Buber’s main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:
- The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
- The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.
One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber’s view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou. Martin Buber said that every time someone says Thou, they are indirectly addressing God. People can address God as Thou or as God, Buber emphasized how, “You need God in order to be, and God needs you for that which is the meaning of your life.”
Buber explains that humans are defined by two word pairs: I–It and I–Thou.
The “It” of I–It refers to the world of experience and sensation. I–It describes entities as discrete objects drawn from a defined set (e.g., he, she or any other objective entity defined by what makes it measurably different from other entities). It can be said that “I” have as many distinct and different relationships with each “It” as there are “Its” in one’s life. Fundamentally, “It” refers to the world as we experience it.