A Deontological Perspective in Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. specified in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that war, racism and economic injustice are all intertwined and can be dealt with through the restructuring of society’s priorities and through addressing the necessity of a revolution of values (178). Such a perspective is based upon the assumption that oppression and unfair treatment of individuals is not morally valid nor is it morally permissible most especially if the basis of such is the individual’s ethnicity or race.
Such a perspective can be traced to the deontological philosophy of Immanuel Kant. As the Kantians believed, each person has a capacity for rational deliberation and choice and as such, an autonomous being with dignity and therefore, ought to be respected by virtue of being human persons. The evolution of King’s ideological perspective may therefore be construed in such way that it is a product, both of his experiences as an African American living in a white-dominated society and his philosophical and political development and this may be inferred from Fairclough’s book, Martin Luther King, Jr.
King’s speeches very clearly communicate his views. In one of his speeches, King states that the “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality….I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits” (as cited by Carson 23).

The necessity of such a belief is based upon his conviction that justice must necessarily prevail within any society since “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King 178). Such a perspective thereby mirrors a deontological perspective that recognizes the upholding conditions of equality and liberty based upon the existence of universal laws that govern man’s dealings with one another.
Works Cited
Carson, C.  A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  U.S.A.: Warner Books, 2002.
Fairclough, A.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
King Jr., M.L. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  Liberating Faith: Religious Voices for Justice.  Ed. Roger Gottlieb.  London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

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