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Martin Luther King Jr. and Method

September 21, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. was a profound speaker and courageous man, but what I admire most about him is his methodical, scientific approach to combatting problems and reaching goals. It is easy for people to talk about lofty goals; it is another to devise a plan for the pursuit. The great philosopher Socrates is a victim of this problem; he speaks of one objective truth that every man should spend their entire life pursuing. Any reflection or human attempt at creation of this objective truth will never be truly the same; it will remain as just an imitation. Socrates has a clear portrayal of his goal, but lacks a clear presentation of procedure. His outlined procedure was to avoid public life and to engage in meditation to reach truth; a method is fairly ambiguous in its outlook.

Socrates’ rebellious ideals eventually led him to jail and shortly after, a death sentence. The devices and means to escape were presented to him, but he chose to stay and incur his penalty because he claimed he had a moral obligation to the law. In Socrates’ final days, he cannot properly provide a reason for his stay and even asks for the aid of Crito in making his ultimate decision. Being unsure of both his intentions in death and why he should stay in jail, he instead offers an incomplete argument for obedience. These are Socrates’ shortcomings; he knows what his absolute goal is but his means for achieving them are hazy at best. Socrates himself acknowledges his own ignorance when it comes to true, objective wisdom.

If we contrast Socrates with Martin Luther King Jr., a man with a clear conception of his goal: justice. This notion of justice stressed by Martin Luther King Jr. stresses equality and prosperity of the soul. Just like many other great intellectuals and philosophers, Martin Luther King Jr. had a goal, but more importantly, he had a way to address the needs to achieve that goal. He provides a 4 step process with addressing the problem, handling it, and the further application of change that should arise. Martin Luther King Jr.’s four step process illustrates to his audiences a clear conception of what, how, and why he attempts to accomplish his goals. I believe that people need science in order to prosper and believe.  Procedure for the sake of procedure and as a means of accomplishing goals, without substantial evidence and moral support, means nothing. However, when procedure contains a substantive backbone, it is made all the more legitimate and powerful. Martin Luther King Jr.’s audiences are presented with logic, something Socrates is in dire need of.

Unlike Socrates, Martin Luther King Jr. displayed his procedures for reaching his goal of justice with great detail. As much of a preacher and philosopher that Martin Luther King Jr. was, he is also a scientist. His method of accomplishing goals is collected and calculated. We can equate his approach to problem solving and reaching justice with the scientific method. The goal is justice and equality for his people; his scientific approach being his four step process. Dr. King has a theory which he intends to prove. He gathers his background information by assessing the injustices. Later, he attempts to solve this problem through negotiation but was not comfortable with his results. Because of his failure, he decided a different experimental approach because preliminary trials can always fail. He then decided whether or not his approach was possible through self-purification and made another attempt through direct action. His actions proved to bring the hidden evils of unjust law to the forefront and he brought about change.


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