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?