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Philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates

Both Socrates and Martin Luther have inspired humanity to act in a way that is right and have shown that one should be prepared to give every thing in the pursuit of their goals and in upholding one’s principles. These individuals were both determined to see changes in society in a bid to eliminate oppression and lead to liberating not only from tyranny but from psychological bondage that sought to front certain classes of people as being superior to others.

History therefore serves to show us that though a path towards greatness is filled with several obstacles and temptations, we should rise beyond self interest and strive to achieve what we truly believe to be right: for as the bible says “what benefit is the whole world if you loose your soul. Socrates is thought to be the most influential and interesting thinker the world has ever had especially during the fifth century. This attribute came upon his realization that though man was capable of knowing so much, what he didn’t know was infinitely much more than what he perceived to be his scope of knowledge.

Moreover he sought real and practical knowledge and not just mere victories over his opponents. Though he was known for his excellent communication skills and public lecturing techniques, Socrates never wrote anything and therefore most of his philosophical ideas are derived from his former students especially Plato. This provides the first challenge because Plato being a philosopher could have as well injected his own views into the arguments.

In his attempt to explain what pity is, Socrates questions if an act is normally approved because it’s right or if it’s right because it’s approved of. On the same note he seeks to know if an action would be forbidden because it’s wrong or if it would be wrong just because it’s forbidden. He refutes a scenario where actions become right just because the authority approves of it and says that such a choice has absolutely no rational base since it’s actually impossible to attribute any acceptable moral wisdom to the authority itself.

He however supports a case where the authority accepts an action as right or wrong because they are already right or wrong independently of the circumstances normally in following certain criterion. This criterion should also be accessible and acceptable to us so that we can be able to determine right and wrong by ourselves (Benson 34-89). Socrates further argues that the opinion that matters is not necessarily the opinion of the majority but the opinion of the one who really comprehends the truth.

According to him the basis for any decisions or actions made by man should be nothing but the truth and therefore people should engage in careful moral reasoning as a way of justifying their action or thought. In his analogy of the relationship between the state and the individual, Socrates argues that one should neither do wrong nor disobey the state. He uses these premises to conclude that the very fact that you are staying in a country is sufficient reason for you not to disobey it. His belief in this saw him being executed by the Athenian authority.

He refused to escape even when his students had orchestrated his exit plan because he considered avoiding the death sentence from the Athenian jury an act of disobedience to his state. Therefore he died for what he believed in. Socrates is said to have been notorious for asking others questions for which he claimed, to the annoyance of those in authority, that even he lacked sufficient wisdom to answer them. He was therefore in collision with his fellow Athenians on several grounds ranging from Politics, intellectual capacity especially on moral issues.

This was evident when he was tried for corrupting the innocent minds of the Athenian youths. He questioned the moral standing of the jurors and pointed out that they should be concerned about the ‘welfare’ of their souls and not their jobs, families or careers. This belief is thought to have been responsible for his lack of anxiety about the future of his sons. In matters of politics, Socrates believed that ‘ideals belong to a world that can only be understood by the wise man’.

This is an argument that has been refuted on grounds that it makes the philosopher the only person who can govern the rest of the people. Socrates therefore objected to any democracies that didn’t conform to his understanding of a perfect state (Donald 90-150). However, the actions and beliefs of Socrates are not without criticism. He has been criticized for giving self-destructive confessions to the juror who handed him the death sentence. Based on this, others have argued that he voluntarily accepted the hemlock because of his old age and not because he is a philosophical martyr.

Some of Socrates arguments, he attributed to what he called his inner voice, an attribute he says he got from the gods as a gift and therefore is only unique to him. The scientific basis of some of his arguments has therefore been questioned. Martin Luther King Jr. was a son to one of Atlanta’s leading ministers. He was a social reformist who participated in the American civil right struggles since 1955 and remained at its helm for the rest of his life. He went to Morehouse College and later on graduated with a degree in seminary from a theological seminary called Crozier.

He finally received his PhD from Boston University. This made him one of the most educated black Americans in the 50’s. Luther’s philosophy of non-violence stood out in his civil disobedience crusades. His philosophy was derived from ‘satyagrapha’, a concept he learnt from his teacher and mentor, Ghandi. Luther believes that in the natural setting of things and events there is always an eternal truth. A truth that ones you have a slight view of, you can never be the same again because you will be forced to act on it. To Luther this truth was actually non-violence.

He stresses the importance of Christian love both for individual and social relationships and asserts that the power of anyone’s moral character can alter even the most ingrained social institutions such as segregation (White, 2000). Luther believed strongly that Christian love is a vital instrument in bringing about social order. When Martin Luther and his friends were denied services from a local cafeteria because they were black, he refused to move from the queue because he knew the truth and the truth was that he deserved to be served without discrimination.

He was arrested and taken to the Birmingham jail. His fellow priests condemned his actions as being too confrontational and untimely. But in response he wrote the famous Birmingham letter telling them that he knew the universal truth and the truth has power unto itself. He says that racial segregation is wrong and it doesn’t matter if the authorities approve of it or not. On this, Martin Luther King Jr. shares the same school of thought with Socrates. He further argues that the racial segregation has no moral authority and legitimacy.

At this point he successfully managed to bring to light the moral shortcomings of the Birmingham’s white clergy. Because of his pursuit of truth he managed to start creating the America where people are not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. At the time of his assassination in 1968 Kings was concentrating his attention on a campaign to help the economically less fortunate. This alone attests to the gaping fact that Martin Luther was driven by common good of the American people.

He had not relented in his belief that non-violence approach was the most suitable way of achieving the desires of the civil rights movement. He also had tremendous faith that all Americans would at some day get equal justice, not like a case where him and his friends are being imprisoned for seeking services while white boys who threw petrol bombs in a government official’s house and who claim to have been having some fun are let free. Just like Socrates who attributed some of his positions to an inner voice, Luther too had his ‘dreams’, these not necessarily scientific (King 30-130).

Martin Luther King’s philosophical perspectives were shared by a large number of people especially the black Americans and were meant to correct the injustices that had been done to the blacks. They also sought to unify the American people and create a society where all Americans are subjected to the same laws and treatments in all aspects. Socrates’ philosophical perspectives didn’t endear him to many of his countrymen. Though he sought the truth, the people never saw the relevance of what he stood for then except his students.

He stood by what he believed in and it is this unrelenting determination for the equality of all races that has helped America, the land of dreams, attains the position of the world’s sole superpower. Luther took time to explain why he thought he was right and deserved a hearing. The lives of these two men have inspired several great minds to stand up and follow in their footsteps in a bid to achieve what they started. Great philosophers inspired by Socrates have increased our understanding of ourselves and our world enabling man to find peace in his strengths and accept his limitations gracefully.

On the other hand Luther’s ambitions have ensured that despite once race all are accorded equal opportunities in America. In this respect there is no bolder example than the fact that America has a black president.

Works Cited Hugh H. Benson. Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, Oxford: London, 1992. Jack white. The time: Martin Luther king Viewed February 26, 2009, from http://www. time. com/time/time100/leaders/profile/king. html, 2000. Kagan Donald. The fall of the Athenian Empire, New York: Cornell University Press, 1987. Martin Luther King. Why We Can’t Wait, New York: Penguin publishers.

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