MLK Vs. Socrates: A philosophical evaluation of Civil Disobedience
Last class, we had a great discussion regarding the Platonic dialogue, “Crito” as an examination of Reason. However through the course of that conversation, we examined Socrates’ arguments rationalizing his decision to accept his punishment of death.
“It is not just for you to try to do to us what you’re now attempting (avoiding death punishment). For we gave birth to you, brought you up, educated you, and gave you and all the other citizens everything we could that’s good, and yet even so we pronounce that we have given the power to any Athenian who wishes to take his possessions and leave for whatever he wants. But whoever remains with us, having ovserved how we decide civic law, we claim this man by his action has now made an agreement with us to do what we command him to do.”
This is a very similar line of reasoning used by some of the Priests and Pastors of the American South in their critique of Martin Luther King as a Christian. “How could a Christian man advocate the violation of the law? If it’s immoral to break a law, how could a Christian man advocate immoral behavior?” Martin Luther King’s response to these questions and critiques of his civil disobedience is contained within his beautifully written, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” linked below. Read it.
When finished reading “A letter from Birmingham Jail” you should answer the following question on your newly created TOK journal Blog!
Journal #1: Compare and contrast Socrates’ use of reason and MLK’s use of reason. What would MLK’s response to Socrates be? Do you think if MLK was condemned to death for his leading protests that he would “leave with crito” or stay and accept his fate as decided by the courts of Alabama? Also, what do these two approaches illustrate about Reason as a way of knowing as a whole? What are Reason’s Strengths and Weaknesses?
And to provide context to our discussion regarding racism and systemic oppression in America, see this lucid piece by Ta-Nehesi Coates from The Atlantic: