I-Thou

Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

I-Thou NC II, 143-144, 149 [not in WdW]
I-We NC III, 29 [not in WdW]

Martin Buber is known for his book I and Thou. Prior to World War I, Buber was associated for a time with the circle of intellectuals around Frederik van Eeden. I and Thou was written in 1923.

Dooyeweerd refers to Buber. He says that Buber makes a sharp distinction between the “experience of the world,” which has to do with “impersonal objects” such as things and laws. But the I-Thou relation is

…intrinsically personal and existential, the realm of personal freedom and existential responsibility, the sphere of a real meeting between I and thou which does not allow of general rules and laws, nor of boundaries of modal spheres.(NC II, 143)

Dooyeweerd says that Christian existentialism, influenced by Buber, has rejected any idea of an ethical law-sphere. He says that this is ruled by the Ground-Motive of nature/freedom, in its irrationalist conception.

Dooyeweerd says that we cannot make a distinction between and impersonal I-it relation and an existential I-thou relation. His reason for this is very interesting. He says that it is un-Biblical. He then says,

It deforms the integral structure of human experience and eliminates its relation to the central religious sphere.
The world of experience seems to be impersonal and non-existential only if we identify it with an absolutized theoretical abstraction (‘nature’ in the sense of the classical Humanist science-ideal). But this absolutized abstraction has nothing to do with the modal horizon of human experience in its integral meaning form which we have started (Ibid).

In other words, Buber’s impersonal world of I-It fails to relate the temporal world to its religious root. It eliminates the relation of nature to the central religious sphere. Now it may be debated whether Dooyeweerd’s interpretation of Buber is correct; Buber has also been interpreted in a nondual way. What is important here is Dooyeweerd’s rejection of any dualistic separation between nature and humanity in its religious root.

Dooyeweerd does say that there is a real meeting of I and Thou in our religious center that does transcend the ethical aspect. Buber’s mistake is to locate this central relation within time:

On the other hand, the real meeting of I and thou is in the deepest sense a central, religious relation, which indeed does not allow of modal boundaries of law-spheres. but if this central relation is sought within the temporal order of human existence, one gives oneself up to an idolatrous illusion (Ibid.)

This central I-Thou relation is really one of I-we. Dooyeweerd does not deny that we can experience this in our present lives. this is when the transcendent light of eternity radiates through the temporal world:

“In the Biblical attitude of naïve experience the transcendent, religious dimension of its horizon is opened. The light of eternity radiates perspectively through all the temporal dimensions of this horizon and even illuminates seemingly trivial things and events in our sinful world.
In this attitude the experiencing I-ness is necessarily in the I-we relation of the Christian community and in the we-Thou-relation with God, Who has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus.” (NC III, 29; not in WdW)

See supra-individual as to this central relationship.

Dooyeweerd also speaks of a relation between our self and the Divine ‘Thou’:

This commandment requires us to love God and our neighbour with our whole heart. It is the very nature of love in this central religious sense that it implies complete self-surrender. We cannot really love in this fulness of meaning of the word so long as we experience its requirement as a law which urges itself upon us externally, contrary to the inner inclination of our heart. This love must penetrate our inner selves, it must inflame the centre of our existence and permeate it so that it has become one with us, and reflects in our heart the Divine Love as the answer of the human I to the call of its Origin, the Divine Thou. (NC II, 149; not in WdW).

Revised Dec. 27/04

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