŐs dehumanized status. I personally do not believe he is, even though he utilizes Christian myth as fundamental fiber for his message; he claims that he is an artist and is detached from the genetic significance of his materials. If this is so, FaulknerŐs world is one of hopeless despair and disillusionment. This is so clear in an early and brilliant effort, The Sound and The Fury.
Even in this cursory statement it becomes apparent what the great literature from contemporary artists are striving to communicate—that man is alienated and has no home. His pilgrimage destines him to face extinction or the hopeless anguish of meaninglessness, guilt, and condemnation, and despair or death. The age of automation has dehumanized man, at least as seen through the eyes of our greatest literary artist.
Art and Its Effort to Project Insignificance
If literature betrays its anthropology so clearly, what shall we find coming from their fellow creators—the artist? The crisis in American art brings to us the challenge of the Weltanshauung of the modern artist and his concept of the relationship of man to his cosmic environment. The modern art cults deplore anyone who even ventures to ask questions about rationality and communication. (See Thomas B. Hess, Willem de Kooning in The Great American Artists series (NY: Beorge Braziller, Inc., 1959), pp. 8-12, on the themes pointing to crisis, see pp. 16-20)
If the following statement is correct that ŇA painting is a projection of the personality of the man who painted it, and a statement of the philosophy of the age that produced it.Ó –then we shall be able to determine whether or not art sees man depersonalized. (Anonymous, What Is A Painting, Portfolio I of the Art Seminary in The Home (NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1959), p. 1).
Much of contemporary art is incomprehensible and forbidding. The rational interpretation found in the recent past has been placed by private ideography. Art is becoming an instrument of alienation to the alienated. The contemporary artist is driven by an obsession for individuality in a mass society where the person has been depersonalized. This status of lostness has motivated a violent revolt which is in danger of losing contact with all reality. (see Realism: The Painter and the World Around Us: Portfolio II; Expressionism: The Painter and the World He Creates, Portfolio III; Abstraction: The Painter and the World We Never See, Portfolio IV (NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1959). Art has been reduced to an aesthetic Rorschach or projection experience.
Communication is the timeless problem of art. Each generation of artists is in need of self establishment. Some of the major moods of communication have been naturalism, formalism, and symbolism. Naturalism utilizes recognizable objects like trees, women, clouds, etc.. This approach gives the viewer instantaneous recognition. In this mood of painting, individualism is imperative. Formalism is a visual method by which the artist communicates something never seen before. The intellectual and spiritual preparation of the viewer determines what is possible for him to see.
The third mood of communication is symbolic. The intuitive aspect of vision is imperative. This manner of communication does not provide directly recognizable experience to the viewer. This mood provides a complete break with the past. French painters concerned themselves with aesthetic rather than human problems.
The Scandinavian and German painters reflect a deep concern for the existential situation of man. This Expressionism denounced manŐs reliance on technology. This school of artists clearly saw the dehumanization process resulting from automation.
The radical freedom of expression—which was the artistŐs effort to free himself from the plague of dehumanization gradually precluded recognition of the object. The need for self expression produced art of the liberated personality. This free expression of the artistsŐ neurosis projects before us the tension between mass man and existential man. The contemporary tensions between the isms of art manifest the travail of the spirit of isolation. Their private anguish manifests their anthropology. (Jose Artega Y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art (NY: Double Day, Inc., 1957). The entire work shows the point under consideration that art does manifest the depersonalization of man.)
Art is insignificant to modern man because communication has collapsed, or has it? Does art betray its sense of alienation? (See The Artist As a Social Critic Portfolio II, (of the Art Seminary in the Home under the supervision of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1959).
Existentialism and the Status of Alienation
Reflection upon the strange and disturbing world of Faulkner, Joyce, Kafka, and the baffling image, or lack of image, of contemporary man in painting, etc., is absolutely essential. Social analysis manifests the radical unrest in modern society. Every intellectual effort with the exception of science has as the reoccurring theme modern-ma –society and the monster it has created mass-man. The individual has been engulfed in the machinery of technological progress.
The insight that modern social structure is engulfing the individual cannot be attributed to our intellectual world. The great Dane, Kierkegaard, unleashed his lethal pen against the depersonalizing impact of modern society in the nineteenth century. KierkegaardŐs neurosis precluded his marriage to Regina and this very human situation motivated almost endless psychological discussion. It is to this personal event in his life that we owe the treatises that have stirred so many contemporary authors, Either-Or, Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Dread, Stages on LifeŐs Way, and the various Edifying Discourses. We must never forget their origin. These discussions were no ivory tower verbalizations, but rather an effort to grapple with the question of Ňhow can I, a miserable individual, find solution to my painful situation?Ó
Kierkegaard once said he wanted written on his tombstone? ŇThat individual.Ó For him, man passes through three states: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. The second and third states can be reached only by a leap. The aesthetic stage is manŐs concern with pleasure, but not necessarily sensual pleasure. Kierkegaard discusses the existential possibility of marrying or not marrying in Either-Or. The end of this aesthetic stage is boredom ending in a cry of despair. ŇWhat can save me from the curse of this boredom?Ó
At this point comes the leap! At the point of total despair he must make an absolute choice. This leap takes him into the second sphere—the ethical. Here sin becomes a reality. In the Concept of Dread, Kierkegaard gives a penetrating analysis of sin. Sin comes into being through Angst. This Angst is caused by manŐs radical freedom. On this razor sharp edge man chooses for or against God. God and rational proof are mutually exclusive. God is accessible only to personal decision. This is why Ňtruth is subjectivity.Ó KierkegaardŐs cry was for individualism over against the Mass-Man.
We will not attempt any answers to the intensive implications of the term Existentialism, but the array of such names as Jaspers, Heidegger, Marcel, and Martin Buber points to its contemporary vitality. Being precedes knowing, or, as they put it, ŇExistence precedes Essence.Ó Its area of concern is the total dimension of human existence. The contemporary Existentialist revolt is best seen in two Europeans, Heidegger and Sartre. (Roger L Shinn, The Existentialist Posture, A Reflection Book (NY: Association Press, 1959), pp. 30-47)
The nineteenth century faith in inevitable human progress has no use for philosophies of dread and despair. But it is well suited to our twentieth century world of total war, dictatorships, etc., which has been shaken to its knees. The philosophy of the individual and dread and despair was to bear its ripest fruit in Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus, et.al..
In 1933, Martin Heidegger (Existence and Being (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1949), who had been brought up a Catholic and once desired to become a Jesuit priest, whole heartedly supported Nazism, which certainly dehumanized man. He sanctioned the sub human attacks upon all non Arians, though he himself studied under a Jew, Edmund Husserl. From him he gained insight into phenomenological Ontology that would be fundamental in his entire existential philosophy.
Heidegger repudiates the attitude of the mass mind. He is calling man to Eigentlichkeit which means actuality or reality. If a man leaves the Ňbeing in the massÓ which Heidegger calls ŇInauthentic Existence,Ó he will experience himself as Ňthrown into the world,Ó a finite being destined to death, and this ŇthrownnessÓ is experienced in Angst. This Angst or dread reveals the emptiness of all the multiple things in which a man has been interested and shows up the Nichts, the nothingness behind it. The only real possibility man knows in this Nichts is the possibility of death. And so all life is ŇDasein zum Tode.Ó The man who exists ŇauthenticallyÓ will accept, even will, this situation that is on all sides surrounded by the Nichts. This elementary statement reveals his thorough pessimism. HeigerrerŐs radical freedom points to his rebellion against mass or depersonalized man.
The last note of revolt in this cursory statement shall be Jean Paul SartreŐs pessimism. (Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes (NY: Philosophical Library). As a philosopher, Sartre divides Being into two minds, the Ňbeing in itselfÓ (the en-soi) which is unconscious and immanent, and Ňbeing for itselfÓ (the pout-soi) which is conscious and transcendent. The fullness of pour-soi is broken by the Nichts and is burdened with freedom. In this tension of striving to become himself, man never reaches this goal, for it is impossible to be both en-soi and pour-soi, and so man, defined classically as a Ňrational animalÓ is for Sartre, a Ňuseless passion.Ó
The world of explanations and reasons is not that of existence. Is it conceivable that at long last we must decide between the Ňage of manÓ and the Ňage of mathematical physicsÓ or between being human or individual or being depersonalized mass-man. (For a brilliant statement concerning this crucial problem, see William BarrettŐs Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (NY: Doubleday and Co., 1958).
A Genetic Approach to the Background and Influences
Upon Martin BuberŐs Thought
The man and concepts which made most profound impact upon Buber are an imperative area of research in order to understand and evaluate BuberŐs contribution to the problem of dehumanized man.
KantŐs Affect Upon the Contemporary Thought World
Our modern philosophical era and the entire modern world begins with the great French philosopher, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) (Albert G.A. Balz, Descartes and the Modern Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952)—the entire work centers on this point). DescartesŐ dualism could never be correlated. Today, we are still experiencing the consequences of this dualism. Descartes is a founder and a prophet of the historical era in which mathematical physics comes to dominate the whole of human life. The skeletons in the Cartesian closet are alarming. Our power to deal with the world of matter has multiplied out of all proportion to our wisdom in coping with the problems of our human and spiritual world.
The new sciences of Descartes and Newton made world shaking progress. The trouble of our modern era comes to the surface again with Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). In his book, A Critique of Pure Reason, Kant showed that the transcendent ideals of traditional Christianity were constitutive and not regulative principles. (That Buber was effected by KantŐs metaphysic, see Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), p. 136. ŇSalvation came to a fifteen year old by a book, KantŐs Prolegomena to All Future Metaphysics.Ó It saved him from madness and possible suicide.) In the Kantian system this means that God, freedom and immortality could not be discursively discussed or known by human reason.
Reason became strictly scientific reason. Insofar as reason sought to be radically empirical and exact, it had to exclude all references to the ultimate things that man had lived by in his ethical and spiritual life. Kant was not a strict positivist so he found it necessary to defend his pious Protestant up-bringing. Hence, he wrote A Critique of Practical Reason.. In this second critique Kant said it was imperative that man live as if God existed and that man was free and immortal.
The human, or existential, importance of KantŐs whole philosophy comes to this: what Kant the man lived by as an ethical person, Kant, the scientific positivist could not bring into his regulative thought. The idealist philosophers after Kant felt that Kant had made a great chasm between two parts of the human personality. HegelŐs great effort was to bridge this chasm, but instead he contributed a brilliant polemic for the depersonalization of man. Through Kierkegaard and Nietzsche the revolt against this dehumanization became crystal clear. But against this revolt Kant must be perceived as the great chasm builder and contributor to the metaphysical attitude of Martin Buber.
Wilhelm DiltheyŐs Lebensphilosophie
DiltheyŐs influence is unmistakable upon BuberŐs participation epistemology. Dilthey was one of BuberŐs revered instructors at Berlin during his formal academic training (H.A. Hodge, Wilhelm Dilthey, An Introduction (NY: Oxford University Press, 1944), pp. 12-17; also H.A. Hodge, The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952). The International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, pgs. 13, 23, 210, 250, and 320.
Even though Buber was affected by Kantian metaphysics he was concerned with the ŇhowÓ of attaining reality without returning to the idealistic impasse resulting from the dichotomy of subject-object. Comprehension of DiltheyŐs philosophy is imperative for any understanding of BuberŐs empathy epistemology. DiltheyŐs life work was a perpetual effort to write A Critique of Historical Reason. The thesis was concerned with the difference between Wissenschaften (scientific knowledge) and Geistenwissenshaften (social sciences or spiritual knowledge).
Dilthey contributed at least three important problem areas to BuberŐs future development—Erlebnis or lived experience, individuality in social context, and das Leben or a fundamental concept of living relations. Dilthey conceived of time in an historical sense. His Hermeneutics and Lebensphilosophie are involved in his empathy epistemology which he has contributed to BuberŐs thought.
DiltheyŐs life work was directed toward overcoming historicism. He saw the impasse in which historicism involves theoretical thought. Buber overcomes historicism by repudiating any idealistic categories of explanation. This makes it every apparent that empathy replaces reflexive thought in socio-cultural science. Buber developes this empathy epistemology into his I-Thou relationalism.
DiltheyŐs concept of das Erleben or lived experience, is utilized and refined by BuberŐs I-Thou epistemology. Lived experience in Dilthey is immediate experience or non-mediated knowledge. There is no subject-object dichotomy and to this extent it is fundamental aspect of BuberŐs thought. DiltheyŐs use of the term Geist straddles the Kantian dichotomy of psyche and reason. This merely points to the uniqueness of lived experience over against scientific or objective data. Likewise, Buber does not deny scientific objectivity; he merely denies that this presents the whole picture. He affirms in every word that he has written since I-Thou that a scientific anthropology destroys man via depersonalization, because he becomes merely an object of study in the hierarchy of nature.
Another vital lesson Buber learned from Dilthey came from DiltheyŐs understanding of the individual in social context. Relationship is not merely a cognitive relation but a vital one. He maintains that individuals and social groups can enter active relation with their inanimate environment. This point is vital in BuberŐs I-Thou relationalism for other than personal relations. Buber calls this individual versus personal relations.
The last point that I shall make concerning DiltheyŐs contribution to BuberŐs thought is that his das Leben is a fundamental concept of living relations. Both DiltheyŐs epistemology and his over-all Lebensphilosophie arise within the framework of his concept of real living. The emphasis on the totality is imperative for comprehension. They spring from human life in the totality and must be understood from this vantage point. Any perspective short of the totality distorts and falsifies life or truncates man. DiltheyŐs thought hero is fundamental to BuberŐs development, because it is here that BuberŐs participation epistemology envisages the depersonalization of man. Man must be whole via encounter; he cannot be the sum total of correlative factors in objective scientific examination which compartmentalizes him and reduces him always to an object and precludes him from the status of subject.
George SimmelŐs Sociological Concepts
Buber acknowledges his indebtedness to his teacher and friend, Georg Simmel. Like his other former teacher, Dilthey, Simmel, a sociologist, implanted another factor leading to the empathy epistemology developed in the I-Thou relation. (Maurice S. FriedmanŐs, Martin Buber: The Life of Dialogue (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 40ff.; also Georg Simmel, Conflict, trans. K.H. Wolff (Glencoe: Glencoe Press, 1950); and The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. And edited by K.H. Wolff (Glencoe Press, 1950); the entire work for basic concepts utilized by Buber).
Psychical interaction in the fundamental social category The true realities in society are the separate individuals. Buber rises above this impasse, at least, for an understanding of a social individual. If Simmel were consistent society would vanish. Buber precludes this fallacy by the correlation of I and Thou—there is no I apart from social relationship.
SimmelŐs major contribution to BuberŐs thought was the distinction between religion and religiousness. Religiousness is the holy awe (note R. OttoŐs, The Idea of the Holy), and feeling of worship; the consciousness, that, above his finitude, there stands an unconditional that desires to form a living community with the individual. Religion is the sum total of traditions and customs in which the religiousness of a certain group of people has expressed verbally and no-verbally their dogmas and religious concepts. Religion is only pragmatic that is, only valid as long as it is socially utilized. Religiousness is dynamic activity or a setting of oneŐs self in relation to the absolute. (Maurice S. Friedman, op.cit., pp. 40-41).
Religion is filled with new and vital meaning and inward transforming power and is capable of change so as to meet the demand of each new generation. This is involved in BuberŐs entire epistemology. His definition of signs and symbols is hereby radically affected. Tillich utilizes BuberŐs definition in his own semantics. Sign and symbol are distinct in that one participates in the symbol and not the sign. We will sustain these affirmations in a later section.
It will become apparent how vital these two matters from Simmel are after we examine Buber more thoroughly. Man could never be depersonalized in a social process with no absolutes and where truth is personal and not conceptual--he is in fact dehumanized.
Ferdinand EbnerŐs Contribution to the I-Thou Relation
Buber claims no monopoly on his central thesis. (Maurice Friedman, op.cit., pp. 162-163. The book gives an excellent list of those who utilize BuberŐs I-Thou and those who came to the conclusion independent of BuberŐs thought, Ebner is chosen not because he contributed to BuberŐs development but just to point out this fact.) Ebnerian personalism (see The Word and Spiritual Reality) is a statement of participation epistemology which was arrived at independent of BuberŐs thought. The dimension of the personal is clearly taught by Ebner independent of Buber.
Karl Heim called EbnerŐs achievement a ŇCopernican Revolution.Ó EbnerŐs thesis was that our ultimate involvement is through speech in a relationship to the Thou. Thereby, we escape the misunderstanding of self with itself which leads us to the metaphysical absolute and the transcendental Self of the ethicist. The final and absolutely essential presupposition of all spiritual life is this relationship to God, a relationship of address and answer (dialogue). Only the man who is addressed by God is really man.
Edmund HusserlŐs Phenomenological Stress of Time and Personal Standpoint
HusserlŐs Phenomenological Ontology stresses the personal standpoint f the individual in the existential situation. His concept of time is existential/relational time. (For HusserlŐs Phenomenology see is book, Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (London, 1952); also Marvin Farber, The Foundation of Phenomenology: Edmund Husserl and the Quest for a Rigorous Science of Philosophy (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1943)
Buber is indebted both positively and negatively to this German Jew for structuring one of the most significant philosophical anthropologies. A crucial theme in HusserlŐs anthropology was that man as an individual was lagging behind his technological advances. He was striving to overcome depersonalized man. BuberŐs entire thought is directed to this end.
Martin Heidegger and Max Scheler did structure a phenomenological ontology which their master, Husserl, never quite finished. Buber utilizes HusselŐs phenomenological anthropology in structuring his own thought. (Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. R.G Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, 1954), pp. 159-161)
The first issue stated by Husserl according to Buber is that the greatest historical phenomenon is man wrestling for self-understanding. This thesis stands against the technological advances and their descriptions utilized by modern man as instruments of progress, and claims instead that the greatest phenomenon is existential man alienated from his ultimate ground of being. The second problem raised by Husserl for BuberŐs scrutiny is that man as a metaphysical phenomenon is a philosophical problem, therefore an object. This calls man in question as a reasoning subject. Buber says we reach the depth of the problem when we recognize as specifically human that which is not reason. Here BuberŐs thesis of specific totality breaks through. How can we know man wholly? The third issue is that society in general is really the existence of man bound together in social empathy. How is the individual related to his societal structure? Buber repudiates both SchelerŐs and
does consider man in community but affirms that this community precludes a manŐs essence. (For a brilliant critique of these phases see Martin Buber, Ibid., pp. 161-205)
Ludwig FeuerbachŐs Contribution of Dialogue and Monologue
Feuerbach recovered the Thou for modern discussion because of his repudiation of the possibility that discursive reason could result in knowledge of God.
Feuerbach introduced that discovery of the Thou which has been called ÔThe Copernican RevolutionŐ of modern thought. . . . I myself in my youth was given a decisive impetus by Feuerbach. (Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (NY: Harper and Bros., 1957). BuberŐs statement taken from back cover design.)
BuberŐs statement makes clear his personal debt to Feuerbach for his own development. FeuerbachŐs aim was to take Schleiermacher and Hegel seriously about the non-objective quality of God and turn theology into anthropology. He wanted the discussion turned toward the existential situation away from abstract theoretical theological discussion. Only the I and Thou are real in the world of human existence for Feuerbach. The concept of the object is nothing else but the concept of an objective I, and thus of a Thou. (For FeuerbachŐs development of the I-Thou relation see Karl Barth, From Rousseau to Ritschl (London: SCM Press, 1959), pp. 355-361, the Library of Philosophy and Theology; also Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. By R.G. Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, 1954), pp. 146-148)
Feuerbach was striving to answer the questions—What is the essence of man? He rejected man as absolute, that is, in abstract spirit, reason in abstraction, but concluded that the real man was the whole being. He wanted the total man, not only the cognitive aspect. Thus the universal science was anthropology since philosophy and theology had been reduced to man and man reduced to human existence. Feuerbach does not mean man as an individual, but man with man—connecting the I with the Thou. Buber sustains the affirmation that Feuerbach was not dealing with radical individualism but man in relation with other men. Therefore, here we have a life of monologue and a life of dialogue.
Jewish Mysticism or Hasidism
BuberŐs thought rises above mysticism so this point was reserved for a point of departure in BuberŐs overcoming the depersonalization of man without losing the individual in the idealistic absolute. (Martin Buber, Hasidism (NY: Philosophical Library, 1948); Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), pp. 16-30. Paul E. Pfuetze, The Social Self (NY: Bookman Associates, 1954), pp. 121-139; Will Herberg, The Writings of Martin Buber (NY: Meridian Books, 1956), Introduction, p. 35ff.)
Apart from the Life of Dialogue, Martin BuberŐs greatest contribution was in rekindling concern for Hasidism. The term means pious and is derived from the Greek word that means loving kindness, mercy, or grace. This movement arose in Poland in the eighteenth century and was radically criticized by traditional Rabbinism. During the years of 1878-1892 Buber lived in the home of his grandfather, Solomon Buber. It was at this juncture in BuberŐs life that he came in contact with numerous Hasidic communities of Galicia where he spent his vacations. It was not until 1904 that he really discovered the literature of Hasidism and began to reconstruct the movement from its original materials.
In this movement Buber learned through personal living participation how the individual could live in freedom and yet have social communion. In Hasidic thought, joy comes through knowledge of the presence of God in all creation. BuberŐs rejection of traditional Judaism stems from his denial that the law of God can be objectified through codification. There can never be any static criterion of holiness or humiliation; there can be only the perpetual awareness of the presence of God
The other aspect of BuberŐs development stems from his relation to Jewish mysticism. It is conceded by Buber and his finest interpreters, that he moved from mysticism to existentialism to his Life of Dialogue. This point can be utilized as a point of departure into BuberŐs principle of dialogue. In mysticism the individual is swallowed up in the absolute and no longer exists as an individual, but Buber makes radical repudiation of this in his I-Thou relationalism.
The Overcoming of Depersonalization
Buber strives to overcome the depersonalization of man by structuring the social self by the Ich-Du encounter. Buber begins his study with a distinction between two basic word pairs which sum up his fundamental thesis. (M. Buber, I-Thou (NY: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1958), pp. 3, 4; this is a second edition with a new postscript by Buber) The one basic pair of words is the I-Thou; the other is the I-It. The world of objects is a shallow one, according to Buber, because it does not change me. (But this hardly seems true. After all, the world of objects has depersonalized us and created our crisis.) The real world for Buber is, of course, the world of fellowship. ŇIn the beginning is relationship.Ó (Ibid., p. 18)
The great achievement of Israel, according to Buber, was not that it taught the one true God, the Alpha and Omega of all being, but rather, it demonstrated the reality that this God could be addressed with the word Thou, the standing-with-him Ňface to face.Ó (Ibid., p. 42) The major reality to be taught is that God is addressable.
BuberŐs entire thought is structured on Jewish foundations. The Hebrew concept of Word is essential to BuberŐs dialogic concept. Our elementary concern precludes demonstration of that point. Two other imperative Hebrew concepts for evaluating Buber are ŇSpiritÓ and that the universe (or nature) is a living universe. (Edmond JacobŐs Theology of The Old Testament, trans. Heathcote and Allcock (NY: Harper and Bros., 1958), pp. 37-118 and 121-226; also Ludwig Kohler, Old Testament Theology, trans. A.S. Todd (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, pp. 85-126). Buber was not the first thinker who saw the significance of speech in its spiritual roots as of divine origin—something absolutely transcending. Probably Ebner, Johann Georg Hamann, and Wilhelm von Humboldt were the first and most profound thinkers dealing with the dialogic principle.
Epistemology of Participation
BuberŐs epistemology of participation is the fundamental presupposition for all his writings whether concerning education, psychoanalysis, Biblical criticism, sociology, etc. before we begin the journey through BuberŐs empathic epistemology, it is best if we see this new mode of knowing over against traditional efforts in the structuring of theories of knowledge.
Traditional epistemologies have rested on the exclusive reality of the subject-object relationship. The question of how does the subject know the object covers the standard insights from Plato to contemporary intuitive empiricisms such as Bergson and Whitehead. (James Brown, Subject and Object in Modern Theology (London: SCM Press LTD, 1955). Dr. Brown discusses the relation of subject and object in Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber, and Barth; also, see M. Friedman, Martin Buber (Life of Dialogue) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), pp. 161-175.)
Epistemologies that affirm that the subject is more real than the object, are clearly perceived in Empiricism, Rationalism, Idealism, Positivism, Personalism, etc.. The nature of the subject is variously regarded as will to power, will to life, pure consciousness, intuitive knower, or mere observer. Other epistemologies give emphasis to the nature of the object. The object has been called substance, eternal mystical existence, mind of God, and mind of man, etc..
The third major problem of traditional epistemologies is the relation between subject and object. Concerning this problem the crucial questions is—What is the process of knowing? Is it analytical or dialectical reasoning, or scientific methodology, or phenomenological penetration into the essence, or immediate intuition? Against this magnificent array of brilliant intellectual efforts at structuring a theory of knowledge Martin Buber stands in contrast to twenty-five hundred years of traditional thought.
BuberŐs dialogic principle undercuts all subject-object distinctions; yet, from it all, I-It relations are derived. Buber agrees with Kant that it is metaphysically impossible to know God discursively. Buber avoids idealism by way of his teaching on present ness and concreteness. He also escapes mysticism or the absorption of the individual into the absolute by the reciprocity of the I-Thou. I cannot exist apart from the Thou, but I remains distinct by the Ňdistance of relation.Ó This should make it plain that BuberŐs participation epistemology is a new view of our knowledge of ourselves, otherselves and the external world of nature or inanimate objects.
Traditional epistemologies have brought about the depersonalization of man. Buber seeks to overcome this status of man through the ŇSocial Self.Ó BuberŐs social conception of knowledge is of utmost importance because it means the complete reversal concerning the derivation of relationship between persons. Traditionally other persons were objects of the world external to the knowing subject. This position maintains that we know other selves only by analogy and not immediately. Buber attacks this manner of knowing other selves by affirming that the I is not I nor the other self a self apart from a mediate encounter. BuberŐs social-self becomes more apparent.
The I-Thou relation is mediate knowledge of the Thou. None of the participants have any objective knowledge of the other selves or objects. If they had objective knowledge the subject would become an object and the relation would be reduced to I-It. BuberŐs semantic is a vital part of his empathy epistemology. Word can be direct communication or mediated through symbolic communication such as art, language, music, or ritual which enable men to enter repeatedly into the I-Thou relation.
Buber defines a sign as everything we meet, but as addressing us, rather than being observed as an object. So a sign only speaks to those who can hear what it says to them. This saying is nothing more than the I-Thou relation. Buber says that it is everything we meet so this gives us the point from which to develop his dialogic principle between nature and man, man and man, and God and man. BuberŐs world is certainly the living world of the Hebrews.
The sign speaks to anyone who Ňbecoming awareÓ is open to the presentness that is, being willing to see each event as unique. The difference between present ness and the past is the distance between I-Thou and I-It. This Ňpresent nessÓ precludes the I-Thou empathy being
criticized from any subject-object epistemology. The knowledge of the present ness of the other is the only ultimate criterion for BuberŐs new relationalism.
Karl HeimŐs distortions of BuberŐs word-pairs stems from misunderstanding of BuberŐs thought. HeimŐs dimensional theology is built upon the I-Thou as present and the I-It as past, but this misses BuberŐs point entirely. Real present ness cannot exist for Buber merely with the I, because the I does not exist apart from the relation with the Thou. Present ness exist between I and Thou not in either one independently. In an I-It relation this present ness is nonexistent, therefore, I-It relations are always past even in scientific experiments. Even scientific prediction is past in this sense. ŇPresent nessÓ is also BuberŐs answer to positivistic repudiation of religion and ethics. (Karl Heim, God Transcendent (NY: Harper and Bros. Pub), chps. 4 and 5)
Probably the most frequently attacked aspect of BuberŐs thesis is the I-Thou relation with nature. (Martin Buber, I-Thou (NY: Charles Scribners and Sons), pp. 123-137) for his most recent answer to this general criticism. In his articulation of mutuality or reciprocity he makes it very clear that man can have mediate or immediate relations with objects which cannot respond or manifest mutual reciprocity in the encounter. How is it possible to change an object into a subject, at least, for the inanimate world. I can have living relations with a sunset (an inanimate object) but the difference between this relation and one with other persons is that I cannot be a reciprocal Thou for the sunset.
BuberŐs emphasis on the difference between the knowledge of persons and things is another way of saying that man is unique in all of GodŐs creation. Like BultmannŐs thought concerning the inseparability of anthropology from hermeneutics; so BuberŐs anthropology stands or falls with his I-Thou participation epistemology. BuberŐs understanding of knowing is that the whole man participates not merely the relational or emotional segments.
This approach is conceivable because of God in BuberŐs thought. The world of It is involved in the space-time world, but the world of Thou is present never bound by location or temporality. The world if I-It can be Ňexperienced,Ó but the I-Thou is known only by vital empathic relation. The object experienced is in the subject, but the relation is between two subjects into the depth of vital relation with every level of creation from inanimate substance
to the Eternal Thou who can never become an It. God is the only subject that can never be reduced to objective status. Men cannot prove or disprove GodŐs existence the very highest thing that can be accomplished by man is to address God. There can be no aspect of the subject in isolation when this dialogue occurs.
Buber says, ŇAll real living is meeting.Ó (Ibid., p. 17) Faith (Buber uses only one word from the Hebrew vocabulary for faith as trust. The Hebrew means both faith and trust and I shall speak further on this issue later. See Buber, Two Types of Faith, tr, Norman Goldhawk (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951); the book is a contrast of the Hebrew concept of faith as trust with what he understands as PaulŐs Greek conceptualization of faith in the New Testament) is the meeting of the eternal Thou or Wholly-Other who is also in Ňpresent ness.Ó It is imperative that we note that
Every particular Thou is a glimpse through to the Eternal Thou; by means of every particular Thou the primary word addresses the eternal Thou. . . .Thou is realized in each relation but it is consummated only in direct relation with the eternal Thou.
(Ibid., p. 75)
The Eternal Thou is at the same time inclusive and exclusive in relation. This relation of man and God is conditioned by an unconditioned turning to Him (the Hebrew concept of repentance). Each such encounter brings all other I-Thou relations to present ness by manŐs unconditioned surrender to the Eternal Thou in faith and absolute trust. This meeting is real living. The Eternal Thou can be addressed but not expressed.
God as Creator
What is the relation of the encounter of the I and Eternal Thou to the Thou as creator? The universe is living and speech is of divine origin and creative. God acts of creation are speech or the dynamic word (Hebrew concept). The world is the spoken word. The Life of Dialogue implies that the I-Eternal Thou relation implies that the ŇIÓ is co-creator of the universe. Every moment is speech and response.
Man is only co-creator with God after man appears on the scene of the universe. This fulfillment of manŐs purpose gives significance to being created in the image of God. I do not see how God could before man become immanent in BuberŐs framework. Even though God can enter at a lower level, empathic relations with inanimate nature, He can never be a reciprocal Thou to the inanimate level of nature, because this is the difference between man and the rest of creation.
If the world has not always existed, and I do not think Buber would say that it has, God would need to become immanent in order to become creator. But at the same time God can only become immanent through manŐs openness in the I-Thou encounter.
The dynamic universe of BuberŐs thought necessitates that God will that I be co-creator. Buber does not affirm that God had to will it thus, but that He did in fact, possibly, because BuberŐs dialogic principle demands that it be the real situation in the universe.
God as Eternal Thou
All of the vocabulary under scrutiny must have metaphorical significance. Words are utilized to explicate a broader facet of God which discursive reasoning cannot attain. These terms are in no sense terms of limitation.
God is addressed in each I-Thou relation. This implies that there cannot possibly be any special or temporal exclusiveness of such an encounter. Since God cannot be codified or limited by the static there can be no univocal claim to access to the Eternal Thou. No form of speech (art, language, ritual, etc.), can never encompass the Eternal Thou.. It is at this point that Buber is most clear—that relation is not the union of the mystics. The mystic union is absorption and the reciprocity of relation precludes this.
BuberŐs world is not a dualistic one; it is the unbroken world of Thou. Evil can never become absolute. BuberŐs description of the relation of the world to what is non-world culminates in his definition of evil. (Ibid., p. 101ff.) Evil is predominance of I-It via alienation from God. BuberŐs Hasidic philosophy is speaking at this point. Dualism is escaped and the solidarity of the relationalism maintained because God (Eternal Thou) is the sphere of relations.
God as the living center of relations point to the comprehensive applicability of BuberŐs thought in the social self. The interpenetration of the spheres of relations from persons to stars is compassed in the Eternal Thou.
Our life with other men is the most evident of all three stages of relations. As stated before, man has been depersonalized into mass man because he has become an object for scientific scrutiny. The third area manifesting God as the living sphere of relations is with intelligible forms—ideas, art, etc..
God as the Other and Wholly Other
ŇIn the I-Thou relation with God unconditional exclusiveness and unconditional inclusiveness are one; everything is gathered up in relation.Ó (Paul E. Pfuetze, The Social Self (NY: Bookman Associates, 1954), p. 156) This points to an inescapable tension because God is the only Thou that can never become an It. God cannot be fettered by a static yoke of propositions. Therefore, there can never be propositional information about God communicated to man. Man can know God only in relation. In this relation the tension is resolved. God is the wholly other but he also has the relation of present ness or otherness. Here the social nature of reality becomes clear. God is both other and wholly other because he too enters relations and he is the only subject which cannot become an object.
God as Person and Spirit
The presence in real communal encounter is The Spirit. Buber says that ŇSpirit in its
human manifestation is a response of man to his Thou.Ó (Ibid., p. 39) The Spirit is the ŇresponseÓ and ŇaddressÓ out of depth of mystery. The Spirit is the between ness in the I-Thou relation. In contrast to live in the I-It relationship is to make spirit a means of enjoyment for oneself. This implies that it is or becomes merely an experience when we use something or someone for self-satisfaction. Buber says that ŇThe Spirit is the wordÓ (Ibid., p. 39) – therefore, the Spirit is imperative for the Life of Dialogue. God is addressable because he is a person (Ibid., p. 134; BuberŐs new postscript carries a more recent note about this problem) (but not an individual). God is not a principle nor an idea only persons in BuberŐs thought have reciprocity or can enter responsively in mutual relationship. Buber discusses various definitions of person (limited, absolute, etc.) and concludes that God is an absolute person because he cannot be limited. Again, man can approach him but not limit him via logic or rationality in general. God as a person creates man as person which enables the dialogic principle to operate throughout the whole of the universe. God and man are persons all other levels of beings are merely individuals. Buber acknowledges that this mutuality cannot be proved, just as GodŐs existence escapes proof.
The Transcendence and Immanence of God
It becomes more and more apparent that Buber is a poet expressing the same relationalism again and again via new symbolism. God is at the same time transcendent (Eternal Thou) and immanent (enters I-Thou relationship). This paradox is soluble only by relation not by logic. God is not bound by human relations (Pantheism) yet, Man is co-creator with God. These apparently contradictory matters are caught up in a living relation only. The living situation between transcendence and immanence enables Buber to arise above a mere descriptive social ethic.
Heim is correct in affirming that the basic question of our time is transcendence versus immanence. It is mot certainly true of Buber. God transcends his creation because he can never become an object. This is very close to WhiteheadŐs doctrine of transcendence in that God positively prehends all actual entities and negatively prehends none. In the Life of Dialogue man determines whether or not God is immanent or transcendent. If man is open, God is present; if man is unreceptive, God is transcendent.
The Imago Dei: Poles of Interpersonal Relations
The nature of man (Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, trans. By R.G. Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, 1954) pp. 118-205, also the book by Buber, We: Studies in Philosophical Anthropology) is at the heart of BuberŐs entire discussion. This clearly implies man must participate in I-Thou encounter because as a subject the whole being of man is disclosed. The image of man implies a striving for absolute surrender to the unconditioned. It is on this account (Imago Dei) that man can encounter God personally. There has been no fall in Buber. Evil is an over-emphasis of I-It. It is humanly possible to correct this evil by being open for encounter with the multiplicity of ThouŐs and the Eternal Thou shall thereby be encountered and evil overcome. Evil can be constantly overcome in real encounter.
The poles of interpersonal relations are the encounters which bring about more complete empathy with GodŐs creativity and his fellow creators IŐs that encounter ThouŐs. This is possible because man was divinely created to participate in his own fulfillment and that of the three spheres of relations. ManŐs self-transcendence and freedom to be open to God is the spiritual element in man and is related to the transcendence of God. Man can never become a real person if this is not true.
Comparison and Resume of the Characteristics
And Differentiations of I-Thou and I-It
The I-Thou relation necessitates wholeness of participation. Partial involvement reduces the situation to I-It condition. The Thou is immediately known. Empathic directness if essential for I-Thou relation. Here the Thou is an end in itself and never means to an end. This would merely be an experience, not a relation. The I-It is a subject-object examination and Thou is never possible in such an experience.
Present ness implies that scientific time and space have been superceded in relation. Relation is always present never past and this is possible only by inter-penetration. The I-It relation is bound by time and space. In total response there is no aspect of the relation that can be objectified. This response culminates in responsibility for all in the relation.
The last factor that I shall utilize in the discussion is unconditional exclusiveness and unconditional inclusiveness (Paul E. Pfueteze, The Social Self (NY: Bookman Associates, 1954), pp. 153-157; for a general perspective of these comparisons). The I-Thou encounter dissolves this tension by relationship God transcendent enters empathic relation with immanent man. Yet, God cannot be immanent unless man is receptive to interpersonal penetration. The I-It world can never dissolve this tension because its only credible tool is logic and that is useless in the dissolution of this metaphysical tension.
It is very apparent, even from such an elementary presentation, that Buber is a poet. His entire thought is involved in his participation epistemology. Every point mentioned in this brief statement is a poetic restatement of the origin thesis I-Thou. God cannot be known nor can he be spoken about, only addressed. If this is so, then we could have extended the headings and still we would have returned to the same thing. God is inseparable from BuberŐs thought, yet, there can be no discursive analysis of God because human language cannot communicate any knowledge of God. BuberŐs thought is a metaphysic structured on the I-Thou relationalism.