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I And Thou Paperback – February 1, 1971
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I and Thou, Martin Buber's classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century's foundational documents of religious ethics. "The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one's fellow-men ... is my most essential concern," Buber explains in the Afterword. Before discussing that relationship, in the book's final chapter, Buber explains at length the range and ramifications of the ways people treat one another, and the ways they bear themselves in the natural world. "One should beware altogether of understanding the conversation with God ... as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday," Buber explains. "God's address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me." Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one's own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as "You" speaking to "me," and requiring a response. Buber's dense arguments can be rough going at times, but Walter Kaufmann's definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber's own explanations of the book's most difficult passages. --Michael Joseph Gross
About the Author
Walter Kaufmann is Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. Born in Germany in 1921, he graduated from Williams College in 1941, and returned to Europe with U.S. Military Intelligence during World War II. In 1947 he received his Ph.D. from Harvard and joined the Princeton faculty. He has held visiting professorships at many American universities, and Fulbright professorships at Heidelberg and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
His books include Nietzsche, Critique of Religion and Philosophy, From Shakespeare to Existentialism, The Faith of a Heretic, Cain and Other Poems, Hegel, and Tragedy and Philosophy. Several of these books have been translated into various foreign languages.
Kaufmann's own translations of ten of Nietzsche's works, of Leo Baeck's Judaism and Christianity, and of Twenty German Poets have won wide recognition. Of his verse translation of Goethe's Faust, Stephen Spender said in The New York Times Book Review: "The best translation of Faust that I have read." And the Virginia Quarterly Review said: "There is little question that this is the translation of Goethe's Faust, both in poetic beauty and in comprehension of the original."
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I think that I understand more now, about why people teach. The subject of learning is just the "It" in Buber's notation. What is important is the "Ich / Du" moment, which is not the "It", and which must be experienced. Buber connects the Ich/Du with a primordial drawing together of personality. Extrapolating from Buber, in my own "nachgedanken", that foundation of personality forms some basis for our crude understanding of The Eternal, of Love and of Nature.
I approach the subject of Philosophy most humbly, confessing my ignorance. But Buber defines his terms from the outset and builds from there. Reading, I felt myself in the presence of a thoughtful, universally kind instructor. Perhaps he was hedged in a bit by the Judeo-Christian pre-war culture, but he was fighting to understand the "other", and I don't think he was talking down with respect Asian or African cultures, but was constrained by mere "book learning" of cultures which were both spacially and temporally displaced from his own.
My daughter thinks this isn't the best translation. If you know a little German, I recommend also getting a copy of "Ich und Du", which I am using to shed additional light on some passages.
If you are new to Philosophy, as I am, take a look at Buber as a great first read.