In This Article Martin Buber

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • General Surveys of Buber’s Thought
  • Biographies
  • Buber’s Collected Works in German
  • Buber’s Philosophical Writings in English
  • Buber’s Editorial Work

Philosophy Martin Buber
by
Samuel Brody
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0351

Introduction

Although Martin Buber (b. 1878–d. 1965) ranks in the top tier of 20th-century Jewish thinkers, his relationship to philosophy has been contested. His philosophical concerns were tightly intertwined with interests in art, mythology, mysticism, sociology, biblical scholarship, Hasidism, Zionism, and Judaism. Buber was born in Vienna and raised in the Galician city of Lemberg (Lviv), where he was tutored in Jewish texts by his grandfather Solomon Buber (b. 1827–d. 1906), a pioneering scholar of rabbinic midrash. Buber pursued higher education in Vienna, Leipzig, Berlin, and Zurich, where he developed keen interests in Nietzsche, neo-Romantic aesthetics, and Zionist politics. He achieved early fame as an editor, translator, and interpreter of Hasidism to European audiences, as well as a spokesperson for the Jewish cultural renewal movement in Central Europe, and up to World War I he was active in the translation and dissemination of “mystical” texts of world traditions from Finland to China. However, a falling-out with a friend over the politics of the war led to a dramatic shift in his thinking, the first fruits of which became the “dialogical” philosophy for which he is best known. According to Buber, there is a sharp contrast between instrumental modes of relation (“I-It”) and non-instrumental encounter (“I-Thou”), with the latter containing resources for reimagining personal relationships as well as social life. In the 1920s and 1930s, he developed this philosophy while also promoting religious socialism, translating the Bible, teaching adult education, and seeking a potential binational solution to the Zionist-Arab conflict in Palestine. During the Third Reich he served as a leader of Jewish “spiritual resistance” to the regime, but in 1938 he was forced to flee Germany for Palestine. His ardent efforts to reconcile Zionist and Palestinian interests made him somewhat unpopular in the new State of Israel, but his international status was as high as ever throughout the 1950s and 1960s, when more of his work was translated and he began to be perceived as akin to the existentialists popular at the time. Buber encouraged this perception with writings on philosophical anthropology, placing himself in a tradition that included his former teacher Wilhelm Dilthey, as well as Kant, Kierkegaard, Husserl, and Heidegger. He was often charged with lacking philosophical rigor, and frustrated critics by refusing to alter his distinctive prose style in order to clarify his concepts. Nevertheless, his prominence and influence on later thinkers, including Emmanuel Levinas, ensured that he would remain compelling to scholars of Jewish studies, and recently philosophers have shown renewed interest in his thought. Buber has also maintained his reputation among liberal Christian philosophers and theologians, who continue to find in him a fruitful and challenging Jewish interlocutor.

Bibliographies

Since Buber’s death in 1965, several bibliographies of his work have combined complete listings of his own writings with the increasingly expansive secondary literature. He published primarily in German, although Buber and Cohn 1980 also lists his Hebrew works that appeared more commonly after his move to Palestine, as well as the primary translations of his work into English. Moonan 1981 provides annotated citations for English secondary literature up to 1978, and Heuer 1996 details secondary literature in German.

  • Buber, Raphael, and Margot Cohn, eds. Martin Buber: A Bibliography of His Writings, 1897–1978. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1980.

    E-mail Citation »

    Margot Cohn was Buber’s secretary and director of the Martin Buber archive, and compiled this bibliography together with his son Raphael. It is nearly comprehensive and includes detailed subject and language indexes. This is the best place to gain an immediate overview of Buber’s incredible productivity.

  • Heuer, Renate, ed. Lexikon deutsch-jüdischer Autoren: Archiv Bibliographica Judaica. Vol. 4. Munich: K. G. Saur, 1996.

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    The section on Buber in Heuer’s huge dictionary of German-Jewish writers provides a thorough listing of his German publications as well as helpfully annotated listings and descriptions of the German secondary literature. See especially pp. 251–303.

  • Moonan, Willard. Martin Buber and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings in English through 1978. New York: Garland, 1981.

    E-mail Citation »

    A survey of writings by (377 entries) and about (667 entries) Buber in English, featuring detailed descriptions of secondary literature as well as author, title, and subject indexes.

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