Martin Buber: I and Thou, dialogue or touch? I and Thou is Martin Buber’s most well-known book, originally published in German in 1923. Its aim is to make everyday life a sacred experience. I’m not sure that anyone has fully understood the book; perhaps that explains its hold after so many years. In many places it reads more like poetry than theology or philosophy.
We don’t exist in any important human way except as part of a relationship. “In the beginning is the relationship,” says Buber (p 69). Trees and animals can be part of a I-thou pair, and a human can be a part of an I-it pair. Buber would perhaps reject the term “pair.” It’s just I-thou, or I-you, more than one, less than two as the Tao puts it.
Buber’s childhood encounter with his favorite horse best explains the I-thou relationship for me. Horses can be thou’s, and as anyone who has been around horses knows, they are big, even massive, animals. As such the horse is intensely other: other than me, other than human.
When I stroked the mighty mane, sometimes marvelously smooth-combed, at other times just as astonishingly wild, and felt the life beneath my hand, it was as though the element of vitality itself bordered on my skin, something that was not I, was certainly not akin to me, palpably the other, not just another, really the Other itself; and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me, placed itself elementally in the relation of Thou and Thou with me. (Buber, Between Man and Man, p 11)