Friday, November 18, 2011

I-It has meaning

In class on Thursday, we discussed a selection from Buber which makes a distinction between two different types of interactions: I-Thou and I-It. Buber emphasizes the dialogical mode of being through the I-Thou rather than the monological mode of being through the I-It.

The I-Thou interaction stresses mutual, interdependent, holistic existence between two beings. The interaction is a concrete encounter that is real and perceivable, yet unprovable and devoid of content. Such an interaction occurs between two people or between a person and God. The important distinction about the I-Thou interaction is that there is something about God that is revealed, meaning infinity and universality are made actual.

In the I-It interaction, the two beings do not actually meet; rather a person encounters the other being as an idea -- an object. Such an interaction occurs between an object and a person or even two people.

Buber argues that the I-Thou relationship is that of a dialogue, while the I-It relationship is that of a monologue. In the I-Thou relationship, the two beings interact in a manner that has resistance, while the I-It relationship does not have resistance, but rather submission. For example, Dr. J mentioned in class that a relationship between a person and a cup is an I-It interaction because the cup is not resisting the person in any manner.

Now that we have a grasp of the distinction between I-It and I-Thou, we can address my question. In class, Dr. J mentioned that the I-It relationship is the “cripple” relationship because it is vacant of meaning, while the I-Thou relationship has meaning. Why can’t the I-It relationship have meaning?

I would argue that the I-It relationship can have some degree of meaning. How else do we gain knowledge? We encounter objects and ideas through I-It interactions, which advances technology and knowledge. I acknowledge that technology also advances through interactions with other people but that isn’t my focus. Wouldn’t this mean that there is a degree of meaning in the I-It relationships? If there isn’t any meaning, then how does advancement of knowledge fit into this idea? Would Buber argue that the I-It interaction is devoid of meaning because of the lack of a presence of God/universality/infinity?

I think I may have answered my own question, that I-It can’t have meaning, but I think there must be more to the argument than such a simple answer. What do you think?


  1. Well to see to your point and argue against Buber I was talking with Dr. J and it is possible to have an I-It relationship with God/universal and that jazz. It is just how one describes the relationship; and I agree with you that I-It relationships do have meaning; they are important so one can create those I-Thou relationships. Since there is a seperation you need one to really have the other. If that makes sense. Interesting post.

  2. I cannot find much to mention that you or Brian have not touched on, but I did want to add that to an extend, I can see the I-It relationship as having meaning, simply through an analysis of the I-It relationships a person has. Perhaps this is more of a round about I-Thou relationship with the self, but after reading your post I began to question how the two different relationships interact. As Brian said, one cannot exist without the other.Therefore, can't the I-It relationships a person have give an impression of who they are, as though you were in an I-Thou relationship with them. Or, couldn't someone analyze their own relationships and form a pseudo I-Thou relationship through the reflection on the relationships they share with others.

    Perhaps this is a bit of a stretch, but this post really got me thinking about it, and its much appreciated.

  3. I suppose that the concept of "meaning" itself presupposes something that can be articulated or communicated, which can only occur in the context of an I-Thou relationship where mutual understanding is possible (even a fabricated I-Thou relation, as when we speak to ourselves). That, at least, is what I take to be the sense of Buber's contention that the I-It relation has not meaning. But your objections are well taken and could take some effort to unpack fully.

  4. I tend to agree with Patrick's reading of this concept. I think that the "meaning" that is addressed here is dealing with the communication of thought. There must be a receiver to in order for this relationship to be meaningful. The dialogue cant be stagnant, rather I feel like there must be an exchange involved. And in my own understanding, a relationship is, when looked at stripped of all of the attachments just an ongoing dialogue. If looked at in this way, you can understand that meaning belongs to the conversation between two subjects conversing, but it is not present when one subject addresses a rock.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.