Morality derives from the Latin moralitas meaning, “manner, character, or proper behavior.” In light of this translation, the definition invites the question of what composes “proper behavior” and who defines morality through these behaviors, whether that be God, humanity, or Martin Luther King in “A Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Socrates confronted the moral dilemma in his discourses millennia ago, Plato refined his concepts in his Republic, and leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi would commit their life work to defining and applying the term to political reform. Finally, after so many years, King reaches a consensus on the definition of morality, one that weighs the concepts of justice and injustice to describe morality as the burden of a bystander to uphold basic human rights and social and legal equality within a community. King pronounces this definition when he argues that idleness in the quest for justice permits people to challenge unjust policy. Concerning modern nations notorious for their crimes against humanity, King’s definition of morality creates a better understanding of human rights violations in modernity, alluding that America, as a bystander, carries the moral burden to police foreign entities. Namely, King’s definition underscores such ongoing injustices today in the Syrian Civil War.
King addresses his audience with the goal of defining morality and illustrating its role in upholding impartial society. Throughout his letter, King appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos to define the term, whereas appealing to logos when he searches for the root of moral injustice in Birmingham, explaining, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether in...
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... on the perspective. For some, morality comes from an innate and secular understanding of good and bad, while for others, morality derives religiously from the decree of God or a higher being. In any case, morality’s definition is never precise and its genealogy is never clear. As time and history progresses, humanity will continue to find itself subject to moral dilemmas. At the nexus of the issue, King drafts a beautiful definition that marries the secular and religious facets of morality. While King might argue that the foundations of morality are clear through the ordainments of God, its translation into government is often muddled—the unjust law. Yet, through his applying of logos, ethos, and pathos, King has constructed not only a comprehensive definition, but also a compelling argument on who bears the responsibility to correct such disarrayed interpretations.
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