Forum Philosophicum

Volume 19, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Sarah Scott
Pages 5-25

An Unending Sphere of Relation: Martin Buber’s Conception of Personhood

I reconstruct Buber’s conception of personhood and identify in his work four criteria for personhood—(i) uniqueness, (ii) wholeness, (iii) goodness, and (iv) a drive to relation—and an account of three basic degrees of personhood, stretching, as a kind of “chain of being,” from plants and animals, through humans, to God as the absolute person. I show that Buber’s “new” conception of personhood is rooted in older Neoplatonic notions, such the goodness of all being and the principle of plenitude. While other philosophers have used reason and memory to distinguish persons, I find that Buber instead takes these to be specific to humanity, and I explore Buber’s account of a “fall” from a state of nature into a historical mode, such that our humanity threatens our personhood.