There was some discussion in the recent podcast about how an ethics can be derived from Martin Buber ‘s I and Thou. Recently one philosopher has pointed to Buber’s work as at least an historical antecedent to his theory. The third chapter of Stephen Darwall’s 2006 book, The Second-Person Standpoint, opens with the following quote from Buber:
When one says You, the I of the… I-You is said, too. Whoever says You does not have something for his object… he stands in relation. Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it.
Now Darwall does not go on to interpret Buber; his project is not one of explication. Rather, Darwall is trying to explain why, according to him, any moral relationship is irreducibly second-personal. What is a second-personal relationship and how does it connect to Martin Buber?
As Darwall explains it, the second-personal stances is one which involves ‘reciprocal recognition’. The best way to get a handle on what Darwall is getting at is to uses the other relationship which Buber uses to contrast the I-Thou relationship: the I-It. The I-It relationship can be seen as either a first-person relationship or a third-person relationship.
To unpack this, Darwall typically uses the following example. There is someone stepping on my foot. I can say one of three things. First, first-personally, I can say ‘I desire this foot to be off of mine.’ This in itself does not give the other person a reason to remove his/her foot. They could simply say ‘I desire the foot to stay.’ The first person desire does not incorporate an authoritative reason to act. Second, third-personally, I can say ‘It would be a good thing if feet were not stepped on.’ Although this may give a reason to act it is not the right kind of reason. For it is more analogous to epistemic reasons. One has to already think it is a good thing for feet not to be stepped on. Therefore, this is a case of advice not command. Finally, second-personally, I can say ‘Move your foot.’ According to Darwall, when a command is given in this second-personal way, the hearer has a reason to act. For there is an summons of the speaker that is received by the hearer. Both recognize the other as a You. When the first addresses the second, he presupposes the hearer as a free practical agent. When the hearer accepts the summons, he recognizes this in the speaker. They are both Yous reciprocally recognizing each other.
Darwall develops this theory throughout his 300+ page book involves an interweaving of ‘Pufendorf’s point,’ ‘Fitche’s point,’ and ‘Strawson’s point.’ He also has lengthy discussions on Kant, Smith, Hume, Reid and Rawls and drops the names of Hobbes, Hegel, Dewey and Levinas. The point is, that Darwall’s book can not be explained fully here.
To close and bring thing back to Buber, here is Darwall’s point and his reason for invoking him:
There are many kinds of interaction, including mutual awareness, that do not involve the reciprocal recognition that exists hen one person gives another reason to do something. Even within the set of reason-givings, for purposes we sharpen our focus further in two ways. First, many such interactions also involve nonrational influence-intimidation, seduction, and so on. We are concerned solely with the pure giving of reasons, abstracting from nonrational factors (or with interactions qua second-personal address). Second, there are reason-giving where the reasons are not themselves second-personal. Our focus is on the (second-personal) address of second-personal reasons.
Something that looks like reciprocal recognition occurs also in non-rational settings. When to dogs lock gazes, for example, and eye each other with caution, eagerness, or hostility, there is certainly a form of mutual awareness, even if e don’t suppose that dogs have the rich array of higher-order attitudes that typically accompany mutual human awareness. But awareness of this kind is not yet second-personal in our sense. It need involve no form of address, much less address of the other as a person. Two prize fighters, peering into each other’s eyes for clues about the other’s movements, are not really addressing each other (so far anyway). Their thought and experience involve a combination of first- and third-person perspectives that do not yet amount to a second-person stance, even hen taken together. Each watches the other watching him. Neither relates to the other as a “you” to whom the first is a “you in return. In Martin Buber’s terms, the “I” of each is an “I-It” rather than an “I-You” (Darwall, 39-40)
Now whether this is a correct use of Buber is another story. One that I will not address at here.