In my recent post on idealism and identity, I mentioned my attraction to the philosophy of personalism, with its emphasis on human dignity. It is perhaps a little-known fact that Martin Luther King, Jr., was greatly influenced by that very philosophy. Early in life he ventured north to study at Boston University, then the center of personalist thought in America, where he completed his doctorate under theologian Edgar Sheffield Brightman. We can see the deep influence of personalism on King’s views in two quotes from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
As noted in my 2019 post on personalism, I’ve compiled a long reading list about this school of thought, which I’ll report on as I make progress.