In Pursuit of a Just Society: Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Rawls

Journal of Religious Ethics 18 (2):57 - 77 (1990)

The social thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., creatively joins the particularity of the African-American freedom struggle, with its roots deep in black religious experience, to the universalist rhetoric of America's constitutive documents to produce an inclusive conception of justice for all in American society. This essay places King's thought in dialogue with that of the contemporary American moral philosopher John Rawls. Such conversation is important in both directions. Secular moral philosophers such as Rawls are challenged by King's thought to take account of the importance of religion in offering critical and constructive resources for public life, while King's project and the tradition of black Christian activism in which he stood are strengthened in their relation to public discourse by taking account of the challenge of a moral philosophy based on reason. This essay has two parts: an overview of King's vision of the just society and a comparative examination of this vision through selected elements of Rawls's theory of justice.
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