"Companionship" redirects here. For the album by Sahib Shihab, see Companionship (album).
An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships are formed in the context of social, cultural and other influences. The context can and may and perhaps vary from family or kinship relations, friendship, marriage, relations with associates, work, clubs, neighborhoods, and places of worship. They may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and are the basis of social groups and society as a whole.
Field of study
The study of interpersonal relationships involves several branches of the social sciences, including such disciplines as sociology, communication studies, psychology, anthropology, and social work. Interpersonal skills are vital when trying to develop a relationship with another person. The scientific study of relationships evolved during the 1990s and came to be referred to as 'relationship science', which distinguishes itself from anecdotal evidence or pseudo-experts by basing conclusions on data and objective analysis. Interpersonal ties are also a subject in mathematical sociology.
Main article: Outline of relationships § Types of relationships
- TOTEM="Too Old To Ever Marry." Many older people choose not to marry because of their age, financial and family obligations. Wills and often reverse mortgages are in effect, and marriage would complicate the relationship. In a TOTEM relationship, each partner maintains his or her home and, in the case of reverse mortgages, each person maintains residency in their own home sufficient to comply with the reverse mortgage requirements. Wills, trusts, etc., are left in their original form and family members need not be concerned about their future.
Human beings are innately social and are shaped by their experiences with others. There are multiple perspectives to understand this inherent motivation to interact with others.
Need to belong
According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, humans need to feel love (sexual/nonsexual) and acceptance from social groups (family, peer groups). In fact, the need to belong is so innately ingrained that it may be strong enough to overcome physiological and safety needs, such as children's attachment to abusive parents or staying in abusive romantic relationships. Such examples illustrate the extent to which the psychobiological drive to belong is entrenched.
Another way to appreciate the importance of relationships is in terms of a reward framework. This perspective suggests that individuals engage in relations that are rewarding in both tangible and intangible ways. The concept fits into a larger theory of social exchange. This theory is based on the idea that relationships develop as a result of cost-benefit analysis. Individuals seek out rewards in interactions with others and are willing to pay a cost for said rewards. In the best-case scenario, rewards will exceed costs, producing a net gain. This can lead to "shopping around" or constantly comparing alternatives to maximize the benefits or rewards while minimizing costs.
Relationships are also important for their ability to help individuals develop a sense of self. The relational self is the part of an individual's self-concept that consists of the feelings and beliefs that one has regarding oneself that develops based on interactions with others. In other words, one's emotions and behaviors are shaped by prior relationships. Thus, relational self theory posits that prior and existing relationships influence one's emotions and behaviors in interactions with new individuals, particularly those individuals that remind him or her of others in his or her life. Studies have shown that exposure to someone who resembles a significant other activates specific self-beliefs, changing how one thinks about oneself in the moment more so than exposure to someone who does not resemble one's significant other.
Power and dominance
Power is the ability to influence the behavior of other people. When two parties have or assert unequal levels of power, one is termed "dominant" and the other "submissive". Expressions of dominance can communicate intention to assert or maintain dominance in a relationship. Being submissive can be beneficial because it saves time, emotional stress, and may avoid hostile actions such as withholding of resources, cessation of cooperation, termination of the relationship, maintaining a grudge, or even physical violence. Submission occurs in different degrees; for example, some employees may follow orders without question, whereas others might express disagreement but concede when pressed.
Groups of people can form a dominance hierarchy. For example, a hierarchical organization uses a command hierarchy for top-down management. This can reduce time wasted in conflict over unimportant decisions, prevents inconsistent decisions from harming the operations of the organization, maintain alignment of a large population of workers with the goals of the owners (which the workers might not personally share) and if promotion is based on merit, help ensure that the people with the best expertise make important decisions. This contrasts with group decision-making and systems which encourage decision-making and self-organization by front-line employees, who in some cases may have better information about customer needs or how to work efficiently. Dominance is only one aspect of organizational structure.
A power structure describes power and dominance relationships in a larger society. For example, a feudal society under a monarchy exhibits a strong dominance hierarchy in both economics and physical power, whereas dominance relationships in a society with democracy and capitalism are more complicated.
In business relationships, dominance is often associated with economic power. For example, a business may adopt a submissive attitude to customer preferences (stocking what customers want to buy) and complaints ("the customer is always right") in order to earn more money. A firm with monopoly power may be less responsive to customer complaints because it can afford to adopt a dominant position. In a business partnership a "silent partner" is one who adopts a submissive position in all aspects, but retains financial ownership and a share of the profits.
Two parties can be dominant in different areas. For example, in a friendship or romantic relationship, one person may have strong opinions about where to eat dinner, whereas the other has strong opinions about how to decorate a shared space. It could be beneficial for the party with weak preferences to be submissive in that area, because it will not make them unhappy and avoids conflict with the party that would be unhappy.
The breadwinner model is associated with gender role assignments where the male in a heterosexual marriage would be dominant in all areas.
Interpersonal relationships are dynamic systems that change continuously during their existence. Like living organisms, relationships have a beginning, a lifespan, and an end. They tend to grow and improve gradually, as people get to know each other and become closer emotionally, or they gradually deteriorate as people drift apart, move on with their lives and form new relationships with others. One of the most influential models of relationship development was proposed by psychologist George Levinger. This model was formulated to describe heterosexual, adult romantic relationships, but it has been applied to other kinds of interpersonal relations as well. According to the model, the natural development of a relationship follows five stages:
- Acquaintance and acquaintanceship – Becoming acquainted depends on previous relationships, physical proximity, first impressions, and a variety of other factors. If two people begin to like each other, continued interactions may lead to the next stage, but acquaintance can continue indefinitely. Another example is association.
- Buildup – During this stage, people begin to trust and care about each other. The need for intimacy, compatibility and such filtering agents as common background and goals will influence whether or not interaction continues.
- Continuation – This stage follows a mutual commitment to quite a strong and close long-term friendship, romantic relationship, or even marriage. It is generally a long, relatively stable period. Nevertheless, continued growth and development will occur during this time. Mutual trust is important for sustaining the relationship.
- Deterioration – Not all relationships deteriorate, but those that do tend to show signs of trouble. Boredom, resentment, and dissatisfaction may occur, and individuals may communicate less and avoid self-disclosure. Loss of trust and betrayals may take place as the downward spiral continues, eventually ending the relationship. (Alternately, the participants may find some way to resolve the problems and reestablish trust and belief in others.)
- Ending – The final stage marks the end of the relationship, either by breakups, death, or by spatial separation for quite some time and severing all existing ties of either friendship or romantic love.
Friendships may involve some degree of transitivity. In other words, a person may become a friend of an existing friend's friend. However, if two people have a sexual relationship with the same person, they may become competitors rather than friends. Accordingly, sexual behavior with the sexual partner of a friend may damage the friendship (see love triangle). Sexual activities between two friends tend to alter that relationship, either by "taking it to the next level" or by severing it.
A list of interpersonal skills includes:
- Verbal communication – What we say and how we say it.
- Nonverbal communication – What we communicate without words, body language is an example.
- Listening skills – How we interpret both the verbal and non-verbal messages sent by others.
- Negotiation – Working with others to find a mutually agreeable outcome.
- Problem solving – Working with others to identify, define and solve problems.
- Decision making – Exploring and analysing options to make sound decisions.
- Assertiveness – Communicating our values, ideas, beliefs, opinions, needs and wants freely.
Social exchange theory and Rusbult's investment model shows that relationship satisfaction is based on three factors: rewards, costs, and comparison levels (Miller, 2012). Rewards refer to any aspects of the partner or relationship that are positive. Conversely, costs are the negative or unpleasant aspects of the partner or their relationship. Comparison level includes what each partner expects of the relationship. The comparison level is influenced by past relationships, and general relationship expectations they are taught by family and friends.
There is research showing that individuals in long-distance relationships, LDRs, rated their relationships as more satisfying than individuals in proximal relationship, PRs (Stafford, & Reske, 1990; Stafford, 2005). Alternatively, Holt and Stone (1988) found that long-distance couples who were able to meet with their partner at least once a month had similar satisfaction levels to unmarried couples who cohabitated. Also, the relationship satisfaction was lower for members of LDRs who saw their partner less frequently than once a month. Agreeing with Holt and Stone was Guldner and Swenson (1995), who found that LDR couples reported the same level of relationship satisfaction as couples in PRs, despite only seeing each other on average once every 23 days.
Social exchange theory and the investment model both theorize that relationships that are high in costs would be less satisfying than relationships that are low in costs. LDRs have a higher level of costs than PRs, therefore, one would assume that LDRs are less satisfying than PRs. As previously stated, current research shows that individuals in LDRs are actually more satisfied with their relationships compared to individuals in PRs (Stafford, 2005). This can be explained by unique aspects of the LDRs, how the individuals use relationship maintenance behaviors, and the attachment styles of the individuals in the relationships. Therefore, the costs and benefits of the relationship are subjective to the individual, and recent research implies that people in LDRs tend to report lower costs and higher rewards in their relationship compared to PRs (Stafford, 2005).
Flourishing, budding, blooming, blossoming relationships
Positive psychologists use the various terms "flourishing, budding, blooming, blossoming relationships" to describe interpersonal relationships that are not merely happy, but instead characterized by intimacy, growth, and resilience. Flourishing relationships also allow a dynamic balance between focus on the intimate relationships and focus on other social relationships.
While traditional psychologists specializing in close relationships have focused on relationship dysfunction, positive psychology argues that relationship health is not merely the absence of relationship dysfunction. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of secure attachment and are maintained with love and purposeful positive relationship behaviors. Additionally, healthy relationships can be made to "flourish." Positive psychologists are exploring what makes existing relationships flourish and what skills can be taught to partners to enhance their existing and future personal relationships. A social skills approach posits that individuals differ in their degree of communication skill, which has implications for their relationships. Relationships in which partners possess and enact relevant communication skills are more satisfying and stable than relationships in which partners lack appropriate communication skills.
Adult attachment and attachment theory
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of secure attachments. Adult attachment models represent an internal set of expectations and preferences regarding relationship intimacy that guide behavior. Secure adult attachment, characterized by low attachment-related avoidance and anxiety, has numerous benefits. Within the context of safe, secure attachments, people can pursue optimal human functioning and flourishing. This is because social acts that reinforce feelings of attachment also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and endorphin, which alleviate stress and create feelings of contentment.Attachment theory can also be used as a means of explaining adult relationships.
Secure attachment styles are characterized by low avoidance of intimacy and low anxiety over abandonment. Secure individuals are comfortable with intimacy and interdependence and are usually optimistic and social in everyday life. Securely attached individuals usually use their partners for emotion regulation so they prefer to have their partners in close proximity (Conde, Figueiredo, & Bifulco, 2011; Miller, 2012). Preoccupied individuals tend to be low on avoidance of intimacy and high on anxiety about abandonment. Preoccupied people are normally uneasy and vigilant towards any threat to the relationship and tend to be needy and jealous. Dismissing individuals are low on anxiety over abandonment and high in avoidance of intimacy. Dismissing people are usually self-reliant and uninterested in intimacy and are independent and indifferent towards acquiring romantic partners (Chopik, Edelstein, & Fraley, 2013). Fearful attachment styled individuals are high in avoidance of intimacy and high in anxiety over abandonment, which means they rarely allow themselves to be in relationships, and if they do get into one, are very anxious about losing the partner. They are very fearful of rejection, mistrustful of others, and tend to be suspicious and shy in everyday life. Attachment styles are created during childhood but can adapt and evolve to become a different attachment style based on individual experiences (Chopik et al., 2013). A bad breakup or a bad romantic situation can change someone from being in a secure attachment to insecure. On the contrary, a good romantic relationship can take a person from an avoidant attachment style to more of a secure attachment style.
Main article: Romantic love
The capacity for love gives depth to human relationships, brings people closer to each other physically and emotionally, and makes people think expansively about themselves and the world.
Stages of romantic interpersonal relationships can also be characterized more generally by the following: attraction; initiation; development; sustaining vs. terminating.
- Attraction – Premeditated or automatic, attraction can occur between acquaintances, coworkers, lovers, etc., be based on sexual arousal, intellectual stimulation, or respect. Studies have shown that attraction can be susceptible to influence based on context and externally induced arousal, with the caveat that participants be unaware of the source of their arousal. A study by Cantor, J. R., Bryant, J., & Zillmann, D. (1975), induced arousal through physical exercise and found that participants rated erotic pictures highly 4 minutes post-exercise (when no longer realized aroused by exercise) than either immediately after (when arousal and awareness were greater) or 10 minutes later (when exercise-induced arousal had dissipated). As supported by a series of studies, Zillman and colleagues showed that a preexisting state of arousal can heighten reactions to affective stimuli. A classic study by Dutton & Aron (1974) showed that fear arousal from suspension bridges leads to higher attraction ratings by males of a female confederate.
- Initiation – There are several catalysts in the initiation of a new relationship. One commonly studied factor is physical proximity (also known as propinquity). The MIT Westgate studies famously showed that greater physical proximity between incoming students in a university residential hall led to greater relationship initiation. More specifically, only 10% of those living on opposite ends of Westgate West considered each other friends while more than 40% of those living in adjacent apartments considered each other friends. The theory behind this effect is that proximity facilitates chance encounters, which lead to initiation of new relationships. This is closely related to the mere exposure effect, which states that the more an individual is exposed to a person or object, the more s/he likes it. Another important factor in the initiation of new relationships is similarity. Put simply, individuals tend to be attracted to and start new relationships with those who are similar to them. These similarities can include beliefs, rules, interests, culture, education, etc. Individuals seek relationships with like others because like others are most likely to validate shared beliefs and perspectives, thus facilitating interactions that are positive, rewarding and without conflict.
- Development – Development of interpersonal relationships can be further split into committed versus non-committed romantic relationships, which have different behavioral characteristics. In a study by Miguel & Buss (2011), men and women were found to differ in a variety of mate-retention strategies depending on whether their romantic relationships were committed or not. More committed relationships by both genders were characterized by greater resource display, appearance enhancement, love and care, and verbal signs of possession. In contrast, less committed relationships by both genders were characterized by greater jealousy induction. In terms of gender differences, men used greater resource display than women, who used more appearance enhancement as a mate-retention strategy than men.
- Sustaining vs. terminating – After a relationship has had time to develop, it enters into a phase where it will be sustained if it is not otherwise terminated. Some important qualities of strong, enduring relationships include emotional understanding and effective communication between partners. Research has also shown that idealization of one's partner is linked to stronger interpersonal bonds. Idealization is the pattern of overestimating a romantic partner's positive virtues or underestimating a partner's negative faults in comparison to the partner's own self-evaluation. In general, individuals who idealize their romantic partners tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Other research has examined the impact of joint activity on relationship quality. In particular, studies have shown that romantic partners that engage in a novel and exciting physical activity together are more likely to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction than partners that complete a mundane activity.
In his triangular theory of love, psychologist Robert Sternberg theorizes that love is a mix of three components: some (1) passion, or physical attraction; (2) intimacy, or feelings of closeness; and (3) commitment, involving the decision to initiate and sustain a relationship. The presence of all three components characterizes consummate love, the most durable type of love. In addition, the presence of intimacy and passion in marital relationships predicts marital satisfaction. Also, commitment is the best predictor of relationship satisfaction, especially in long-term relationships. Positive consequences of being in love include increased self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Referring to the emotion of love, Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel defined the "logic of love" as "the logic of pleasure and pain" in the concept of a "Relationship Road Map" that became the foundation of PAIRS'relationship education classes.
"We are drawn to what we anticipate will be a source of pleasure and will look to avoid what we anticipate will be a source of pain. The emotion of love comes from the anticipation of pleasure."
Based on Casriel's theory, sustaining feelings of love in an interpersonal relationship requires "effective communication, emotional understanding and healthy conflict resolution skills."
Theories and empirical research
Confucianism is a study and theory of relationships especially within hierarchies. Social harmony—the central goal of Confucianism—results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well. Particular duties arise from each person's particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. Juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence and seniors have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. A focus on mutuality is prevalent in East Asian cultures to this day.
The mindfulness theory of relationships shows how closeness in relationships may be enhanced. Minding is the "reciprocal knowing process involving the nonstop, interrelated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of persons in a relationship." Five components of "minding" include:
- Knowing and being known: seeking to understand the partner
- Making relationship-enhancing attributions for behaviors: giving the benefit of the doubt
- Accepting and respecting: empathy and social skills
- Maintaining reciprocity: active participation in relationship enhancement
- Continuity in minding: persisting in mindfulness
Theory of intertype relationships
Socionics has proposed a theory of intertype relationships between psychological types based on a modified version of C.G. Jung's theory of psychological types. Communication between types is described using the concept of information metabolism proposed by Antoni Kępiński. Socionics allocates 16 types of the relations — from most attractive and comfortable up to disputed. The understanding of a nature of these relations helps to solve a number of problems of the interpersonal relations, including aspects of psychological and sexual compatibility. The researches of married couples by Aleksandr Bukalov et al., have shown that the family relations submit to the laws, which are opened by socionics. The study of socionic type allocation in casually selected married couples confirmed the main rules of the theory of intertype relations in socionics. So, the dual relations (full addition) make 45% and the intraquadral relations make 64% of investigated couples.
Culture of appreciation
After studying married couples for many years, psychologist John Gottman has proposed the theory of the "magic ratio" for successful marriages. The theory says that for a marriage to be successful, couples must average a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction. As the ratio moves to 1:1, divorce becomes more likely. Interpersonal interactions associated with negative relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Over time, therapy aims to turn these interpersonal strategies into more positive ones, which include complaint, appreciation, acceptance of responsibility, and self-soothing. Similarly, partners in interpersonal relationships can incorporate positive components into difficult subjects in order to avoid emotional disconnection.
In addition, Martin Seligman proposes the concept of Active-Constructive Responding, which stresses the importance of practicing conscious attentive listening and feedback skills. In essence, practicing this technique aims to improve the quality of communication between members of the relationship, and in turn the gratitude expressed between said members.
Capitalizing on positive events
People can capitalize on positive events in an interpersonal context to work toward flourishing relationships. People often turn to others to share their good news (termed "capitalization"). Studies show that both the act of telling others about good events and the response of the person with whom the event was shared have personal and interpersonal consequences, including increased positive emotions, subjective well-being, and self-esteem, and relationship benefits including intimacy, commitment, trust, liking, closeness, and stability. Studies show that the act of communicating positive events was associated with increased positive effect and well-being (beyond the impact of the positive event itself). Other studies have found that relationships in which partners responded to "good news" communication enthusiastically were associated with higher relationship well-being.
The Vulnerability Stress Adaptation (VSA) Model
The VSA is a framework for conceptualizing the dynamic processes of intimate relationships, which emphasizes the consideration of multiple dimensions of functioning, including couple members’ enduring vulnerabilities, experiences of stressful events, and adaptive processes, to account for variations in marital quality and stability over time. According to the VSA model, in order to achieve a complete understanding of relationship functioning, research must consider all functional dimensions, including enduring vulnerabilities, stress, and adaptive processes simultaneously.
Neurobiology of interpersonal connections
Humans are social creatures, and there is no other behavioral process that is more important than attachment. Attachment requires sensory and cognitive processing that lead to intricate motor responses. As humans, the end goal of attachment is the motivation to acquire love, which is different from other animals who just seek proximity. There is an emerging body of research across multiple disciplines investigating the neurological basis of attachment and the prosocial emotions and behaviors that are the prerequisites for healthy adult relationships. The social environment, mediated by attachment, influences the maturation of structures in a child's brain. This might explain how infant attachment affects adult emotional health. This continues on throughout childbearing. Researchers are currently investigating the link between positive caregiver–child relationships and the development of hormone systems, such as the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) and Oxytocinergic system. In order to accurately study the neurobiology of interpersonal connection, the behavior must fulfill three requirements. The first is that the behavior must have a noticeable onset so that researchers are able to examine the formation of the attachment bond or how it is inhibited. Second, the behavior must be selective in order differentiate it from normal social interaction. Lastly, the behavior being studied has to be testable so it can be measured and manipulated, in order to establish reliability.
- The mother–infant attachment – Key biological factors have emerged that can explain the motivation behind maternal caregiving behavior in humans and mammals. However, it does differ from species to species, due to that some species only exhibit maternal care postpartum, others exhibit it only slightly and some are very maternal. Two main neuroendocrine systems that revolved around Oxytocin and Dopamine, and another neuropeptide, prolactin are directly involved as mediators of maternal care. The mother–infant bond is so complex and strong due to these biological systems, that a response to maternal separation exists. The response to separation is due to the withdrawal of several different components from behavioral and biological systems. Separation anxiety, the psychological term that describes the response that occurs when an infant is separated from the mother, causes loss of those components, as seen in studies done with rats.
- Oxytocinergic system – Oxytocin is a peptide hormone produced in the hypothalamus that is passed through the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream. Oxytocin acts on the mammary glands and uterine muscles to stimulate the secretion of milk and uterine contractions during childbirth. However, it is a crucial factor in many aspects of social bonding, specifically the onset of the mother–infant attachment bond. It acts on the medial preoptic area (MPOA) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the brain which are critical for integration of sensory information in maternal care. Oxytocin plays a key role in physical proximity and nurturing care and leads (as shown in studies with rats) the mother to go from avoiding behavior to caring for their young. Oxytocin knockout rats or injection of an oxytocin receptor antagonist will lead to neglect of the infant or pup. In mammals, the development of the Oxytocinergic system has led to the basis of the mother–infant attachment.
- Dopaminergic system – Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects behavior in not just the mother but in the offspring as well. Dopamine is essential in for reinforcing behavior that gives us pleasure because it is part of the limbic system that deals with emotion. Therefore, it is able to stimulate responsive maternal care and reinforce attachment. Understanding the dopaminergic system is important because it could make the difference between maternal neglect and nurture.
- Prolactin – As seen in lesion studies of rats prolactin, which is also involved in lactation, is important in encouraging maternal behavior. Decreasing the levels of prolactin or lack of the receptor of prolactin leads to inhibition of maternal care in rats.
- Adult–adult pair bond formation – Oxytocin and vasopressin play a crucial part in the process of bond formation of mates. Vasopressin is a peptide hormone whose main function is to retain water in the body, and is also known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Pair bonding is studied using voles and it has been found that injection of both hormones stimulates the behavioral responses needed in pair bond formation, even when mating hasn't occurred. These results are also proven when injection of receptor antagonists of this hormones inhibits mating and necessary behaviors.
The ability to study the biological processes behind attachment allows scientists to be able to understand the fundamental levels to makeup a psychological construct. It provides a link between a psychological concept and its physiological foundation.
In interpersonal relationship those who feel secure are open with their emotional expression, those who are anxious-ambivalent don't express them and process them internally which might lead to immune system disorders, those who are avoidant direct their emotions onto others. Those who have similar coping system have a positive relationship status. Those who are open with their emotional expression with appropriateness is found to have a positive well being. Culture, personal characteristics and experiences are influencing factors in behavioral aspects of interpersonal relationship.
Researchers are developing an approach to couples therapy that moves partners from patterns of repeated conflict to patterns of more positive, comfortable exchanges. Goals of therapy include development of social and interpersonal skills. Expressing gratitude and sharing appreciation for a partner is the primary means for creating a positive relationship. Positive marital counseling also emphasizes mindfulness. The further study of "flourishing relationships could shape the future of premarital and marital counseling as well."
Some researchers criticize positive psychology for studying positive processes in isolation from negative processes. Positive psychologists argue that positive and negative processes in relationships may be better understood as functionally independent, not as opposites of each other.
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Martin Buber (1878—1965)
Martin Buber was a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator. Born in Austria, he spent most of his life in Germany and Israel, writing in German and Hebrew. He is best known for his 1923 book, Ich und Du (I and Thou), which distinguishes between “I-Thou” and “I-It” modes of existence. Often characterized as an existentialist philosopher, Buber rejected the label, contrasting his emphasis on the whole person and “dialogic” intersubjectivity with existentialist emphasis on “monologic” self-consciousness. In his later essays, he defines man as the being who faces an “other” and constructs a world from the dual acts of distancing and relating. His writing challenges Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Simmel and Heidegger, and he influenced Emmanuel Lévinas.
Buber was also an important cultural Zionist who promoted Jewish cultural renewal through his study of Hasidic Judaism. He recorded and translated Hasidic legends and anecdotes, translated the Bible from Hebrew into German in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, and wrote numerous religious and Biblical studies. He advocated a bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state and argued for the renewal of society through decentralized, communitarian socialism. The leading Jewish adult education specialist in Germany in the 1930s, he developed a philosophy of education based on addressing the whole person through education of character, and directed the creation of Jewish education centers in Germany and teacher-training centers in Israel.
Most current scholarly work on Buber is done in the areas of pedagogy, psychology and applied social ethics.
Table of Contents
- Philosophical Anthropology
- “I-Thou” and “I-It”
- Distance and Relation
- Confirmation and Inclusion
- Good and Evil
- Hindrances to Dialogue
- Religious Writings
- Hasidic Judaism
- Biblical Studies
- Political Philosophy
- Philosophy of Education
- References and Further Reading
- Philosophical Works
- Political and Cultural Writing
- Religious Studies
- Secondary Sources
Mordecai Martin Buber was born in Vienna in February 8, 1878. When he was three, his mother deserted him, and his paternal grandparents raised him in Lemberg (now, Lviv) until the age of fourteen, after which he moved to his father’s estate in Bukovina. Buber would only see his mother once more, when he was in his early thirties. This encounter he described as a “mismeeting” that helped teach him the meaning of genuine meeting. His grandfather, Solomon, was a community leader and scholar who edited the first critical edition of the Midrashim traditional biblical commentaries. Solomon’s estate helped support Buber until it was confiscated during World War II.
Buber was educated in a multi-lingual setting and spoke German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, English, French and Italian, with a reading knowledge of Spanish, Latin, Greek and Dutch. At the age of fourteen he began to be tormented with the problem of imagining and conceptualizing the infinity of time. Reading Kant’s Prolegomena to All Future Metaphysics helped relieve this anxiety. Shortly after he became taken with Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which he began to translate into Polish. However, this infatuation with Nietzsche was short lived and later in life Buber stated that Kant gave him philosophic freedom, whereas Nietzsche deprived him of it.
Buber spent his first year of university studies at Vienna. Ultimately the theatre culture of Vienna and the give-and-take of the seminar format impressed him more than any of his particular professors. The winters of 1897-98 and 1898-99 were spent at the University of Leipzig, where he took courses in philosophy and art history and participated in the psychiatric clinics of Wilhelm Wundt and Paul Flecksig (see Schmidt’s Martin Buber’s Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1897-1909 for an analysis of Buber’s life during university studies and a list of courses taken). He considered becoming a psychiatrist, but was upset at the poor treatment and conditions of the patients.
The summer of 1899 he went to the University of Zürich, where he met his wife Paula Winkler (1877-1958, pen name Georg Munk). Paula was formally converted from Catholicism to Judaism. They had two children, Rafael (1900-90) and Eva (1901-92).
From 1899-1901 Buber attended the University of Berlin, where he took several courses with Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel. He later explained that his philosophy of dialogue was a conscious reaction against their notion of inner experience (Erlebnis) (see Mendes-Flohr’s From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Transformation of German Social Thought for an analysis of the influence of Dilthey and Simmel). During this time Buber gave lectures on the seventeenth century Lutheran mystic Jakob Böhme, publishing an article on him in 1901 and writing his dissertation for the University of Vienna in 1904 “On the History of the Problem of Individuation: Nicholas of Cusa and Jakob Böhme.” After this he lived in Florence from 1905-06, working on a habilitation thesis in art history that he never completed.
In 1904 Buber came across Tzevaat Ha-RIBASH (The Testament of Rabbi Israel, the Baal-Shem Tov), a collection of sayings by the founder of Hasidism. Buber began to record Yiddish Hasidic legends in German, publishing The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, on the Rabbi of Breslov, in 1906, and The Legend of the Baal-Shem in 1907. The Legend of the Baal-Shem sold very well and influenced writers Ranier Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka and Herman Hesse. Buber was a habitual re-writer and editor of all of his writings, which went through many editions even in his lifetime, and many of these legends were later rewritten and included in his later two volume Tales of the Hasidim (1947).
At the same time Buber emerged as a leader in the Zionist movement. Initially under the influence of Theodor Herzl, Buber’s Democratic Faction of the Zionist Party, but dramatically broke away from Herzl after the 1901 Fifth Zionist Congress when the organization refused to fund their cultural projects. In contrast to Herzl’s territorial Zionism, Buber’s Zionism, like that of Ahad Ha’am, was based on cultural renewal. Buber put together the first all-Jewish art exhibition in 1901, and in 1902 co-founded Jüdischer Verlag, a publishing house that produced collections of Jewish poetry and art, with poet Berthold Feiwel, graphic artist Ephraim Mosche Lilien and writer Davis Trietsche. This dedication to the arts continued through the 1910s and 20s, as Buber published essays on theatre and helped to develop both the Hellerau Experimental Theatre and the Dusseldorf Playhouse (see Biemann and Urban’s works for Buber’s notion of Jewish Renaissance and Braiterman for Buber’s relation to contemporaneous artistic movements).
Buber was the editor of the weekly Zionist paper Die Welt in 1901 and of Die Gesellschaft, a collection of forty sociopsychological monographs,from 1905-12 (On Die Gesellschaft see Mendes-Flohr’s From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Transformation of German Social Thought). His influence as a Jewish leader grew with a series of lectures given between 1909-19 in Prague for the Zionist student group Bar Kochba, later published as “Speeches on Judaism,” and was established by his editorship of the influential monthly journal Der Jude from 1916-24. He also founded, and from 1926-29 co-edited, Die Kreatur with theologian Joseph Wittig and physician Viktor von Weizsäcker. Always active in constructing dialogue across borders, this was the first high level periodical to be co-edited by members of the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic faiths. Buber continued inter-religious dialogue throughout his life, corresponding for instance with Protestant theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.
Despite his prolific publishing endeavors, Buber struggled to complete I and Thou. First drafted in 1916 and then revised in 1919, it was not until he went through a self-styled three-year spiritual ascesis in which he only read Hasidic material and Descartes’ Discourse on Method that he was able to finally publish this groundbreaking work in 1923. After I and Thou, Buber is best known for his translation of the Hebrew Bible into German. This monumental work began in 1925 in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig, but was not completed until 1961, more than 30 years after Rosenzweig’sdeath.
In 1923 Buber was appointed the first lecturer in “Jewish Religious Philosophy and Ethics” at the University of Frankfurt. He resigned after Hitler came into power in 1933 and was banned from teaching until 1935, but continued to conduct Jewish-Christian dialogues and organize Jewish education until he left for British Palestine in 1938. Initially Buber had planned to teach half a year in Palestine at Hebrew University, an institution he had helped to conceive and found, and half a year in Germany. But Kristallnacht, the devastation of his library in Heppenheim and charges of Reichsfluchtsteuer (Tax on Flight from the Reich), because he had not obtained a legal emigration permit, forced his relocation.
Buber engaged in “spiritual resistance” against Nazism through communal education, seeking to give a positive basis for Jewish identity by organizing the teaching of Hebrew, the Bible and the Talmud. He reopened an influential and prestigious Frankfurt center for Jewish studies, Freies jüdisches Lehrhaus (Free Jewish House of Learning) in 1933 and directed it until his emigration. In 1934 he created and directed the “Central Office for Jewish Adult Education” for the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (National Representation of German Jews).
After giving well-attended talks in Berlin at the Berlin College of Jewish Education and the Berlin Philharmonie, Buber, who as one of the leading Jewish public figures in Germany became known as the “arch-Jew” by the Nazis, was banned from speaking in public or at closed sessions of Jewish organizations. Despite extreme political pressure, he continued to give lectures and published several essays, including “The Question to the Single One” in 1936, which uses an analysis of Kierkegaard to attack the foundations of totalitarianism (see Between Man and Man).
After his emigration Buber became Chair of the Department of Sociology of Hebrew University, which he held until his retirement in 1951.Continuing the educational work he had begun in Germany, Buber established Beth Midrash l’Morei Am (School for the Education of Teachers of the People) in 1949 and directed it until 1953. This prepared teachers to live and work in the hostels and settlements of the newly arriving emigrants. Education was based on the notion of dialogue, with small classes, mutual questioning and answering, and psychological help for those coming from detention camps.
From the beginning of his Zionist activities Buber advocated Jewish-Arab unity in ending British rule of Palestine and a binational state. In 1925 he helped found Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) and in 1939 helped form the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, which consolidated all of the bi-national groups. In 1942, the League created a political platform that was used as the basis for the political party the Ichud (or Ihud, that is, Union). For his work for Jewish-Arab parity Dag Hammarskjöld (then Secretary-General of the United Nations) nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959.
In addition to his educational and political activities, the 1940s and 50s saw an outburst of more than a dozen books on philosophy, politics and religion, and numerous public talks throughout America and Europe. Buber received many awards, including the Goethe Prize of the University of Hamburg (1951), the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1953), the first Israeli honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1961), and the Erasmus Prize (1963). However, Buber’s most cherished honor was an informal student celebration of his 85th birthday, in which some 400 students from Hebrew University rallied outside his house and made him an honorary member of their student union.
On June 13, 1965 Martin Buber died. The leading Jewish political figures of the time attended his funeral. Classes were cancelled and hundreds of students lined up to say goodbye as Buber was buried in the Har-Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.
2. Philosophical Anthropology
Martin Buber’s major philosophic works in English are the widely read I and Thou (1923), a collection of essays from the 1920s and 30s published as Between Man and Man, a collection of essays from the 1950s published as The Knowledge of Man: Selected Essays and Good and Evil: Two Interpretations (1952). For many thinkers Buber is the philosopher of I and Thou and he himself often suggested one begin with that text. However, his later essays articulate a complex and worthy philosophical anthropology.
Buber called himself a “philosophical anthropologist” in his 1938 inaugural lectures as Professor of Social Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, entitled “What is Man?” (in Between Man and Man). He states that he is explicitly responding to Kant’s question “What is man?” and acknowledges in his biographic writings that he has never fully shaken off Kant’s influence. But while Buber finds certain similarities between his thought and Kant’s, particularly in ethics, he explains in “Elements of the Interhuman” (in The Knowledge of Man, 1957) that their origin and goal differ. The origin for Buber is always lived experience, which means something personal, affective, corporeal and unique, and embedded in a world, in history and in sociality. The goal is to study the wholeness of man, especially that which has been overlooked or remains hidden. As an anthropologist he wants to observe and investigate human life and experience as it is lived, beginning with one’s own particular experience; as a philosophic anthropologist he wants to make these particular experiences that elude the universality of language understood. Any comprehensive overview of Buber’s philosophy is hampered by his disdain for systemization. Buber stated that ideologization was the worst thing that could happen to his philosophy and never argued for the objectivity of his concepts. Knowing only the reality of his own experience, he appealed to others who had analogous experiences.
Buber begins these lectures by asserting that man only becomes a problem to himself and asks “What is man?” in periods of social and cosmic homelessness. Targeting Kant and Hegel, he argues that while this questioning begins in solitude, in order for man to find who he is, he must overcome solitude and the whole way of conceiving of knowledge and reality that is based on solitude. Buber accuses Hegel of denigrating the concrete human person and community in favor of universal reason and argues that man will never be at home or overcome his solitude in the universe that Hegel postulates. With its emphasis on history, Hegel locates perfection in time rather than in space. This type of future-oriented perfection, Buber argues, can be thought, but it cannot be imagined, felt or lived. Our relationship to this type of perfection can only rest on faith in a guarantor for the future.
Instead, Buber locates realization in relations between creatures. Overcoming our solitude, which tends to oscillate between conceiving of the self as absorbed in the all (collectivism) and the all as absorbed into the self (solipsistic mysticism), we realize that we always exist in the presence of other selves, and that the self is a part of reality only insofar as it is relational. In contrast to the traditional philosophic answers to “What is man?” that fixate on reason, self-consciousness or free will, Buber argues that man is the being who faces an “other”, and a human home is built from relations of mutual confirmation.
b. “I-Thou” and “I-It”
Martin Buber’s most influential philosophic work, I and Thou (1923), is based on a distinction between two word-pairs that designate two basic modes of existence: I-Thou” (Ich-Du) and “I-It” (Ich-Es). The “I-Thou” relation is the pure encounter of one whole unique entity with another in such a way that the other is known without being subsumed under a universal. Not yet subject to classification or limitation, the “Thou” is not reducible to spatial or temporal characteristics. In contrast to this the “I-It” relation is driven by categories of “same” and “different” and focuses on universal definition. An “I-It” relation experiences a detached thing, fixed in space and time, while an “I-Thou” relation participates in the dynamic, living process of an “other”.
Buber characterizes “I-Thou” relations as “dialogical” and “I-It” relations as “monological.” In his 1929 essay “Dialogue,” Buber explains that monologue is not just a turning away from the other but also a turning back on oneself (Rückbiegung). To perceive the other as an It is to take them as a classified and hence predictable and manipulable object that exists only as a part of one’s own experiences. In contrast, in an “I-Thou” relation both participants exist as polarities of relation, whose center lies in the between (Zwischen).
The “I” of man differs in both modes of existence. The “I” may be taken as the sum of its inherent attributes and acts, or it may be taken as a unitary, whole, irreducible being. The “I” of the “I-It” relation is a self-enclosed, solitary individual (der Einzige) that takes itself as the subject of experience. The “I” of the “I-Thou” relation is a whole, focused, single person (der Einzelne) that knows itself as subject. In later writings Buber clarified that inner life is not exhausted by these two modes of being. However, when man presents himself to the world he takes up one of them.
While each of us is born an individual, Buber draws on the Aristotelian notion of entelechy, or innate self-realization, to argue that the development of this individuality, or sheer difference, into a whole personality, or fulfilled difference, is an ongoing achievement that must be constantly maintained. In I and Thou, Buber explains that the self becomes either more fragmentary or more unified through its relationships to others. This emphasis on intersubjectivity is the main difference between I and Thou and Buber’s earlier Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (1913). Like I and Thou, Daniel distinguishes betweentwo modes of existence: orienting (Rientierung), which is a scientific grasp of the world that links experiences, and realization (Verwirklichung), which is immersion in experience that leads to a state of wholeness. While these foreshadow the “I-It” and “I-Thou” modes, neither expresses a relationship to a real “other”. In I and Thou man becomes whole not in relation to himself but only through a relation to another self. The formation of the “I” of the “I-Thou” relation takes place in a dialogical relationship in which each partner is both active and passive and each is affirmed as a whole being. Only in this relationship is the other truly an “other”, and only in this encounter can the “I” develop as a whole being.
Buber identifies three spheres of dialogue, or “I Thou” relations, which correspond to three types of otherness. We exchange in language, broadly conceived, with man, transmit below language with nature, and receive above language with spirit. Socrates is offered as the paradigmatic figure of dialogue with man, Goethe, of dialogue with nature, and Jesus, of dialogue with spirit. That we enter into dialogue with man is easily seen; that we also enter into dialogue with nature and spirit is less obvious and the most controversial and misunderstood aspect of I and Thou. However, if we focus on the “I-Thou” relationship as a meeting of singularities, we can see that if we truly enter into relation with a tree or cat, for instance, we apprehend it not as a thing with certain attributes, presenting itself as a concept to be dissected, but as a singular being, one whole confronting another.
Dialogue with spirit is the most difficult to explicate because Buber uses several different images for it. At times he describes dialogue with spirit as dialogue with the “eternal Thou,” which he sometimes calls God, which is eternally “other”. Because of this, I and Thou was widely embraced by Protestant theologians, who also held the notion that no intermediary was necessary for religious knowledge. Buber also argues that the precondition for a dialogic community is that each member be in a perpetual relation to a common center, or “eternal Thou”. Here the “eternal Thou” represents the presence of relationality as an eternal value. At other times, Buber describes dialogue with spirit as the encounter with form that occurs in moments of artistic inspiration or the encounter with personality that occurs in intensive engagement with another thinker’s works. Spiritual address is that which calls us to transcend our present state of being through creative action. The eternal form can either be an image of the self one feels called to become or some object or deed that one feels called to bring into the world.
Besides worries over Buber’s description of man’s dialogue with nature and spirit, three other main complaints have been raised against I and Thou. The first, mentioned by Walter Kaufmann in the introduction to his translation of I and Thou, is that the language is overly obscure and romantic, so that there is a risk that the reader will be aesthetically swept along into thinking the text is more profound than it actually is. Buber acknowledges that the text was written in a state of inspiration. For this reason it is especially important to also read his later essays, which are more clearly written and rigorously argued. E. la B. Cherbonnier notes in “Interrogation of Martin Buber” that every objective criticism of Buber’s philosophy would belong, by definition, to the realm of “I-It”. Given the incommensurability of the two modes, this means no objective criticism of the “I-Thou” mode is possible. In his response Buber explains that he is concerned to avoid internal contradiction and welcomes criticism. However, he acknowledges that his intention was not to create an objective philosophic system but to communicate an experience.
Finally, I and Thou is often criticized for denigrating philosophic and scientific knowledge by elevating “I-Thou” encounters above “I-It” encounters. It is important to note that Buber by no means renounces the usefulness and necessity of “I-It” modes. His point is rather to investigate what it is to be a person and what modes of activity further the development of the person. Though one is only truly human to the extent one is capable of “I-Thou” relationships, the “It” world allows us to classify, function and navigate. It gives us all scientific knowledge and is indispensable for life. There is a graduated structure of “I-It” relations as they approximate an “I-Thou” relationship, but the “I-Thou” remains contrasted to even the highest stage of an “I-It” relation, which still contains some objectification. However, each “Thou” must sometimes turn into an “It”, for in responding to an “other” we bind it to representation. Even the “eternal Thou” is turned into an It for us when religion, ethics and art become fixed and mechanical. However, an “I-It” relation can be constituted in such a way as to leave open the possibility of further “I-Thou” encounters, or so as to close off that possibility.
c. Distance and Relation
In I and Thou Martin Buber discusses the a priori basis of the relation, presenting the “I-Thou” encounter as the more primordial one, both in the life of humans, as when an infant reaches for its mother, and in the life of a culture, as seen in relationships in primitive cultures. However, in the 1951 essay “Distance and Relation,” written in the midst of the Palestinian conflicts, he explains that while this may be true from an anthropological perspective, from an ontological one it must be said that distance (Urdistanz) is the precondition for the emergence of relation (Beziehung), whether “I-Thou” or “I-It”. Primal distance sets up the possibility of these two basic word pairs, and the between (Zwischen) emerges out of them. Humans find themselves primally distanced and differentiated; it is our choice to then thin or thicken the distance by entering into an “I-Thou” relation with an “other” or withdrawing into an “I-It” mode of existence.
Only man truly distances, Buber argues, and hence only man has a “world.” Man is the being through whose existence what “is” becomes recognized for itself. Animals respond to the other only as embedded within their own experience, but even when faced with an enemy, man is capable of seeing his enemy as a being with similar emotions and motivations. Even if these are unknown , we are able to recognize that these unknown qualities of the other are “real” while our fantasies about the other are not. Setting at a distance is hence not the consequence of a reflective, “It” attitude, but the precondition for all human encounters with the world, including reflection.
Buber argues that every stage of the spirit, however primal, wishes to form and express itself. Form assumes communication with an interlocutor who will recognize and share in the form one has made. Distance and relation mutually correspond because in order for the world to be grasped as a whole by a person, it must be distanced and independent from him and yet also include him, and his attitude, perception, and relation to it. Consequently, one cannot truly have a world unless one receives confirmation of one’s own substantial and independent identity in one’s relations with others.
Relation presupposes distance, but distance can occur without genuine relation. Buber explains that distance is the universal situation of our existence; relation is personal becoming in the situation. Relation presupposes a genuine other and only man sees the other as other. This other withstands and confirms the self and hence meets our primal instinct for relation. Just as we have the instinct to name, differentiate, and make independent a lasting and substantial world, we also have the instinct to relate to what we have made independent. Only man truly relates, and when we move away from relation we give up our specifically human status.
d. Confirmation and Inclusion
Confirmation is a central theme of Martin Buber’s philosophic texts as well as his articles on education and politics. Buber argues that, while animals sometimes turn to humans in a declaring or announcing mode, they do not need to be told that they are what they are and do not see whom they address as an existence independent of their own experience. But because man experiences himself as indeterminate, his actualization of one possibility over another needs confirmation. In confirmation one meets, chooses and recognizes the other as a subject with the capacity to actualize one’s own potential. In order for confirmation to be complete one must know that he is being made present to the other.
As becomes clear in his articles on education, confirmation is not the same as acceptance or unconditional affirmation of everything the other says or does. Since we are not born completely focused and differentiated and must struggle to achieve a unified personality, sometimes we have to help an “other” to actualize themselves against their own immediate inclination. In these cases confirmation denotes a grasp of the latent unity of the other and confirmation of what the other can become. Nor does confirmation imply that a dialogic or “I-Thou” relation must always be fully mutual. Helping relations, such as educating or healing, are necessarily asymmetrical.
In the course of his writing Buber uses various terms, such as “embrace” or “inclusion” (Umfassung), “imagining the real” (Realphantasie), and in reference to Kant, “synthesizing apperception,” to describe the grasp of the other that is necessary for confirmation and that occurs in an “I-Thou” relation. “Imagining the real” is a capacity; “making present” is an event, the highest expression of this capacity in a genuine meeting of two persons. This form of knowledge is not the subsumption of the particularity of the other under a universal category. When one embraces the pain of another, this is not a sense of what pain is in general, but knowledge of this specific pain of this specific person. Nor is this identification with them, since the pain always remains their own specific pain. Buber differentiates inclusion from empathy. In empathy one’s own concrete personality and situation is lost in aesthetic absorption in the other. In contrast, through inclusion, one person lives through a common event from the standpoint of another person, without giving up their own point of view.
e. Good and Evil
Martin Buber’s 1952 Good and Evil: Two Interpretations answers the question “What is man?” in a slightly different way than the essays in Between Man and Man and The Knowledge of Man. Rather than focusing on relation, Good and Evil: Two Interpretations emphasizes man’s experience of possibility and struggle to become actualized. Framing his discussion around an analysis of psalms and Zoroastrian and Biblical myths, Buber interprets the language of sin, judgment and atonement in purely existential terms that are influenced by Hasidic Judaism, Kant’s analysis of caprice (Willkür) and focused will (Wille), and Kierkegaard’s discussion of anxiety. Buber argues that good and evil are not two poles of the same continuum, but rather direction (Richtung) and absence of direction, or vortex (Wirbel). Evil is a formless, chaotic swirling of potentiality; in the life of man it is experienced as endless possibility pulling in all directions. Good is that which forms and determines this possibility, limiting it into a particular direction. We manifest the good to the extent we become a singular being with a singular direction.
Buber explains that imagination is the source of both good and evil. The “evil urge” in the imagination generates endless possibilities. This is fundamental and necessary, and only becomes “evil” when it is completely separated from direction. Man’s task is not to eradicate the evil urge, but to reunite it with the good, and become a whole being. The first stage of evil is “sin,” occasional directionlessness. Endless possibility can be overwhelming, leading man to grasp at anything, distracting and busying himself, in order to not have to make a real, committed choice. The second stage of evil is “wickedness,” when caprice is embraced as a deformed substitute for genuine will and becomes characteristic. If occasional caprice is sin, and embraced caprice is wickedness, creative power in conjunction with will is wholeness. The “good urge” in the imagination limits possibility by saying no to manifold possibility and directing passion in order to decisively realize potentiality. In so doing it redeems evil by transforming it from anxious possibility into creativity. Because of the temptation of possibility, one is not whole or good once and for all. Rather, this is an achievement that must be constantly accomplished.
Buber interprets the claim that in the end the good are rewarded and the bad punished as the experience the bad have of their own fragmentation, insubstantiality and “non-existence.” Arguing that evil can never be done with the whole being, but only out of inner contradiction, Buber states that the lie or divided spirit is the specific evil that man has introduced into nature. Here “lie” denotes a self that evades itself, as manifested not just in a gap between will and action, but more fundamentally, between will and will. Similarly, “truth” is not possessed but is rather lived in the person who affirms his or her particular self by choosing direction. This process, Buber argues, is guided by the presentiment implanted in each of us of who we are meant to become.
f. Hindrances to Dialogue
Along with the evasion of responsibility and refusal to direct one’s possibilities described in Good and Evil: Two Interpretations (1952), Buber argues in “Elements of the Interhuman” (1957, in The Knowledge of Man) that the main obstacle to dialogue is the duality of “being” (Sein) and “seeming” (Schein). Seeming is the essential cowardice of man, the lying that frequently occurs in self-presentation when one seeks to communicate an image and make a certain impression. The fullest manifestation of this is found in the propagandist, who tries to impose his own reality upon others. Corresponding to this is the rise of “existential mistrust” described in Buber’s 1952 address at Carnegie Hall, “Hope for this Hour” (in Pointing the Way). Mistrust takes it for granted that the other dissembles, so that rather than genuine meeting, conversation becomes a game of unmasking and uncovering unconscious motives. Buber criticizes Marx, Nietzsche and Freud for meeting the other with suspicion and perceiving the truth of the other as mere ideology. Similarly, in his acceptance speech for the 1953 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, “Genuine Dialogue and the Possibilities of Peace” (in Pointing the Way), Buber argues the precondition for peace is dialogue, which in turn rests on trust. In mistrust one presupposes that the other is likewise filled with mistrust, leading to a dangerous reserve and lack of candor.
As it is a key component of his philosophic anthropology that one becomes a unified self through relations with others, Buber was also quite critical of psychiatrist Carl Jung and the philosophers of existence. He argued that subsuming reality under psychological categories cuts man off from relations and does not treat the whole person, and especially objected to Jung’s reduction of psychic phenomenon to categories of the private unconscious. Despite his criticisms of Freud and Jung, Buber was intensely interested in psychiatry and gave a series of lectures at the Washington School of Psychiatry at the request of Leslie H. Farber (1957, in The Knowledge of Man) and engaged in a public dialogue with Carl Rogers at the University of Michigan (see Anderson and Cissna’s The Martin Buber-Carl Rogers Dialogue: A New Transcript With Commentary). In these lectures, as well as his 1951 introduction to Hans Trüb’s Heilung aus der Begegnung (in English as “Healing Through Meeting” in Pointing the Way), Buber criticizes the tendency of psychology to “resolve” guilt without addressing the damaged relations at the root of the feeling. In addition to Farber, Rogers and Trüb, Buber’s dialogical approach to healing influenced a number of psychologists and psychoanalysts, including Viktor von Weizsäcker, Ludwig Binswanger and Arie Sborowitz.
Often labeled an existentialist, Buber rejected the association. He asserted that while his philosophy of dialogue presupposes existence, he knew of no philosophy of existence that truly overcomes solitude and lets in otherness far enough. Sartre in particular makes self-consciousness his starting point. But in an “I-Thou” relation one does not have a split self, a moment of both experience and self-reflection. Indeed, self-consciousness is one of the main barriers to spontaneous meeting. Buber explains the inability to grasp otherness as perceptual inadequacy that is fostered as a defensive mechanism in an attempt to not be held responsible to what is addressing one. Only when the other is accorded reality are we held accountable to him; only when we accord ourselves a genuine existence are we held accountable to ourselves. Both are necessary for dialogue, and both require courageous confirmation of oneself and the other.
In Buber's examples of non-dialogue, the twin modes of distance and relation lose balance and connectivity, and one pole overshadows the other, collapsing the distinction between them. For example, mysticism (absorption in the all) turns into narcissism (a retreat into myself), and collectivism (absorption in the crowd) turns into lack of engagement with individuals (a retreat into individualism). Buber identifies this same error in Emmanuel Lévinas’ philosophy. While Lévinas acknowledged Buber as one of his main influences, the two had a series of exchanges, documented in Levinas & Buber: Dialogue and Difference, in which Buber argued that Lévinas had misunderstood and misapplied his philosophy. In Buber’s notion of subject formation, the self is always related to and responding to an “other”. But when Lévinas embraces otherness, he renders the other transcendent, so that the self always struggles to reach out to and adequately respond to an infinite other. This throws the self back into the attitude of solitude that Buber sought to escape.
3. Religious Writings
a. Hasidic Judaism
In his 1952 book Eclipse of God, Martin Buber explains that philosophy usually begins with a wrong set of premises: that an isolated, inquiring mind experiences a separate, exterior world, and that the absolute is found in universals. He prefers the religious, which in contrast, is founded on relation, and means the covenant of the absolute with the particular. Religion addresses whole being, while philosophy, like science, fragments being. This emphasis on relation, particularity and wholeness is found even in Buber’s earliest writings, such as his 1904 dissertation on the panentheistic German mystics Nicholas of Cusa and Jakob Böhme, “On the History of the Problem of Individuation: Nicholas of Cusa and Jakob Böhme.” Nicholas of Cusa postulates that God is a “coincidence of opposites” and that He “contracts” himself into each creature, so that each creature best approximates God by actualizing its own unique identity. Böhme similarly presents God as both transcendent and immanent, and elaborates that perfection of individuality is developed through mutual interaction.
The same elements that attracted Buber to Nicholas of Cusa and Böhme he found fulfilled in Hasidism, producing collections of Hasidic legends and anecdotes (Tales of Rabbi Nachman, The Legend of the Baal-Shem and Tales of the Hasidim) as well as several commentaries (including On Judaism, The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism and The Way of Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidism). The Hebrew tsimtsum expresses God’s “contraction” into the manifold world so that relation can emerge. In distinction from the one, unlimited source, this manifold is limited, but has the choice and responsibility to effect the unification (yihud) of creation. The restoration of unity is described as “the freeing of the sparks,” understood as the freeing of the divine element from difference through the hallowing of the everyday.
In addition to defining Hasidism by its quest for unity, Buber contrasts the Hasidic insistence on the ongoing redemption of the world with the Christian belief that redemption has already occurred through Jesus Christ. Each is charged with the task to redeem their self and the section of creation they occupy. Redemption takes place in the relation between man and creator, and is neither solely dependent on God’s grace nor on man’s will. No original sin can prohibit man from being able to turn to God. However, Buber is not an unqualified voluntarist. As in his political essays, he describes himself as a realistic meliorist. One cannot simply will redemption. Rather, each person’s will does what it can with the particular concrete situation that faces it.
The Hebrew notions of kavana, or concentrated inner intention, and teshuva, or (re)turning to God with one’s whole being, express the conviction that no person or action is so sinful that it cannot be made holy and dedicated to God. Man hallows creation by being himself and working in his own sphere. There is no need to be other, or to reach beyond the human. Rather, one’s ordinary life activities are to be done in such a way that they are sanctified and lead to the unification of the self and creation. The legends and anecdotes of the historic zaddikim (Hasidic spiritual and community leaders) that Buber recorded depict persons who exemplify the hallowing of the everyday through the dedication of the whole person.
If hallowing is successful, the everyday is the religious, and there is no split between the political, social or religious spheres. Consequently Buber rejects the notion that God is to be found through mystical ecstasy in which one loses one’s sense of self and is lifted out of everyday experience. Some commentators, such as Paul Mendes-Flohr and Maurice Friedman, view this as a turn away from his earlier preoccupation with mysticism in texts such as Ecstatic Confessions (1909) and Daniel: Dialogues on Realization (1913). In later writings, such as “The Question to the Single One” (1936, in Between Man and Man) and “What is Common to All” (1958, in The Knowledge of Man), Buber argues that special states of unity are experiences of self-unity, not identification with God, and that many forms of mysticism express a flight from the task of dealing with the realities of a concrete situation and working with others to build a common world into a private sphere of illusion. Buber is especially critical of Kierkegaard’s assertion that the religious transcends the ethical. Drawing on Hasidic thought, he argues that creation is not an obstacle on the way to God, but the way itself.
Buber did not strictly follow Judaism’s religious laws. Worried that an “internal slavery” to religious law stunts spiritual growth, he did not believe that revelation could ever be law-giving in itself, but that revelation becomes legislation through the self-contradiction of man. Principles require acting in a prescribed way, but the uniqueness of each situation and encounter requires each to be approached anew. He could not blindly accept laws but felt compelled to ask continually if a particular law was addressing him in his particular situation. While rejecting the universality of particular laws, this expresses a meta-principle of dialogical readiness.
Buber’s interpretation of Hasidism is not without its critics. Gershom Scholem in particular accused Buber of selecting elements of Hasidism to confirm his “existentialist” philosophy. Scholem argued that the emphasis on particulars and the concrete that Buber so admired does not exist in Hasidism and that Buber’s erroneous impressions derive from his attention to oral material and personalities at the expense of theoretical texts. In general Buber had little historical or scholarly interest in Hasidism. He took Hasidism to be less a historical movement than a paradigmatic mode of communal renewal and was engaged by the dynamic meaning of the anecdotes and the actions they pointed to. In a 1943 conversation with Scholem, Buber stated that if Scholem’s interpretation of Hassidism was accurate, then he would have labored for forty years over Hasidic sources in vain, for they would no longer interest him.
b. Biblical Studies
In addition to his work with Hasidism, Martin Buber also translated the Bible from Hebrew into German with Franz Rosenzweig, and produced several religious analyses, including Kingship of God, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, On the Bible: Eighteen Studies, The Prophetic Faith and Two Types of Faith. Counter to religious thinkers such as Karl Barth and Emmanuel Lévinas, Buber argues that God is not simply a wholly transcendent other, but also wholly same, closer to each person than his or her own self. However, God can be known only in his relation to man, not apart from it. Buber interprets religious texts, and the Bible in particular, as the history of God’s relation to man from the perspective of man. Thus, it is not accurate to say that God changes throughout the texts, but that the theophany, the human experience of God, changes. Consequently, Buber characterizes his approach as tradition criticism, which emphasizes experiential truth and uncovers historical themes, in contrast to source criticism, which seeks to verify the accuracy of texts.
When translating the Bible, Buber’s goal was to make the German version as close to the original oral Hebrew as possible. Rather than smoothing over difficult or unclear passages, he preferred to leave them rough. One important method was to identify keywords (Leitworte) and study the linguistic relationship between the parts of the text, uncovering the repetition of word stems and same or similar sounding words. Buber also tried to ward against Platonizing tendencies by shifting from static and impersonal terms to active and personal terms. For instance, whereas kodesh had previously been translated “holy,” he used the term “hallowing” to emphasize activity. Similarly, God is not the “Being” but the “Existing,” and what had been rendered “Lord” became “I,” “Thou” and “He.”
Buber made two important distinctions between forms of faith in his religious studies. In the 1954 essay “Prophecy, Apocalyptic, and the Historical Hour” (in Pointing the Way), he distinguishes between “apocalyptic” approaches, which dualistically separate God from world, and regard evil as unredeemable, and “prophetic” stances, which preserve the unity of God with the world and promise the fulfillment of creation, allowing evil to find direction and serve the good. In the prophetic attitude one draws oneself together so that one can contribute to history, but in the apocalyptic attitude one fatalistically resigns oneself. The tension between these two tendencies is illustrated in his 1943 historical novel Gog and Magog: A Novel (also published as For the Sake of Heaven: A Hasidic Chronicle-Novel).
In Two Types of Faith (1951), Buber distinguishes between the messianism of Jesus and the messianism of Paul and John. While he had great respect for Jesus as a man, Buber did not believe that Jesus took himself to be divine. Jesus’ form of faith corresponds to emunah, faith in God’s continual presence in the life of each person. In contrast, the faith of Paul and John, which Buber labels pistis, is that God exists in Jesus. They have a dualistic notion of faith and action, and exemplify the apocalyptic belief in irredeemable original sin and the impossibility of fulfilling God’s law. Buber accuses Paul and John of transforming myth, which is historically and biographically situated, into gnosis, and replacing faith as trust and openness to encounter with faith in an image.
4. Political Philosophy
Martin Buber’s cultural Zionism, with its early emphasis on aesthetic development, was inextricably linked to his form of socialism. Buber argues that it is an ever-present human need to feel at home in the world while experiencing confirmation of one’s functional autonomy from others. The development of culture and aesthetic capacities is not an end in itself but the precondition for a fully actualized community, or “Zionism of realization” (Verwirklichungszionismus). The primary goal of history is genuine community, which is characterized by an inner disposition toward a life in common. This refutes the common misconception that an “I-Thou” relation is an exclusive affective relation that cannot work within a communal setting. Buber critiques collectivization for creating groups by atomizing individuals and cutting them off from one another. Genuine community, in contrast, is a group bound by common experiences with the disposition and persistent readiness to enter into relation with any other member, each of whom is confirmed as a differentiated being. He argues that this is best achieved in village communes such as the Israeli kibbutzim.
In his 1947 study of utopian socialism, Paths in Utopia, and 1951 essay “Society and the State” (in Pointing the Way), Buber distinguished between the social and political principles. The political principle, exemplified in the socialism of Marx and Lenin, tends towards centralization of power, sacrificing society for the government in the service of an abstract, universal utopianism. In contrast, influenced by his close friend, anarchist Gustav Landauer, Buber postulates a social principle in which the government serves to promote community. Genuine change, he insists, does not occur in a top-down fashion, but only from a renewal of man’s relations. Rather than ever-increasing centralization, he argues in favor of federalism and the maximum decentralization compatible with given social conditions, which would be an ever-shifting demarcation line of freedom.
Seeking to retrieve a positive notion of utopianism, Buber characterizes genuine utopian socialism as the ongoing realization of the latent potential for community in a concrete place. Rather than seeking to impose an abstract ideal, he argues that genuine community grows organically out of the topical and temporal needs of a given situation and people. Rejecting economic determinism for voluntarism, he insists that socialism is possible to the extent that people will a revitalization of communal life. Similarly, his Zionism is not based on the notion of a final state of redemption but an immediately attainable goal to be worked for. This shifts the notion of utopian socialism from idealization to actualization and equality.
Despite his support of the communal life of the kibbutzim, Buber decried European methods of colonization and argued that the kibbutzim would only be genuine communities if they were not closed off from the world. Unlike nationalism, which sees the nation as an end in itself, he hoped Israel would be more than a nation and would usher in a new mode of being. The settlers must learn to live with Arabs in a vital peace, not merely next to them in a pseudo-peace that he feared was just a prelude to war. As time went on, Buber became increasingly critical of Israel, stating that he feared a victory for the Jews over the Arabs would mean a defeat for Zionism.
Buber’s criticism of Israeli policies led to many public debates with its political leaders, in particular David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. In a relatively early essay, “The Task” (1922), Buber argued that the politicization of all life was the greatest evil facing man. Politics inserts itself into every aspect of life, breeding mistrust. This conviction strengthened over time, and in his 1946 essay “A Tragic Conflict” (in A Land of Two Peoples) he described the notion of a politicized “surplus” conflict. When everything becomes politicized, imagined conflict disguises itself as real, tragic conflict. Buber viewed Ben-Gurion as representative of this politicizing tendency. Nevertheless, Buber remained optimistic, believing that the greater the crisis the greater the possibility for an elemental reversal and rebirth of the individual and society.
Buber’s relationship to violence was complicated. He argued that violence does not lead to freedom or rebirth but only renewed decline, and deplored revolutions whose means were not in alignment with their end. Afraid that capital punishment would only create martyrs and stymie dialogue, he protested the sentencing of both Jewish and Arab militants and called the execution of Nazi Adolf Eichmann a grave mistake. However, he insisted that he was not a pacifist and that, sometimes, just wars must be fought. This was most clearly articulated in his 1938 exchange of letters with Gandhi, who compared Nazi Germany to the plight of Indians in South Africa and suggested that the Jews use satyagraha, or non-violent “truth-force.” Buber was quite upset at the comparison of the two situations and replied that satyagraha depends upon testimony. In the face of total loss of rights, mass murder and forced oblivion, no such testimony was possible and satyagraha was ineffective (see Pointing the Way and The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue).
5. Philosophy of Education
In addition to his work as an educator, Martin Buber also delivered and published several essays on philosophy of education, including “Education,” given in 1925 in Heidelberg (in Between Man and Man). Against the progressive tone of the conference, Buber argued that the opposite of compulsion and discipline is communion, not freedom. The student is neither entirely active, so that the educator can merely free his or her creative powers, nor is the student purely passive, so that the educator merely pours in content. Rather, in their encounter, the educative forces of the instructor meet the released instinct of the student. The possibility for such communion rests on mutual trust.
The student trusts in the educator, while the educator trusts that the student will take the opportunity to fully develop herself. As the teacher awakens and confirms the student’s ability to develop and communicate herself, the teacher learns to better encounter the particular and unique in each student. In contrast to the propagandist, the true educator influences but does not interfere. This is not a desire to change the other, but rather to let what is right take seed and grow in an appropriate form. Hence they have a dialogical relationship, but not one of equal reciprocity. If the instructor is to do the job it cannot be a relationship between equals.
Buber explains that one cannot prepare students for every situation, but one can guide them to a general understanding of their position and then prepare them to confront every situation with courage and maturity. This is character or whole person education. One educates for courage by nourishing trust through the trustworthiness of the educator. Hence the presence and character of the educator is more important than the content of what is actually taught. The ideal educator is genuine to his or her core, and responds with his or her “Thou”, instilling trust and enabling students to respond with their “Thou”. Buber acknowledges that teachers face a tension between acting spontaneously and acting with intention. They cannot plan for dialogue or trust, but they can strive to leave themselves open for them.
In “Education and World-View” (1935, in Pointing the Way), Buber further elaborates that in order to prepare for a life in common, teachers must educate in such a way that both individuation and community are advanced. This entails setting groups with different world-views before each other and educating, not for tolerance, but for solidarity. An education of solidarity means learning to live from the point of view of the other without giving up one’s own view. Buber argues that how one believes is more important than what one believes. Teachers must develop their students to ask themselves on what their world-view stands, and what they are doing with it.
6. References and Further Reading
- “Interrogation of Martin Buber.” Conducted by M.S. Friedman. Philosophic Interrogations. Ed. S. and B. Rome. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
- Questions by more than 50 major thinkers and Buber's responses.
- Martin Buber Werkausgabe. Ed. Paul Mendes-Flohr and Peter Schäffer. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001.
- A critical 21-volume compilation of the complete writings of Buber in German, designed to replace Buber’s self-edited Werke.
- The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue. Ed. Nahum N. Glatzer and Paul Mendes-Flohr. Trans. Richard and Clara Winston and Harry Zohn. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996.
- Includes letters to his wife and family as well as many notable thinkers, including Gandhi, Walter Benjamin, Albert Einstein, Herman Hesse, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Gustav Landauer and Dag Hammarskjöld.
- The Martin Buber Reader. Ed. Asher Biemann. New York: Macmillan, 2002.
- The Philosophy of Martin Buber: The Library of Living Philosophers, 12. Ed. Paul A. Schilpp and Maurice Friedman. La Salle, I.L.: Open Court, 1967.
- Large collection of essays by Gabriel Marcel, Charles Hartshorne, Emmanuel Lévinas, Hugo Bergman, Jean Wahl, Ernst Simon, Walter Kaufmann and many others, with Buber’s replies and autobiographical statements.
- Werke. 3 vols. Vol I: Schriften zur Philosophie. Vol 2: Schriften zur Bible. Vol. 3: Schriften zur Chassidismus. Munich and Heidelberg: Kösel Verlag and Lambert Schneider, 1962-63.
- Comprehensive collection (more than four thousand pages long), edited by Buber. Lacks some very early and very late essays, which may be found in the Martin Buber Archives of the Jewish National and University Library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Tales of Rabbi Nachman. Trans. Maurice Friedman. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 1988.
- The Legend of the Baal-Shem. Trans. Maurice Friedman. London: Routledge, 2002.
- Tales of the Hasidim (The Early Masters and The Later Masters). New York: Schocken Books, 1991.
- Gog and Magog: A Novel. Trans. Ludwig Lewisohn. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999.
- Previously published as For the Sake of Heaven: A Hasidic Chronicle-Novel.
c. Philosophical Works
- Between Man and Man. Trans. Ronald Gregor-Smith. New York: Routledge, 2002.
- Good introduction to Buber’s thought that includes “Dialogue,” “What is Man?” “The Question to the Single One” (on Kierkegaard), and lectures on education.
- Daniel: Dialogues on Realization. Trans. Maurice S. Friedman. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.
- Early work, important for understanding the development to I and Thou.
- Eclipse of God: Studies in the Relation Between Religion and Philosophy. Trans. Maurice Friedman. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: International Humanities Press, 1988.
- Includes critiques of Heidegger, Sartre and Jung.
- Good and Evil: Two Interpretations. Pt. 1: Right and Wrong, trans. R.G. Smith. Pt. 2: Images of Good and Evil, trans. M. Bullock. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1997.
- Very helpful to an understanding of Buber’s moral philosophy and relation to existentialism.
- I and Thou. Trans. Ronald Gregor-Smith. New York: Scribner, 1984.
- I and Thou. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
- The Knowledge of Man: Selected Essays. Trans. Maurice Friedman and Ronald Gregor-Smith. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998.
- Mature and technical, with the important “Distance and Relation” and lectures given for the Washington School of Psychiatry.
d. Political and Cultural Writing
- A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs. Ed. Paul R. Mendes-Flohr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
- Israel and the World: Essays in a Time of Crisis. New York: Schocken Books, 1963.
- On Zion: The History of an Idea. Trans. Stanley Godman. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.
- Paths in Utopia. Trans. R. F. Hull. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996.
- History and defense of utopian socialism, including analyses of Marx, Lenin, Landauer and kibbutzim.
- Pointing the Way: Collected Essays. Ed. and trans. Maurice Friedman. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1988.
- Mix of early and late essays, including essays on theatre, Bergson and Gandhi, and “Education and World-View,” “Society and the State,” “Hope for the Hour” and “Genuine Dialogue and the Possibilities of Peace.”
- The First Buber: Youthful Zionist Writings of Martin Buber. Trans. Gilya G. Schmidt. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press: 1999.
e. Religious Studies
- Ecstatic Confessions: The Heart of Mysticism. Ed. Paul R. Mendes-Flohr. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
- Hasidism and Modern Man. Ed. and trans. Maurice S. Friedman. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958.
- Kingship of God. Trans. Richard W. Scheimann. New York: Harper, 1973.
- Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant. Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 1998.
- On Judaism. Ed. Nahum Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1967.
- On the Bible: Eighteen Studies. Ed. Nahum Glatzer. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.
- The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism. Ed. and trans. Maurice Friedman. New York: Horizon Press, 1960.
- The Prophetic Faith. New York: Collier Books, 1985.
- The Way of Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidism. London: Routledge, 2002.
- Best short introduction to Buber’s interpretation of Hasidism.
- Two Types of Faith. Trans. Norman P. Goldhawk. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2003.
f. Secondary Sources
- Anderson, Rob and Kenneth N. Cissna. The Martin Buber-Carl Rogers Dialogue: A New Transcript With Commentary. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
- Atterton, Peter, Mathew Calarco, and Maurice Friedman, eds. Lévinas & Buber: Dialogue and Difference. Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 2004.
- Mix of primary sources, commentaries and argumentative essays.
- Biemann, Asher D. Inventing New Beginnings: On the Idea of Renaissance in Modern Judaism. Stanford, C.A.: Stanford University Press, 2009.
- Details Buber’s notions of Jewish Renaissance and aesthetic education.
- Braiterman, Zachary. The Shape of Revelation: Aesthetics and Modern Jewish Thought. Stanford, C.A.: Stanford University Press, 2007.
- Studies the relation between the philosophy of Buber and Rosenzweig and the aesthetics of early German modernism, especially the transition from Jugendstil to Expressionism.
- Friedman, Maurice S. Encounter on the Narrow Ridge: A Life of Martin Buber. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
- Biography largely condensed from Martin Buber's Life and Work.
- Friedman, Maurice S. Martin Buber's Life and Work. 3 vols. Vol 1: The Early Years, 1878-1923. Vol. 2: The Middle Years, 1923-1945. Vol 3: The Later Years, 1945-1965. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988.
- Mendes-Flohr, Paul. From Mysticism to Dialogue: Martin Buber’s Transformation of German Social Thought. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989.
- Explores the influence of Landauer, Dilthey and Simmel, and Buber’s work as the editor of Die Gesellschaft.
- Schmidt, Gilya G. Martin Buber’s Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1897-1909. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.
- Buber’s early intellectual influences, life during university studies and turn to Zionism.
- Scholem, Gershom. “Martin Buber’s Conception of Judaism,” in On Jews and Judaism in Crisis: Selected Essays. Ed. Werner Dannhauser. New York: Schocken, 1937.
- Shapira, Avraham. Hope for Our Time: Key Trends in the Thought of Martin Buber. Trans. Jeffrey M. Green. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
- Systematic presentation of Buber’s main philosophic concepts.
- Theunissen, Michael. The Other: Studies in the Social Ontology of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Buber. Cambridge, M.A.: MIT Press, 1984.
- Urban, Martina. Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber’s Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.
- Discusses Buber’s hermeneutics, notions of anthology and Jewish renewal, and phenomenological presentation of Hasidism.
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