Martin Luther King, Jr. and Aristotle find common ground in the idea of a distinction between just and unjust laws; however, Aristotle finds distinction in society’s understanding of the purpose of the law through extensive reasoning, while Martin Luther King, Jr. defines a just law as a law based on social mores and the “Law of God”.
Martin Luther King, Jr. claims distinction between just and unjust laws on moral responsibility or the “Law of God”. Dr. King deems a law unjust if it is “out of harmony with the moral law” (King, Jr, 4). Aristotle’s distinction relies on reasoning by surveying different forms of government and theory and recommending his own theory after his observations. Democracy includes participation of people “who [are] eligible to participate in deliberative and judicial office”, and names them “citizens,” concluding that democracy is directly defined by the significant amount of society that takes part in its endeavors (Aristotle). Aristotle bases his idea of just and unjust law on society’s understanding of why the law exists. Ideal democracy, as we discussed in class, consists of citizens in a society being almost completely informed, educated, and involved in politics and the lawmaking process. As also stated, Democracy can pose a problem to leaders, since the public is knowledgeable. The ignorant are easier to manipulate and hide unjust law from, like in Martin Luther King, Jr’s current segregated society. Martin Luther King Jr.’s argument does not share common ground with Aristotle’s because Dr. King was not arguing for a more informed public, but rather laws that followed straighter social mores. Since American government in the south relied on a special set of social mores and unjust laws that played on the ignorance and lack of education of the blacks at the time, Martin Luther King, Jr. rested much of his distinction in the “law of God,” since it is the only justification he sees fit. Aristotle would refute that notion, with his belief in societal agreement on laws to determine their qualification of justice.
Claiming that Aristotle would agree on all counts would infer that he consistently believed in the existence of a moral code, or law of a higher being. To infer that way would be incorrect, as he believes that citizens are defined by the cities they live in. If they were to agree completely, Aristotle’s idea of just law would depend on a society that follows laws because of their “moral responsibility” to do so. Instead, Aristotle argues that individuals that will ultimately make up a city have no needs or interest outside the state, and need not desire any freedom in opposition to the state; therefore, they follow laws because the law was created by and for them, they understand the reason, and they have no desire to alter it.
To say that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Aristotle disagree completely would also prove false because Aristotle does differentiate between just and unjust law, so they have an agreement that there is distinction in existence. Aristotle, as mentioned, sees justice in law when they are created with reason and society is aware of the reasoning. He describes the goals of the city and the individual to be one in the same, assuming that the city and the individual understand each other and create government amongst one another in order to create just law that can be agreed upon. Martin Luther King, Jr. specifically distinguishes just law as a moral responsibility to uphold the law, since it follows social mores or the “law of God”. Law that should be followed simply because of the rule or practice that a higher being insists.