Martin Buber

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All actual life is encounter.

Martin Buber (February 8, 1878June 13, 1965) was a Jewish philosopher, theologian, story-teller, and teacher.


Let us, cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction,
Love powerfully.
The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.
  • Every morning
    I shall concern myself anew about the boundary
    Between the love-deed-Yes and the power-deed-No
    And pressing forward honor reality.

    We cannot avoid
    Using power,
    Cannot escape the compulsion
    To afflict the world,
    So let us, cautious in diction
    And mighty in contradiction,
    Love powerfully.

    • "Power and Love" (1926)
  • All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
    • The Legend of the Baal-Shem (1955),1995 edition, p. 36
  • The prophet is appointed to oppose the king, and even more: history.
    • BBC radio broadcast (1962), as quoted in The Great Thoughts (1984) by George Seldes
  • I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man's life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.
    • As quoted in Martin Buber : An Intimate Portrait (1971), p. 56
  • When we rise out of [the night] into the new life and there begin to receive the signs, what can we know of that which — of him who gives them to us? Only what we experience from time to time from the signs themselves. If we name the speaker of this speech God, then it is always the God of a moment, a moment God.
    • Between Man and Man (1965), p. 15

I and Thou (1923)[edit]

Ich und Du (1923)
All names of God remain hallowed because they have been used not only to speak of God but also to speak to him.
The Thou encounters me by grace — it cannot be found by seeking. But that I speak the basic word to it is a deed of my whole being, is my essential deed.
Through the Thou a person becomes I.
  • The Thou encounters me by grace — it cannot be found by seeking. But that I speak the basic word to it is a deed of my whole being, is my essential deed.
  • The basic word I-Thou can be spoken only with one's whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a Thou to become; becoming I, I say Thou.
  • Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.
    • All real life is meeting.
    • Variant translationː All actual life is encounter.
  • The I of the basic word I-Thou is different from that of the basic word I-It.
  • An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language.
  • Egos appear by setting themselves apart from other egos.
  • Person erscheint, indem sie zu andern Personen in Beziehung tritt.
    • Persons appear by entering into relation to other persons.
  • All names of God remain hallowed because they have been used not only to speak of God but also to speak to him.
  • Some would deny any legitimate use of the word God because it has been misused so much. Certainly it is the most burdened of all human words. Precisely for that reason it is the most imperishable and unavoidable. And how much weight has all erroneous talk about God's nature and works (although there never has been nor can be any such talk that is not erroneous) compared with the one truth that all men who have addressed God really meant him? For whoever pronounces the word God and really means Thou, addresses, no matter what his delusion, the true Thou of his life that cannot be restricted by any other and to whom he stands in a relationship that includes all others.
  • Whoever abhors the name and fancies that he is godless — when he addresses with his whole devoted being the Thou of his life that cannot be restricted by any other, he addresses God.
  • The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and of me.
    Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts us in burning — we tremble and are faint, we submit. We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach out to Him, helpers and companions.
  • Through the Thou a person becomes I.

What is Man? (1938)[edit]

As translated by Ronald Gregor Smith in Between Man and Man (1947; 1965), page numbers from a 2001 edition
  • In philosophical anthropology, … where the subject is man in his wholeness, the investigator cannot content himself, as in anthropology as an individual science, with considering man as another part of nature and with ignoring the fact that he, the investigator, is himself a man and experiences this humanity in his inner experience in a way that he simply cannot experience any part of nature.
    • p. 147
  • The philosophical anthropologist … can know the wholeness of the person and through it the wholeness of man only when he does not leave his subjectivity out and does not remain an untouched observer.
    • p. 148
  • You do not attain to knowledge by remaining on the shore and watching the foaming waves, you must make the venture and cast yourself in, you must swim, alert and with all your force, even if a moment comes when you think you are losing consciousness; in this way, and in no other, do you reach anthropological insight.
    • p. 148
  • So long as you “have” yourself, have yourself as an object, your experience of man is only as of a thing among things.
    • p. 148
  • An example may clarify more precisely the relation between the psychologist and the anthropologist. If both of them investigate, say, the phenomenon of anger, the psychologist will try to grasp what the angry man feels, what his motives and the impulses of his will are, but the anthropologist will also try to grasp what he is doing. In respect of this phenomenon self-observation, being by nature disposed to weaken the spontaneity and unruliness of anger, will be especially difficult for both of them. The psychologist will try to meet this difficulty by a specific division of consciousness, which enables him to remain outside with the observing part of his being and yet let his passion run its course as undisturbed as possible. Of course this passion can then not avoid becoming similar to that of the actor, that is, though it can still be heightened in comparison with an unobserved passion its course will be different: there will be a release which is willed and which takes the place of the elemental outbreak, there will be a vehemence which will be more emphasized, more deliberate, more dramatic. The anthropologist can have nothing to do with a division of consciousness, since he has to do with the unbroken wholeness of events, and especially with the unbroken natural connection between feelings and actions; and this connection is most powerfully influenced in self-observation, since the pure spontaneity of the action is bound to suffer essentially. It remains for the anthropologist only to resign any attempt to stay outside his observing self, and thus when he is overcome by anger not to disturb it in its course by becoming a spectator of it, but to let it rage to its conclusion without trying to gain a perspective. He will be able to register in the act of recollection what he felt and did then; for him memory takes the place of psychological self-experience. … In the moment of life he has nothing else in his mind but just to live what is to be lived, he is there with his whole being, undivided, and for that very reason there grows in his thought and recollection the knowledge of human wholeness.
    • pp. 148-149
  • In the ice of solitude man becomes most inexorably a question to himself, and just because the question pitilessly summons and draws into play his most secret life he becomes an experience to himself.
    • p. 150
  • When we see a great man desiring power instead of his real goal we soon recognize that he is sick., or more precisely that his attitude to his work is sick. He overreaches himself, the work denies itself to him, the incarnation of the spirit no longer takes place, and to avoid the threat of senselessness he snatches after empty power. This sickness casts the genius on to the same level as those hysterical figures who, being by nature without power, slave for power, in order that they may enjoy the illusion that they are inwardly powerful, and who in this striving for power cannot let a pause intervene, since a pause would bring with it the possibility of self-reflection and self-reflection would bring collapse.
  • Now, he no longer promises others the fulfillment of his duties, but promises himself the fulfillment of man.
    • p. 178
  • The concept of guilt is found most powerfully developed even in the most primitive communal forms which we know: … the man is guilty who violates one of the original laws which dominate the society and which are mostly derived from a divine founder; the boy who is accepted into the tribal community and learns its laws, which bind him thenceforth, learns to promise; this promise is often given under the sign of death, which is symbolically carried out on the boy, with a symbolical rebirth.
    • p. 178

Quotes about Buber[edit]

  • Buber and Tillich each took similar paths toward their common destination of religious socialism. Both had been influenced early in their careers by the 19th century German philosopher Nietzsche's rejection of bourgeois culture in his classic book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and were further influenced by Karl Marx's doctrine of human self-estrangement and objectification in capitalist society while rejecting his anti-religious bias. Moreover, Buber and Tillich, along with all religious socialists, rejected the Marxist “revolutionary dictatorship” of the proletariat. This would represent the extreme of heteronomy for Tillich and the political manifestation of the I-it relationship expressed by Buber that is based on human instrumentalism.… Tillich initially promoted an "idealistic anarchism" in the sense that he envisioned a theonomous culture arising from "communities themselves and their spiritual substance" instead of being promoted by the state. They would eventually part ways to some extent, with Buber continuing to promote a "federalistic communal socialism" yet not rejecting the political component of social life, while Tillich promoted the possibility of a central government that is not absolute in a theonomous society.
    • Marc A. Krell, in Modern Judaism and Historical Consciousness : Identities, Encounters. Perspectives (2007), edited by Andreas Gotzmann and Christian Wiese; Ch. 8 : Fashioning a Neutral Zone: Jewish and Protestant Socialists challenge Religionswissenschaft in Weimar Germany, § 3 : Fashioning a Neutral Zone of Religious Socialism, p. 218

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