Sunday, November 15, 2009

Conflicting Ideas in Buber and Sartre

After thinking about Satre’s notion of bad faith and Buber’s notion of human reciprocity, I think there is somewhat of a contradiction concerning the individualist aspect of Existentialism. On the one hand, we must be attuned to our own self-interest and personal responsibility—and prevent ourselves from being in bad faith. We thus should not consider ourselves things in-themselves, because we have the ability to choose who we will be. It seems, then, to not be in bad faith, we must be self-interested in the sense of not allowing the influences of the exterior world—the world of “Da-sein,” as Heidiegger would say—to affect us.

However, when we consider Buber’s philosophy, recognizing the importance of the I-Thou relationship, the value of the individual becomes slighted. We are not entirely self-interested in the sense described above, because we garner meaning from the interaction with other freedoms. As Buber writes, “meeting the Thou, I become” (321). Therefore, our very existence rests on an encounter with “the Thou.” How then can we not be in bad faith if we follow Buber’s philosphy? If it takes viewing someone else in the world to understand who we are, then it seems we can never really choose for ourselves. In Sartre’s terms, it seems that if the self depends on the other, the self is not a true self at all. It is a self in bad faith.

How then do we get rid of the apparent discrepancy between the two viewpoints? Certainly Buber’s philosophy coincides with Satre’s, and Existentialism’s, fundamental premise that existence precedes essence. But it seems that according to Buber, the original human essence is not one chosen by the individual, but rather by an interaction with another freedom in the world. According to Satre, it seems, true essence is entirely incumbent upon the individual’s desires, what the individual wants for himself. Maybe the encounter with the Thou is our own personal choice: a choice made by the individual. Perhaps if we can choose how to relate to the Thou and how we wish to understand ourselves through this relationship, we are not in bad faith. This might be congruent with Sartre, but I’m not entirely sure. I’d appreciate any other ideas on this problem. It still seems to me that someone is in bad faith he allows the world of the other to substantially impact who he will be.


  1. I would argue that with Buber's concept of I-thou, the individual is not slighted at all. On the contrary, it seems that the individual is enhanced in this notion.

  2. I agree with alex. Also, I would say that Da-Sein only "slights the individual" insofar as the individual permits Dasein's to influence him/her in a way that allows for average everydayness to take over. I understand what you are saying, since if the possibility of our freedom has fundamentally arise from our interaction with other beings that are free, as Buber says, it does seem like we are not fully free (or responsible, maybe) to choose for ourselves who we are and who we can become. Though again, I'm not entirely sure that this necessarily has to be negative in effect.

    I guess this raises the whole issue of what exactly is the self? and how is it metaphysically grounded?

  3. I think that the I-Thou relationship doesn't just enhance the individual, I think it gives the individual's life meaning. How would a being realize it's existence if there weren't other beings to make it aware it existed? This ties into the whole idea of bad faith too. Since bad faith, is a lie to oneself, without other beings what would be the basis of a lie?


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