Philosophy Writing Assignment
You need to create responses to the following questions.
-your responses need to be typed, double spaced
-each response is worth 15 points.
Grading will be based on the following:
1. Socrates offers the prospects of civil disobedience–he is not willing to give up philosophy for the chance to live a few more years. Does civil disobedience have a role in contemporary society? Do you think contemporary society should tolerate acts of civil disobedience? Why/why not?
-it will be helpful if you read King’s letter from the Birmingham jail
(there are two versions posted on blackboard)
-you need to reference your reaction to King’s ideas
Use the following quote as the basis for your answer to question two:
“On the other hand, if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.”
2. IF you took the above quote seriously, if it was the guiding principle of your life, what would it mean to how you live your life? What aspects of your life would you examine? What parts of your life might change? (Be as specific as possible in your response.)
The result is a classic document of the struggle for civil rights, “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail“.
Given his message and audience, King frequently seeks inspiration from Biblical sources, as well as from philosophers and theologians Christian (Aquinas, Augustine, Niehbur) and Jewish (Buber). At three points in the “Letter”, however, he invokes Socrates, both for his activist brand of philosophy and his practice of a just form of civil disobedience.
King deploys his first reference to Socrates in response to the imagined question, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?”
But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
This image of Socrates is familiar from Plato’s Apology: the gadfly of the polis, who is constantly “arousing and persuading and reproaching” citizens to perceive truth and justice. Athenians, of course, responded to the stings of the gadfly by executing Socrates. But King rejects the illogical notion that an unjust response to an act taints the precipitating act,
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?
In King’s final reference to Socrates, the philosopher takes his place in a list of historical figures who engaged in civil disobedience,
[Civil disobedience] was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.
Dr. King makes mention of the philosopher Socrates twice in his response letter to the published statement by eight clergymen in Alabama. The first time is when King tries to give insight as to why he was leading such a visual and openly non-violent demonstration as opposed to waiting passively for local negotiations and the judicial system to works itself out.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail. April 16th, 1963.
He reminds his fellow clergymen that Socrates felt it necessary to create “tension” in the minds of people. Creating tension in the minds of the masses deemed to be a proven historical approach to invoking enlightenment. It is here that I became aware of how much Dr. King may have been influenced by the philosopher Socrates.
My theory gains strength and validation when King mentions Socrates in his letter for the second time. King pleads for rationalization from his fellow clergyman regarding their public condemnation for protesting in Alabama.
Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock?” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter From a Birmingham Jail. April 16th, 1963.
It is obvious that King draws on the philosophy of Socrates. But this raises a question of how much of an influence did Socrates philosophy plays in King’s civil right movement? This question can only be answered as I learn more about the life of Socrates and his pupil Plato later.