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Socrates, MLK, Machiavelli and the Universal Truths about Justice

October 6, 2010

Socrates, MLK, and Machiavelli were three leading thinkers of their respective eras. Socrates believed his great intelligence stemmed from the fact that he claimed he knew nothing (The Apology, 20e). As stated from 22a-23e in “The Apology,” Socrates makes no assertions. I find this characteristic of Socrates to be very peculiar and ironic, however that was how Socrates believed he would learn what was just in the world. Socrates view of justice was learning through self-knowledge. It was Socrates’ ultimate goal to have all people find the truth in themselves and others. With Socrates goal being so obvious, yet abstract, many people lost interest in Socrates and his views. These reasons are why Socrates believed his enemies were malicious and envious of him to the extent of having Socrates tried. The reader may view Socrates’ enemies with disdain, however, Machiavelli would look at Socrates’ enemies as intelligent and cunning in their guise to displace Socrates from his prominent position in society. In “The Prince,” Machiavelli discusses how to usurp power and rule over society with a sly, but iron fist. A prince must display “virtu” which can mean strength or skill (The Prince, 10,16). This strength or skill is not used in a virtuous way as much as a self-interested, egotistical way. Machiavelli’s take on society and power would repulse Socrates, nevertheless, Machiavelli was stating a universal truth: Cunning actions and skills politically are aids in usurping power. When the prince gets what he wants, that is justice in Machiavelli’s view. Similar to Machiavelli, MLK was very assertive in his beliefs and goals, however, he believed in nonviolent protest in order to bring justice. King asserted that not only was civil disobedience justified in the face of unjust laws, but that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” MLK believed that just laws resided with the law of god and an unjust law is out of code with the law of god. This is very similar to Socrates’ view of what is just and unjust. While these three thinkers ideas have spanned over 2000 years, each still hold on to some part of truth and justice. For Socrates, learn who you are and live in accordance to God and you will find justice. For Machiavelli, learn your enemies and exploit their weaknesses and you in turn will have your own justice. Finally for MLK, live in accordance to God’s laws and you will live a just life. If people are acting out of God’s will and therefore are unjust, it is in our own interest to act with civil disobedience.

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