Question
Asked 17th Apr, 2016

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." ?

According to Dr. M.L. King, "The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." This very famous quotation is inscribed on the King Memorial in Washington, D.C., and President Obama had it woven into the new rug in the Oval Office in the White House. Is this true or false, and what exactly does it mean? It can be easily thought of as a doctrine of "Divine Providence" or "historical inevitability." But many are skeptical of these ideas. Does "Divine Providence" or "historical inevitability" exist? Can we be sure that the future will eventuate in desired, moral outcomes--that the universe "bends" toward justice? 
The quotation from king's speeches to widely though to derive from a sermon of the 19th-century Unitarian Minister, Theodore Parker. See the following expert account of the matter:
But in the end, the question is whether this is true or false. Does the universe bend toward justice? Can we be sure of the moral outcomes of history? Readers may wish to consider a further quotation in relation to this question, from the Persian poet, Hafiz:
'Tis written on the gates of paradise, "Wo upon him who suffers himself to be betrayed by Fate."
The suggestion here is clearly that it is possible to refuse. This appears to be a rejection of historical inevitability.

Most recent answer

28th Apr, 2016
Luca Noro
University of Southern Denmark
I think it is clear that the metaphor owes its plausibility to christian doctrine, and I really doubt that there can be any reason for supposing that morality is some kind of process directed towards a goal. I can see how you might believe that if you are religious, or if you accept teleological causes or whatever.
But from a scientifically informed and ever so slightly cautious philosophical temper,  with an honest interest in understanding and justification, the historical facts indicate that the moral universe is more or less constant - or at least it wobbles up and down, with some societies being more or less just for shorter or longer periods of time, and must societies being just towards some, cruel towards others, and inter-cultural conflicts being, well, pretty damn unjust when it comes to moral quality. Supposing that there is some sort of divine or nomological tendency towards some desirable outcome is, in my eyes, just as good as nihilism. No, get your hands dirty if you want some change, and interpret M.L. Kings paraphrase of Parker as a rhetorical device meant to emphazise a hope and appeal to some fundamental capacity for kindness and compassion - in the context of a struggle for equal rights and abolishion of unjust institutions.
Don't try to derive a coherent or plausible metaphysics of morality - I honestly doubt there is any such thing to be found in the quote. And the discussion so far indicates the fruitlessness of that approach, since you all propose questions and ask about them "how can that be answered?" - but the questions are about the meaning of the statement under weird interpretations, that are themselves unclear, and, well, yeah, I think an ethical realist - no matter how optimistic about morality - must accept a more realistic approach that allows for strategic communication as a means to affect opinion and pursue (hopefully) good causes. 
Or go Parker's route: Appeal to conscience an mystical holy insight. I think it speaks volumes about the viability of the justificatory project you are seeking to get going. Sure, we have some kind of access to moral content, but not of that sort at all! The evolution of morality through some kind of process is a type of phenomena that would be very... how should I put it... I can't imagine any sort of magical intuition about that kind of phenomena. It would be like realizing the existence and historical development of, say, some lineage of animals in a foreign world. Not the kind of stuff that can be grasped purely by introspecting moral sentiments or whatever!

Popular Answers (1)

17th Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
This is the case, dear All, when I do not want to be on the side of skeptics and want to believe that “the universe bend toward justice” and to “be sure of the moral outcomes of history”.
Thinking, that it is better to be naive and trust that History will not disappoint, I understand the following position, too:
“The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's blackwaters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness”.
Vladimir Nabokov. A letter that never reached Russia (1976)
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All Answers (191)

17th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Dear H.G, this reminds me of the cruel statement made by the chorus in the last verses of Sophocles's Oedipus Rex: "Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain." [David Greene translation, accessed todayhttp://abs.kafkas.edu.tr/upload/225/Oedipus_the_King_Full_Text.pdf] 
I have the impression that both historical inevitability and Divine Providence are predicated on a backward glance from "the end of time" or "the end of my life", unless we want to talk about "interim" moments of justice scattered throughout history. Is the phrase you have chosen predicated on humanity (justice for humanity) or on individual lives (justice just for me)? 
This question is almost monstrous (huge, multifaceted, complex, too rich to reach...) in its implications. A great brain teaser. Thank you!
Warm regards, Lilliana
9 Recommendations
17th Apr, 2016
Carlos Eduardo Maldonado
El Bosque University
The idea can easily be traced back to Plato and the ancient Greeks. According to them, there is s sort of "cosmic justice" (not a divine, for the Greeks were polytheists). The basics of the idea is:
We better know nature and the universe and we act according to them we may be just - or free, etc. In other words, no one could ever be just if he or she did not: a) know nature, and b) act according to nature.
Nature dd not end with the earth, therefore. This basic idea radically changed when the Romans and Hebrews enter to shape the west.
6 Recommendations
17th Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
Well, if you think of an arc the highest point is the center - where the 'elbow' would be. I think it means that morality is limited by the justice that exists and vice versa. Justice create a moral society - but conversely morality creates a just society. Without one the other cannot flourish or even survive.
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17th Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
This is the case, dear All, when I do not want to be on the side of skeptics and want to believe that “the universe bend toward justice” and to “be sure of the moral outcomes of history”.
Thinking, that it is better to be naive and trust that History will not disappoint, I understand the following position, too:
“The centuries will roll by, and schoolboys will yawn over the history of our upheavals; everything will pass, but my happiness, dear, my happiness will remain, in the moist reflection of a streetlamp, in the cautious bend of stone steps that descend into the canal's blackwaters, in the smiles of a dancing couple, in everything with which God so generously surrounds human loneliness”.
Vladimir Nabokov. A letter that never reached Russia (1976)
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17th Apr, 2016
Carlos Eduardo Maldonado
El Bosque University
Dear friends, please allow me to go a bit farther wit my previous argument:
With the arrival of the Romans and Hebrews to the west, the Greek perspective changed radically - until to-date. Justice became a matter entirely entered around human beings, and nature (the universe, the cosmos) had nothing to do with that; nothing.
L. King stands on the side of the wise men - such here as the ancient Greeks, for whom there is no sharp cross-border between human beings and nature.
(I personally doubt ver seriously about all those who place justice only in the side of the human action, period. They are the ones who simply destroy nature and the environment, to ay the least).
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17th Apr, 2016
António Manuel Abreu Freire Diogo
University of Coimbra
“Does "Divine Providence" or "historical inevitability" exist? Can we be sure that the future will eventuate in desired, moral outcomes--that the universe "bends" toward justice?”
Thanks for sharing/asking these relevant questions, Dear Callaway.
It also depends of each one of us. It is our duty to turn it possible.
7 Recommendations
17th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Many thanks for the fine spread of answer! I look forward to more--and some debate of difference, please. Let me start it off, with a brief reply to Maldonado's take on the question. He seems to want to attribute this idea to the Greeks, and say that it was later overcome. But what of the following quotation from Chaucer:
"The Destiny, minister general,
That executeth in the world o'er all,
The purveyance which God hath seen beforne,
So strong it is, that tho' the world had sworn
The contrary of a thing by yea or nay,
Yet sometime it shall fallen on a day
That falleth not oft in a thousand year;
For, certainly, our appetites here,
Be it of war, or peace, or hate, or love,
All this is ruled by the sight above."
         Chaucer: The Knighte's Tale.
This seems to be clearly post-Greek and post-Roman, early modern, perhaps? Christian in any case--and a reflection of the Hebrew conception of Divine law? The idea is that what "God hath seen beforne," must follow, "shall fallen on a day." If you accept Chaucer, then it ts not to be avoided.
H.G. Callaway
6 Recommendations
17th Apr, 2016
José Eduardo Jorge
Universidad Nacional de La Plata
Dear Prof. Callaway:
This is a very profound question. I think we can interpret Dr. King's statement in two ways. One possibility would refer to the inevitability of Justice in the long term, based on our faith on the Divine Plan –that is, our faith on God.
The other possibility would imply the belief that the course of History tends to Justice. The only foundation for this belief, I think, would be the faith on human nature –which is not contradictory with the faith on God. I don’t have any doubt that Dr. King had faith on both.
I tend to think that we will have to work hard on ourselves to bend that arc in the direction predicted by Dr. King. I'm not sure we'll be up to the challenge.
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17th Apr, 2016
António Manuel Abreu Freire Diogo
University of Coimbra
Certainly that I believe in "Divine Providence", and I try always the difference, as you can easily see, Dear Callaway. Otherwise, really much I would say … I was never afraid of ignorance.
However, even if I believe in “Divine Providence”, Dear José Eduardo, and, from my Catholic Education, I have also a great devotion to the Mother of Jesus, there is a Portuguese popular expression saying “Fia-te na Virgem e não corras.”
Justice will prevail always.
Napoleon answer is assertive.
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17th Apr, 2016
Ljubomir Jacić
Technical College Požarevac
"The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice"! That is right my dear @H.G. Callaway , it is my motto. We can not separate ethics and morality out of justice. Yes dear @Antonio, justice will always prevail. I do absolutely agree.
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18th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Dear H.G. and dear Carlos Eduardo:
I am surprised by your gesture of disqualifying a Greek "source", dear H.G. I am not using Oedipus Rex as a possible source of your quote, but as an evidently interesting comment on looking backwards, at the moment of passing, to see whether we have had a just, happy life. I still question if we have to wait until the end of life or until the end of  time to see justice done, or have scattered moments of justice  here and there throughout history. 
Besides, being, as I am, a Boccaccio fan, I must remind you that The Knight's Tale is based on Boccaccio's Teseida, a rather boring epic poem that deals with, among other things, the destiny of Creon in Thebes after the death of Eteocles and Polynices at the doors of Thebes, and if my memory does not betray me, in Theseus's battle against Creon, there is a brief meditation on man's destiny somewhat similar to your quote from Chaucer, who was a well known fan of Boccaccio and, when he visited Italy and failed to meet him, he became a friend of Petrarch, and through Petrarch, he obtained copies of Boccaccio's books, among them the Teseida. Boccaccio, in turn, had become acquainted with a reader of Greek literature, who had begun to translate into Latin or Italian (i'm not sure) some Greek works, so there we might have a Greek source of The Knight's Tale's emphasis on what the possible Italian translator understood by the Theban cycle. My view of this is as speculative as yours in citing Chaucer, but my speculation is based on the fact that Chaucer did read the Teseida. At least I know that some sediment of the Greek Theban cycle — Antigone?, Seven Against Thebes?— might have found its way into Chaucer's verses on "Divine Providence". I would need sometime to check more erudite sources of this, and I will do it when I have a little more time maybe tomorrow. It bears noting that Medieval texts are rife with diverse "influences" and weird "contexts" and this should not be overlooked as if Chaucer had invented this story about the knight, which its is known he did not. He got it from Boccaccio's epic on the Theban cycle, a Greek literary source.
I agree with Carlos Eduardo's proposal of a possible Greek source. It is somewhat whimsical to exclude this possibility, especially if Greek was already being studied in Italy at Boccaccio's time, if Boccaccio was one of Chaucer's favorite writers, if Chaucer tried to meet with Boccaccio and returned home with some of his books, among them the Teseida, and if it has been established that the source of The Knight's Tale was Boccaccio's Teseida, etc.
Warm regards, Lilliana
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18th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
OK, dear H.G., I found this splendid thesis on Chaucer's reading of Boccaccio's Teseida, a very minute reading, well documented, and that discusses both Boccaccio's and Chaucer's possible Greek and Roman sources, among them, St. Augustine and Boethius, both of which have moral aspects in tune with your direct quote from Chaucer... Maybe you'll want to sift through this thesis? 
I must say that the author of the thesis reads Bocaccio's episode of the temples —where the greek gods are allegories passion and reason—, in quite a different way I have interpreted it, as he is interested in establishing that Boccaccio has no moral intent, and Chaucer does have it. The fact is that Chaucer is much more literal that Boccaccio, who prefers to keep his Teseida within the bounds of literature and allude to a philosophy of morals instead of outright formulating a moral teaching or maxim, as Chaucer does.
Best regards, Lilliana
2 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
Sara Liyuba Vesely
itb cnr
I must confess that I don't know whether there is an absolute Justice at all, or whether legal justice has to be submitted to moral
In any case, the best way to try and obtain some progress in an area of human activities or interests, is to be committed to it. The choice to uphold oneself to a consistent way of live, as well as the sensation of historical inevitability are important endowments. Perhaps, it is easier to endure stresses and discomfort if one's endeavor is also supported or encouraged by other people.
Sometimes historical inevitability is connected with the success of the endeavor. But I don't think that the chances of succeeding can really be forecast. Finally, even if being successful, there is apparently a relief. I had the opportunity to read it in the following form:
3 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collado,
You've made several interesting contributions to this thread. Let me start with your first comment, if I may,
You wrote:
I have the impression that both historical inevitability and Divine Providence are predicated on a backward glance from "the end of time" or "the end of my life", unless we want to talk about "interim" moments of justice scattered throughout history. Is the phrase you have chosen predicated on humanity (justice for humanity) or on individual lives (justice just for me)?
---End quotation
I think that the matter of "individual" or more general justice is pretty much indifferent here. The idea is that "the arc of the moral universe" "bends toward justice," generally.
There are certainly versions of "Divine Providence" and "historical inevitability" which depend on an implicit or assumed conception of the end of time or a backward glance at the world or life as a completed whole. Such is sometimes the case with a conception of "Divine Providence"  predicated on Divine omniscience, especially if it is assumed that we have any access to such omniscience. One problem with this conception, of course, is that we have no such omniscience, and in consequence, calling on "Divine Providence," in support of any high aims or purposes, is frequently viewed as extremely contentious and doubtful. If our political leaders call us to war for God's purposes, I think we would all or most be extremely skeptical, though historically, it has often happened--on both sides of various wars. 
I take it that calling on "historical inevitability" has a pretty much similar status and value. Again, this has often been predicated on predictions of the ultimate outcome of history, and such predictions and claims to knowledge are all pretty doubtful in my own estimation. How history will turn out certainly depends on what we do, what we will do, and that in turn depends on what we will come to know--which is unpredictable in principle.  In a similar way, I suppose that if the moral universe will bend toward justice, then we will make it so bend. I would only add that I also believe there are sometimes pretty compelling reasons to make it so bend, "moral necessities," we might say. For example, when Lincoln observed, that "A House divided against itself cannot stand," he was right, and it was implicitly a call to action to bring our house into order. A nation could not long exist "half slave and half free," and part of what was required came in the form of a "law of freedom;" the XIII Amendment. This was by no means "inevitable."
That Chaucer was a Christian writer, I have little doubt. My point in calling on Chaucer was not to exclude any Greek influence, but instead to say that Greek influences on a writer do not exclude Christian status. But the argument can be made more directly. M.L. King was, of course, himself a Baptist minister, and that is prima facie grounds to view the quotation from King as Christian or at least not inconsistent with Christian teachings. Many thanks for your elaborate exploration of Chaucer's sources. But in general terms, the influence of Platonism and neo-Platonism on Christian thought is well recognized, I believe.  In a somewhat similar way, the concept of "natural law" can be traced from Greek through Roman into Christian and later thought. We might look at the quotation from King as related to the tradition of natural law.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Diogo & Readers,
I thought this a very interesting comment:
“Does "Divine Providence" or "historical inevitability" exist? Can we be sure that the future will eventuate in desired, moral outcomes--that the universe "bends" toward justice?”
Thanks for sharing/asking these relevant questions, Dear Callaway.
It also depends of each one of us. It is our duty to turn it possible.
---End quotation
I agree that whether the moral universe will "bend toward justice," depends on what we do. That helps raise a deeper question. If the turn of the moral universe depends on what we do, would it then follow that we can equally do anything we please--and then count it as justice?
In sympathy with King, I am, of course, inclined to argue against such a view. I have no doubt that human beings are perfectly capable of calling anything they please "justice," and then proceed to run off a cliff into catastrophe. An example of this can be drawn from the time of Lincoln. We could have simply ignored the "house divided against itself," and ignored the contradiction between a nation "conceived in liberty" yet maintaining a pernicious economic interest in human slavery--and called it justice! But that was exactly the false disposition which eventually produced the catastrophe of the Civil War. 
In contrast, there were those such as Theodore Parker, in those times, who saw the moral necessity of freedom. They were the people who got it right--and helped to bend the moral universe toward justice. They were able to improve the moral standing of the country, drawing on its pre-existing values.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
18th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Dear H.G, if justice is not for us, why are we talking about it? Who or what else could, then, appreciate justice if it ever happens?
Besides, you did strongly sugest that neither Greek nor Roman sources were to be considered.
You said: "This seems to be clearly post-Greek and post-Roman, early modern, perhaps? Christian in any case--and a reflection of the Hebrew conception of Divine law? The idea is that what "God hath seen beforne," must follow, "shall fallen on a day." If you accept Chaucer, then it ts not to be avoided."
I was intrigued by the your connection between "seems" and "clearly", which happen to contradict each other. Besides, I am quite willing to forego Chaucer from this discussion. In choosing Chaucer, you are setting the "arrow" yourself by establishing the two points that define a line: the strong and inevitable straight line of Divine Providence. Not fair. If you follow my straight line from not so-Christian Boccaccio and King, the whole Divine Providence arrow becomes quite another story. Boccaccio is on the side of freedom, not of God. That is why his young and happy Brigatta go back home despite the Plague after telling each other lots of stories dealing with better governance and better government, and the need of being good for goodness sake, like endearing and honest and mothering Griselda, Boccaccio's protagonist of his book's final story, whom Chaucer literally massacred in his grossly moral version of the story. 
But, I agree with you in that the long-standing tradition of "natural law" and the Platonic substrate of practically everything in the West as we know it, must be at least considered.
I loved your quoting Chaucer, which frankly I do not like as much as Boccaccio, maybe because of Chaucer's occasional prudishness dressed as irony and satire (I will never forget the phase "and he broke wind" in The Miller's Tale..,. after all Nicholas ends with a hot iron brand in his rear behind...). The first time I read that I was very young and I laughed a lot... But Boccaccio was more intelligent, almost a feminist in nuce, he invented the psychological novel (Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta), wrote splendid pastoral literature and drama (Ninfale fiesolano and and the Comedie delle nine florentine, my favorite of his pastoral), wrote the Teseida, De mulieribus claris, the Corbaccio, and, among many other witty and intelligent "non-fiction", his Genealogia deorum gentilium libri and his smart Praise of Dante. Bur, really, Decameron is my absolute favorite of all his works. No single medieval author has enjoyed —besides Dante himself— the readership and admiration Boccaccio had. I have never tired of reading the Decameron, whose prologue states, in an extended and allegorical manner (the allegory being The Plague itself), that God is the only one who may do justice because the ways or men are being punished by a great collective and corrupting "plague", which more or less sets the drift of Boccaccio's admirer Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of The Canterbury Tales, which book owes so very much to the Italian master's greatest oeuvre. In sum, I do not believe in Death waiting for me under a tree and I do not want to be a Pardoner either... 
Warm regards, Lilliana
18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collodo,
Bravo Boccacio! (and Dante, too.)
Bravo Chaucer!
Let's look at "natural law."
More later. My point was, of course, that "Divine Providence" is a quite Christian idea, and not merely Greek. Unfortunately, however it may be with Divinity, we lack omniscience. Still, we can sometimes see the "better and worse" of moral judgments and positions. Right?
H.G. Callaway
18th Apr, 2016
António Manuel Abreu Freire Diogo
University of Coimbra
Dear H.G. Callaway, what I meant is that the morality and the direction “toward justice” also depend of each one of us, and it is our duty to turn it possible. Please do not make a wrong understanding and misuse of my sentences.The “deeper question” that you raised later is biased, makes no sense, and it is totally yours. By the way, thanks for calling me Diogo, it sounds good also. In fact I am usually known as (Prof.) Diogo, but you can call me António Manuel also, as my Dear Lilliana kindly, and intelligently, called me. In my opinion, Ethics and Moral are also associated with Education, not with typos or personal attacks. I hope that I has been enough clear.
3 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
Petru Cardei
National Institute of Research - Development for Machines and Installations Designed to Agriculture and Food Industry
Dear Sir
Thank you for your message. I confess that the first time I read this famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr. It is, at least at first glance, beautiful, hopeful. I understand that Theodore Parker Unitarian pastor comes from. May have even older origins [1].
From what I read, I do not understand the exact meaning of the word arc, but seems to be that the gun. That seems to be more arc curve ... If you can, help me understand.
But essentially, Martin Luther King, is an earthly leader, and the statement attributed to him, can produce the type Barabbas in choosing what we are offering us today, and was given the Hebrew people before the crucifixion of Jesus.
This does not mean in fact than action, rebellion (except a movement type Gandhi). Either revolt and emancipation means perpetuating the violence. The chain such violence continue. Not the way of Jesus. This is not the way of Calvary. So now I'm thinking ... maybe I'm wrong ... but so feel. It's hard, it's hard, but that is the way: Way and the Truth and the Life.
And as a supplement, it is known that God was very angry when people have asked leaders in turn. It was an offense to the Creator. Yet God chose to let his creation (so much loved and loves!).
Look at humanity today:
1) you have no idea about how many laws and treaties as there worldwide?
2) You can estimate about how many people are involved in conflicts to justice?
3) we could get an idea of human energy and the other is lost in these conflicts?
Could it work for the benefit of human injustice and confirmation of absolute justice, God's justice? And if we find something, it may not be very late to make the final step of the prodigal son ...
I did not doubt that God will bring initial creation standards. And also we will have patience until we all learn the way of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And if following this path, I finally get somewhere other than heaven, even in that case, I would be happy for aesthetic reasons. I would be happy that I did not hit anyone, I have not killed, I have observed the commandments. For me this and Way, the Truth and the Life is beautiful and absolutely good. So I feel now (but not necessarily always so doeth).
I think we could develop very much this subject. Unfortunately, we have developed activities that the devil takes care of us pretend permanent. Sometime we will understand how insignificant are our daily activities, in relation to crucial issues like the one you have remembered it.
If we make clarifications, and will not bored, or are not too superficial an amateur, I promise to come back.
Thank you, God help us!
References
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18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Diogo,
Since I do not know the usages of various places and people, I just use last names. No offense intended by this. I am just trying to communicate without prejudice to those contributing here. My focus is on the soundness of the positions and arguments and not on my relationships to the contributors.
You wrote:
The “deeper question” that you raised later is biased, makes no sense, and it is totally yours.
---End quotation.
If you would like to back up your critical remark, then I would be glad to respond to the criticism. Why, then do you think it "biased?" My question reads as follows:
If the turn of the moral universe depends on what we do, would it then follow that we can equally do anything we please--and then count it as justice?
What exactly do you think is wrong with this question? Your remark is puzzling--and you offer no explanation.
For example, would be be perfectly o.k. even a practice of "justice,"  if your teachers were to spread defamation against you, so long as you failed to cooperate in their academic plans and purposes? Or would this be highly unjust, even if an agreed practice and accepted among academic insiders?
Would it be perfectly o.k., if generally agreed, to enslave our neighbors and treat them as less than human--deserving of no independent standing in the conduct of their own lives?
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Dear H.G, how can we "discuss" if you keep bending that arrow towards a single point of view? No Greeks, only Christian lit; no history but religion; no humanity but Divine Providence... it feels that you are merging religion with morals. 
1 Recommendation
18th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
Dear H.G Callaway,
" Does the universe bend toward justice? Can we be sure of the moral outcomes of history? "  
We can't be sure and it is why we have to hope and do something about it.  It is a good ideal to be a part of the universe that contribute towards making the universe bend toward justice.  
2 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Petru,
You wrote:
From what I read, I do not understand the exact meaning of the word arc, but seems to be that the gun. That seems to be more arc curve ... If you can, help me understand.
---End quotation
Consider again the quotation from King:
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
The statement certainly has a metaphorical character, or maybe some would say its another kind of literary trope or comparison.  --based on geometrical shapes: "the arc of the moral universe," is said to "bend toward justice." Reading this through, I imagine a trajectory, as with an object moving through open space. It is launched from one position, perhaps somewhat upward in direction and it curves back downward eventually --tending to hit the mark of justice.
Obviously, the concern is with a "movement" toward justice. Justice is what we hope to see accomplished by this movement. We are warned that the "arc is long." Something is moving toward or directing us toward justice. Entering into the "universe" of morals, it seems, we hope for justice, and the assurance is given that in this moral universe, or the world of our moral concerns, things "bend" toward the very object we hoped for. It is as though the moral universe has a shape.
We want to ask, I think, What is the nature of this "bending toward justice," and how are we to understand the relationship of this "bending" or tendency toward justice and our needed, contributing efforts? How can there be a tendency toward justice, if its accomplishment turns on our efforts? How can the "bend" of the moral universe contribute to arriving at justice? What is this "bend?" 
The idea is perhaps best understood by relation to examples, such as that I provided above concerned with the period before the American Civil War. My suggestion ws that we recognize the "bend" toward justice by seeing that an opposite course of action leads to catastrophe.
I hope this helps. Interpreting and understanding literary language is not the first thing one is expected to do in a foreign language!
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
Dear H.G. Callaway,
"If the turn of the moral universe depends on what we do, would it then follow that we can equally do anything we please--and then count it as justice?"
No it do not follow that we can equally do anything and count it as justice.  That would remove any meaning to the word justice.  The turn of the moral universe depends on what we do and it is exactly because of this that what we cannot do anything we please if our intent is to bend the moral universe towards justice.  
The bend can only be our desire for justice.  Without this desire in us the universe  would not have any possibility to bend towards justice.   Our desire for justice comes from our biological nature , our enculturation and so from our history. The word justice was created along this history.  Our primate ancestors even had some primitive sense of what is a fair social behavior and a sense of being unfairly treated.  We live in society and from the very origin of our species we have a sense of justice.  And even the most ancient traditional societies have sophisticated notion of justice that applies to their way of living together.  Justice has always been central to any human society and so there was always in our history an active bending towards justice. The homeostasy of society requires a bend towards justice.
5 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collodo,
It seems you've stopped reading the postings? Are you seeing them all?
You wrote:
Dear H.G, how can we "discuss" if you keep bending that arrow towards a single point of view? No Greeks, only Christian lit; no history but religion; no humanity but Divine Providence... it feels that you are merging religion with morals.
---End quotation
Basically, I suppose, we need to attend to the claims and arguments made, and offer our answers. Some regard "natural law" as religious, but some regard it as Greek. I think you failed to notice the import of the above discussion of "Divine Providence." It seemed to be relevant to the quotation, but now seems less so, IMHO. 
It is one thing to reply to a religiously oriented question in kind, it is quite another to exclude the Greeks or the humanists! My intention is nothing of the sort. But I do not want to exclude religiously motivate discourse here either. The idea that my aim is "no history but religion," "no humanity but Divine Providence," seems to me odd and it is quite mistaken.
I aim, on this thread, to understand and evaluate the quotation from M.L. King, and where this may take us is up to the contributors. How can the moral universe "bend" toward justice, if this requires, as many or most agree, our appropriate efforts? I have not seen you addressing this matter.
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
António Manuel Abreu Freire Diogo
University of Coimbra
H.G. Callaway:
“I agree that whether the moral universe will "bend toward justice," depends on what we do. That helps raise a deeper question. If the turn of the moral universe depends on what we do, would it then follow that we can equally do anything we please--and then count it as justice?”
End of quotation
IN MY OPINION, I suppose you are agreeing with yourself and asking yourself an absurd question. It seems a question of the own conscience.
H.G. Callaway:
“For example, would be be perfectly o.k. even a practice of "justice,"  if your teachers were to spread defamation against you, so long as you failed to cooperate in their academic plans and purposes? Or would this be highly unjust, even if an agreed practice and accepted among academic insiders?”
End of quotation
IN MY OPINION, and as far as I know, if someone was “to spread defamation against you, Dear H.G. Callaway, so long as you failed to cooperate in their academic plans and purposes”, someone was committing a public crime… As far as I know, a Teacher or Professor could never do that.
3 Recommendations
18th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
 '"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
The geometrical metaphor that this statement: sudgest to me is movement of a planet around the sun.  The planet movement (moral universe) constantly arc/bend towards the sun (justice).  So even if the attraction is small, the bend will be there and the arc long but it will orbit around the sun.
2 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard,
It seems to me you are coming along. You wrote:
No it does not follow that we can equally do anything and count it as justice. That would remove any meaning to the word justice. The turn of the moral universe depends on what we do and it is exactly because of this that what we cannot do anything we please if our intent is to bend the moral universe towards justice.
---End quotation
This is close to the idea in King and in Theodore Parker, as I understand it. It is not the case that something is just because we agree that it is, though we need to eventually agree about innovations regarding justice in order to implement them. So, as I argued above, no amount of agreement on the idea that the pre-Civil War constitution was just would suffice to render it actually just. There could not be a viable nation, half-slave and half free, a "house divided against itself" which nonetheless stands (at best you'd get a long, slow decline), or a nation "conceived in liberty" yet maintaining a pernicious economic interest in human slavery. 
Its very much like an old Platonic or quasi-Platonic question: Does God will that so-and-so, because it is just or good, or is so-and-so just or good because he wills it? For many people, I think, this kind of question is hard to answer. That is because moral goodness and justice are implicitly wedded to authority for them. Yet, regarding any earthly authorities, we know that their view of moral questions may be unsatisfactory, limited, contentious, biased or worse. In those terms, one can understand why it was so hard for mid-nineteenth century American to change.
There is a very simple argument involved. All human beings "are created equal," and have "certain inalienable rights." The country was wedded to these founding words. Yet, everyone knew that black Americans were human beings. It is a very short inference to the conclusion that something is wrong with slavery. One might say, it took a Civil War to put through the inference and institutionalize it. That is because of the obvious economic motivation of the slaveholders, but also because both North and South accepted the constitution of 1789--and its compromise with slavery. It also maintained the prosperity of the North.
This is a kind of paradigm case argument, to put the matter in more philosophical terms. The better and worse of moral rules and of law cannot be identified or defined by reference to prior social or social-political agreement. Improvements may be possible in spite of the most intensive social-political resistance. I take it that there is always a more or less objective question of what would count as an improvement and what would not, given the full array of pre-existing values of a given society and the particular problems it may face.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
19th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Yes, dear H.G., I am just trying to read from somewhere else towards something else. Maybe that makes me invisible or... ah... invisible! It is ok. Even though King talks from a religious point of view, the issue has a great philosophical import that by far outweighs it. What if we read from another religion? Or from none, and God is just a rhetorical mechanism to cull meaning out of history, as in Walter Benjamin's idea of an "Angelus nous", or "Angel of History"?
I would rather think this out from another philosophical thread. That is why I see such a strong link between King's share taken at his word, and Sophocles's final verses of Oedipus that you so lighly discarded. I am impressed by the connection between these two utterances, which is so eventful to me almost as an "universal Western preoccupation", which you dismissed by just arbitrarily discarding any possible conversation between the Greeks and Chaucer's words, that I so easily could read because I am a serious medievalist. The fact that you will not address the chain of literary events from ancient Greek philosophy going through Boccaccio and then through Chaucer to who knows how many other writers interested in the idea of justice means that, in your discussion, history is of secondary importance vis à vis divine providence. If Chaucer is important, why not Boccaccio and before him Plato, for example? I am stating that the sequence of authors points to the history of a concept of justice, which I personally find valuable here, and you don't. It is not true that I am not addressing the matter, It is just that you are taking into account only what is important to you from a narrow point of view. 
There is the history of the idea of justice, so strongly questioned by the Oedipus chorus, retrieved somehow by Boccaccio in his singularly secular prologue to Decameron, captured by Chaucer in a much more moralist and Christian viewpoint, then in other authors like, for example, C. F. Volney's The Ruins of Empire (1791) in general, and the impressive scene between Plato Karataev and Pierre Bezukoff in Tolstoy's War and Peace, which conversation  transpires in a sort of Dantesque limbo in the middle of nowhere, in the very absence of a clear worldly context, and the lack of historicity of the situation places Pierre where he can acknowledge there is a "God", devoid of the trammels of religion, almost a pure phisosophical idea of a superior incorporeal being, that is somehow striving to make sense out of the purpose of life... And there is the void shown by, let's say, Sebald who also comes into the foray as much more pessimistic, embracing the void created by a history that seems meaningless.
I say this to point that the backward glance from the moment of death, present in these literary discourses, tends to secularize the idea of our purpose in life vis à vis our chance at having justice bestowed upon us either by history, implacable or not, or by God, present or absent. After all, the Greek's last moment intuition of happiness and justice during that frail and swift backward glance cannot be quite swallowed by a Christianity that believes in eternal life. Taking only a thin, moralizing thread and leaving out the rest is just not real, H.G., King alone cannot carry on his shouders neither the bent arrow nor the responsibility of making meaning in a world that has foregone almost all hope of actual justice in the present or in the foreseeable future, and that questions the existence of an eternal life.
You are enthralled by Divine Providence and not giving history a fair chance in this discussion, dear friend.
Warm regards, Lilliana
2 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Diogo,
We agree, then, I suppose, it would be a "public crime." 
Hence, not just anything that might exist as a practice and is generally agreed could possibly count as moral or just. See my summary directly above addressed to Brassard--where I consider the more interesting case of human slavery.
I would add, though, that certain pernicious practices aiming at control of institutions and positions within them amount to virtual slavery. If you have not encountered any such practices, then count yourself lucky. 
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Brassard,
It seems to me you are coming along. You wrote:
No it does not follow that we can equally do anything and count it as justice. That would remove any meaning to the word justice. The turn of the moral universe depends on what we do and it is exactly because of this that what we cannot do anything we please if our intent is to bend the moral universe towards justice.
---End quotation
This is close to the idea in King and in Theodore Parker, as I understand it. It is not the case that something is just because we agree that it is, though we need to eventually agree about innovations regarding justice in order to implement them. So, as I argued above, no amount of agreement on the idea that the pre-Civil War constitution was just would suffice to render it actually just. There could not be a viable nation, half-slave and half free, a "house divided against itself" which nonetheless stands (at best you'd get a long, slow decline), or a nation "conceived in liberty" yet maintaining a pernicious economic interest in human slavery. 
Its very much like an old Platonic or quasi-Platonic question: Does God will that so-and-so, because it is just or good, or is so-and-so just or good because he wills it? For many people, I think, this kind of question is hard to answer. That is because moral goodness and justice are implicitly wedded to authority for them. Yet, regarding any earthly authorities, we know that their view of moral questions may be unsatisfactory, limited, contentious, biased or worse. In those terms, one can understand why it was so hard for mid-nineteenth century American to change.
There is a very simple argument involved. All human beings "are created equal," and have "certain inalienable rights." The country was wedded to these founding words. Yet, everyone knew that black Americans were human beings. It is a very short inference to the conclusion that something is wrong with slavery. One might say, it took a Civil War to put through the inference and institutionalize it. That is because of the obvious economic motivation of the slaveholders, but also because both North and South accepted the constitution of 1789--and its compromise with slavery. It also maintained the prosperity of the North.
This is a kind of paradigm case argument, to put the matter in more philosophical terms. The better and worse of moral rules and of law cannot be identified or defined by reference to prior social or social-political agreement. Improvements may be possible in spite of the most intensive social-political resistance. I take it that there is always a more or less objective question of what would count as an improvement and what would not, given the full array of pre-existing values of a given society and the particular problems it may face.
H.G. Callaway
5 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Mario Radovan
University of Rijeka
It very much depends on what you call justice. Ruthless (liberal) capitalism does not seem particularly just towards those who are weaker.
4 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Kausal & Radovan,
Many thanks for your thoughts. It strikes me that your questions are broader than that at the head of this thread of discussion. You are more concerned with "What is justice?" This is a perfectly good question, though very broad and philosophical. If we find out what justice is here or there, or at some particular time and place, then this contributes to answering the broader question.
Part of what we must do, to "bend" the moral universe toward justice, is to put concern for justice above concern for money; but few will want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It seems more a matter of domesticating it for broader human purposes. Likewise, e.g., I'd be extremely skeptical of economic nationalism or trade protectionism which could kill the international trading system. That would likely produce a cataclysmic world depression comparable to the 1930's --a great deal of misery and distress.
"Be careful what you wish for," said Goethe. There is no virtue without self-restraint.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Frank Landis
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Dr. King's statement is a statement of faith, hope and ideally, intention. It implies that justice is not ours to create or expect, but that our highest behavior is to be moral anyway.
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Readers of this thread may find the following piece of interest, my Introduction, "Emerson on Creativity in Thought and Action," which I wrote for my 2006 edition of Emerson's book of essays, The Conduct of Life:
You may notice that Emerson is very close to Theodore Parker in several ways.
Emerson originally published the book between Lincoln's election as President in 1860, and the outbreak of the Civil War in early 1861.
Let me recommend the full, annotated book to your attention:
Comments invited.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
"Justice is the sum of all moral duty."
                                                    -----  William Godwin
2 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Looking about, I found the following quotation:
Aristotle (384-322 BC) ... believes that justice consists in giving people what they deserve, and that a just society is one that enables human beings to realize their highest nature and to live the good life. For Aristotle, political activity is not merely a way to pursue our interests, but an essential part of the good life.
---End quotation
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
Doctrine of compensation and cosmic justice...
I like this:
"If there is no automatic compensation, and justice depends on our continuing to work to distinguish the “better and worse” among possibilities and human potentialities, the point still remains that internal honesty and rigorous intellectual and moral integrity may hold the solution even for those illusions which arise from our occasional stubbornness and blindness." (p. XXIV)
Off-topic: this phrase and the phrase of ML King bring to my mind some of the frescoes or prints, etchings, depicting a procession of sages and moralists, such as Socrates (we know his attitude to justice), under the allegorical figures of Justice, Virtue.. We can see moral universe (in old "microcosmic" meaning = as thinking human beings), its "arc" and Justice itself! 
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
H.G. Callaway
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.''
We live into a two stars moral system that each bend the moral universe,
One bend the moral universe towards justice and the Second bends the moral universe towards MONEY (ring of power).  They are not working in the same direction.  On to bend/harmonize the money universe towards a moral universe bends toward justice is the question of our time.
''Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.''
J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
3 Recommendations
19th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Back to the Greeks!?!?
Interesting, dear H.G. Finally, the "good life" almost nobody talks about nowadays. 
There is a "drama" in King's discourse that foregoes specificity, a drama of hope cut off  from probability. There is no immediate proof of this bent arc's reaching justice, just barren hope. Tragically, King was killed in a base, incredible, instance of gross injustice. In his case, it would be cruel to quote those last verses of Oedipus: King would have said that his assassination, in staging his backward glance at his moment of passing, was sorrowful as he died without bearing witness to justice. Historically, his death proved the historicity of injustice. In his passing he might have realized that his optimistic words had failed to catch justice in the flesh. King did not get to live the 'good life". Thus, maybe history —not divine providence— is a better context for understanding King's hopeless hope for justice.
Lilliana
2 Recommendations
20th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collado,
Aristotle speaks of the good life and of happiness, though acknowledging that "a single swallow does not a Summer make."  He also denies that we can only judge of a good life at its end. You, in some contrast, seem rather fond of the idea? But you do come around to Aristotle.
Lucky for us that we are not in the situation of king Oedipus. But this is not to deny that human beings have never experienced such tragedies. In particular, if we allow general social conditions to decline sufficiently, say, by supporting the powers-that-be, for advantage, no matter what the implicated practices, then of course we will expect conditions to decline and justice to recede. The "arc" of the moral universe can become longer than it was, lacking our good efforts. That in fact is what has been happening in recent decades.
As I say, there is no virtue without self-restraint, and virtue is inconsistent with the domination of self-seeking and self-promotion; and equally, there is no justice if all politics is made simply a matter of seeking advantage. As I've often argued, the best way to avoid the tragic "ethics of life-boats," is to keep out of life-boats. To recognize tragedy is to see that things are not always under possible control. But this is no excuse for surrender of the control which we may in fact have --"going along in order to get along." There is much about of the elitist self-promotion of insiders, washing their hands like Pilate, of the world's problems, and pleading the unavoidability of tragedy.
Though Emerson's essay "Fate," is in fact an argument for freedom, given the situation in which he published it, he justly emphasized all those factors which make us hesitate and doubt. Read a passage:
The Greek Tragedy expressed the same sense: "Whatever is fated, that will take place. The great immense mind of Jove is not to be transgressed." Savages cling to a local god of one tribe or town. The broad ethics of Jesus were quickly narrowed to village theologies, which preach an election or favoritism. And, now and then, an amiable parson, like Jung Stilling, or Robert Huntington, believes in a pistareen-Providence, which, whenever the good man wants a dinner, makes that somebody shall knock at his door, and leave a half-dollar. But Nature is no sentimentalist, — does not cosset or pamper us. We must see that the world is rough and surly, and will not mind drowning a man or a woman; but swallows your ship like a grain of dust. The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple. The diseases, the elements, fortune, gravity, lightning, respect no persons. The way of Providence is a little rude. The habit of snake and spider, the snap of the tiger and other leapers and bloody jumpers, the crackle of the bones of his prey in the coil of the anaconda, — these are in the system, and our habits are like theirs. You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity, — expensive races, — race living at the expense of race. The planet is liable to shocks from comets, perturbations from planets, rendings from earthquake and volcano, alterations of climate, precessions of equinoxes. Rivers dry up by opening of the forest. The sea changes its bed. Towns and counties fall into it. At Lisbon, an earthquake killed men like flies. At Naples, three years ago, ten thousand persons were crushed in a few minutes. The scurvy at sea; the sword of the climate in the west of Africa, at Cayenne, at Panama, at New Orleans, cut off men like a massacre. Our western prairie shakes with fever and ague. The cholera, the small-pox, have proved as mortal to some tribes, as a frost to the crickets, which, having filled the summer with noise, are silenced by a fall of the temperature of one night. Without uncovering what does not concern us, or counting how many species of parasites hang on a bombyx; or groping after intestinal parasites, or infusory biters, or the obscurities of alternate generation; — the forms of the shark, the labrus, the jaw of the sea-wolf paved with crushing teeth, the weapons of the grampus, and other warriors hidden in the sea, — are hints of ferocity in the interiors of nature. Let us not deny it up and down. Providence has a wild, rough, incalculable road to its end, and it is of no use to try to whitewash its huge, mixed instrumentalities, or to dress up that terrific benefactor in a clean shirt and white neckcloth of a student in divinity.
---End quotation
How was this thinker to pull freedom and the possibility of improvement out of the kinds of situations described?
I recommend reading the entire book--which provides a good answer. (My Introduction is a good start.) What is especially to be avoided is passive fatalism and acquiescence in the face of the troubles and opportunities of life. Of course, it may turn out that the friends of tragedy and acquiescence don't want to see their own responsibility.  As a rule, though, they don't mind seeing victims as an alleged validation of the lack of blame and  the supposed superiority of the passive observer. But the more we have of passive acquiescence as a rule of life, the more we will have of tragedy and victims.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
Fatalism is one thing, dear H.G., and actual death by violence is another. History happens, and divine providence is, at best, a metaphor for things that will or will not happen. History is what wreaks havoc in our plans, in our hopes, in our view of the world. Oedipus final verses are a way of saying precisely that: one thing is to hope for the good life, and quite another is to witness, at the last moment of life, that yours was not that good. To me, King's assertion sounds hopeful, but not "true" or actual. I cannot question King's faith or hope or beliefs. I can only read his words, words that resort to a metaphor to open its meaning even more. These are not literal words, they mean more than what they say: and they point to a postponement of justice, not to actual justice. 
I am reminded of Nozick's intuition on death: "Death does not always mark the boundary of a person's life as an end that stands outside it; sometimes it is a part of the life, continuing its narrative story in some significant way. Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Jesus, and Julius Caesar all had deaths that were further episodes of their lives, not simply endings, and we are able to see their lives as heading toward those immortal deaths..." The Examined Life.
Just as Sophocles proposed the Oedipus narrative as heading toward the realization that you do not know whether you have led the "good life" until your very moment of passing, which narrative is similar to the kind of phrase you examine here by King , the fact is that King's narrative includes both his famous quote and his vicious assassination that led him toward an "immortal death". King's death has marked us more than his hopeful  idea of eventual (and eventful) justice. As king's violent death will not be forgotten, that breach of meaning between our continued remembrance of King 's death and his hopeful description of eventual justice cannot be mended. 
After reading all your comments, dear friend, I see that we do not agree at all. But the thing is that there is no single way to read King, especially because his phrase and his death are part of a winding and complex narrative of his life that you cannot conveniently freeze right when he uttered the phrase that you quote. When King talks about the arc and its bent toward justice, he himself is proposing a narrative that goes from a "now" of injustice to a future when justice will come to us somehow. King's own life finally became that of a martyr, a person whose flesh bore witness to concrete injustice. Thus, in his real life, King's quote must be read again, not alone, but as King's counterpoint to the reality of his being murdered. You have artificially torn the real King from his phrase, turning King's death into something less significant than his quote. On the contrary, King's death was and is a strong political event that will make us question justice, its where and when, its whom and to whom. We, historically and with our own hands, will have to make justice for ourselves. The "moral universe" is this we live in, and justice can only be actual and material, as actual and material as King's death, not as King's phrase. Death was real, and justice a belief predicated on "divine justice". 
Lilliana
20th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collodo,
It seems to me that you feel perfectly free to attribute what is not intended in the least. For example:
You have artificially torn the real King from his phrase, turning King's death into something less significant than his quote.
---End quotation
I have done no such thing.
You take the fact that something was not mentioned and turn it into a denial of what was not mentioned. It is as though you think that we can say nothing true or false, unless everything (everything!) is mentioned. But it is in fact impossible to bring in everything. You devalue something worth considering by considering something else. This is, in fact, merely to change the subject, to distract from it, or at best to advocate for another subject.
But there is, of course, nothing in this situation which would prevent you from opening your own question. What we see is that you do not desire to discuss this question, but continue to interject comments in spite of that. What are we to think? It is not only that you do not really want to discuss the present question, you don't want anyone else to do so, either? That, it strikes me, is not an argument and it is not an evaluation of the quotation from King.
You completely ignore the argument of my prior note, so far as I can see. The question of passive acquiescence in the evils of the world, however horrible they may be, is a genuine problem. The prevalence of elite indifference to the lack of public virtue is a genuine problem --that is, it is said, how to "get ahead."  The practice of going along with evil, or "seeing no evil," only tragic victims--concerning which we can do nothing, is a genuine problem.  The rejection of hope and of an ameliorative stance is all too prevalent.
What can I say? You like to emphasize the negative. O.k. So what? Dear Ramos-Collodo, is the glass half full or half empty, and what can we do about it? That's the question. No rehearsals of the trials of King Oedipus will change the fact that improvements requires our commitment to develop the best in pre-existing values, and work for their improvement. The fact of death, not King's and not that of anyone else, argues against the need to make the best of  life.
I am well aware of the tendency to despise and reject our cultivation of the good for the sake of the better. Do you really so despise religion, or even the hint of it, so much that you can not see any good in it? Must we go ever again down the road of ideological exclusion of religious values and people? I hope not. I rest my case on tolerance and inclusion--and not on any call for orthodoxy. If you don't agree, I'd suggest taking your argument to the orthodox. With me, you've got the wrong address. 
I think the question stands. In what sense could we defend the idea that the moral universe "bends toward justice"? We now have your answer, apparently, that it simply doesn't.
You continually ignore the subtile character of the contrary positions. Apparently you'd rather pound away at the orthodoxy of "Divine Providence?" But you don't address the more orthodox contributors--only the tolerance of them. Why so?
Easier to make sparks? 
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Laguta,
Many thanks for your comment. You wrote:
I like this:
"If there is no automatic compensation, and justice depends on our continuing to work to distinguish the “better and worse” among possibilities and human potentialities, the point still remains that internal honesty and rigorous intellectual and moral integrity may hold the solution even for those illusions which arise from our occasional stubbornness and blindness." (p. XXIV)
---End quote
I think that is a nice selection from my Emerson Introduction, which suggests how Emerson's conclusions might be acceptable to the less orthodox. It supposes, as I remarked above, that we cannot freely accept just anything agreed and socially established as representing justice. Instead given our pre-existing values, and outstanding problems, there can be a genuine "better and worse" to proposed reforms. Its a highly contextualized form of judgment which, I'm afraid, does not go down easily among the ideologically and divisively committed. 
Thanks, too, for the image of the painting. I enjoyed it. I think Emerson would also have liked it.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2016
Lilliana Ramos-Collado
University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras
This is funny, H.G. Not being subtle... ?. Sparks, not really. A bit frustrated by subtleties that are not quite willing to just be. I really do not see subtlety here. To me, it seems more like dissipating the possibility of connections. You are spreading the possible analyses, I am trying to grasp what King was and the fact that he said what you quote. I do not think that you are subtle, but adamantly diffuse. I am trying to see a thread from Oedipus to King that you do not like because you see a different thread. We are interpreting an utterance, probing into its meaning and consequences. To this I add King's death and the backward grace I mentioned at the beginning. You go in another direction, and suddenly again here are the Greeks that you rejected! To follow a thread of thought is not to be orthodox, dear H.G. I have tried to see where my thread would take me, while you have been spreading what is more a net than a thread. Am I orthodox because I do not agree with you? Must I read the whole of  Emerson's "Fate" so that I get to understand your position or my "error"? We started with King and then Chaucer (devoid of Greek and Roman sources)... and then so many others, to finally land on Emerson and Aristotle. Those are not subtleties, dear R.G., those are roaming references than are only invoked to prove something that no longer has to do with King.
It is not fatalism that I say King died a cruel death that has become an iconic, an eternal death protected by collective memory, according to Nozick. That I do not agree with you is not a lack of subtlety. My thread, which brings together Oedipus + Boccaccio + [Shakespeare: I thought of him but I did not mention his Lear, who killed himself as king before dying of a real death] + Volney + Tolstoy + Sebald, is much more diverse, even subtler, than Chaucer + King just because my thread includes more interesting nuances as to the relationship between history and divine providence. That I want to enlarge the portrait of King to include his iconic death and not just the quote you chose to discuss is not orthodoxy. That I think history as a context and as a concept is more amenable to understanding the import of King's whole existence —man an mind, body and word, reason and belief— that just a quote is, in fact, an intent to widen your narrow political hermeneutics of one particular phrase about a "moral universe". King was lucid beyond mere morals.
On second thought, some sparks may come in handing. This is getting too obscure.
Lilliana
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Ramos-Collado,
Let's see who follows your lead through the Woolly wilds of world literature. 
I think the question stands. In what sense could we defend King's idea that the moral universe "bends toward justice"? We now have your answer, apparently--that it simply doesn't.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
20th Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
"A moral lesson is better expressed in short sayings than in long discourse."
                                           ---  Johann Georg Zimmermann
2 Recommendations
20th Apr, 2016
Sadia Tariq
Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts
Objectively speaking, there is no ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’ universe. The universe is only ‘logical’.  The only inevitability is that whatever existed, exists or will exist has to be ‘logical’. That is in accordance with the logical process of Nature as a whole. In Nature there is a fundamental general causative process in accordance with which the modification or disintegration of existing and evolution of new forms and processes unfolds and operates. In fact Nature is actually this process and not something separate. This process of Nature is an interconnected and interactive many-layered and multi-dimensional process, with every layer and dimension having its own specific logic. It is this aggregate of all micro and macro processes and their respective logics that we are calling the ‘Universal and Unified Logic Process’ (this concept is being developed in detail as a part of a body of knowledge that I am currently compiling and writing).
This process is neither ‘a priori’ nor ‘supernatural’ and it encompasses all forms and processes---past, present and future. It is our ignorance of and failure to perceive and grasp the dynamic (interconnected and interactive) state and logic process pertaining to any phenomenon, event, process, etc., that leads us to anthropomorphize it in various ways. Hence we can call it random, chaotic, supernatural, divine, just, moral, immoral, designed, and so on so forth.
In my view the ‘bent’ of the universe or ‘Universal and Unified Logic Process’ is neither a priori nor towards ‘justice’ but only has a ‘tendency’ or for lack of a better word a ‘preference’ to move towards more complex and stable formations with more functions, greater dynamic and potential, which we can clearly observe and grasp if we carefully study the evolutionary process of Nature. This has been the general overall direction, in specifics we do find movement towards both complexity and disintegration into simpler formations as a result of the selection and rejection processes, but which are again ‘logical’ processes.
On another note, the proverb ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ is not a statement of some historical inevitability or divine justice intervening to make this happen, but of a logical organic objective process that happens in Nature; a many-layered, interconnected and highly interactive and dynamic process of cause and effect, with no need for a priori, supernatural or extraneous factors to explain it.
If contemporary man can recognize, understand and connect with the ‘preference’ of the ‘Universal and Unified Logic Process’ then he can intelligently manipulate many factors, and processes to reduce conflicts, contradictions, dispersion, etc., and move towards more desired outcomes of  greater happiness, integration and harmony in his individual and social existence.
Thank you to all the readers for bearing with my slightly longish comment.
Best Wishes!
2 Recommendations
21st Apr, 2016
Clifford Cobb
American Journal of Economics and Sociology
According to the Wikipedia article on Theodore Parker, the original quote that Martin Luther King was paraphrasing was as follows: ""I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."   I take both Parker's and King's quotes to refer to their own experiences living a life resisting evil  that seems to thrive for the moment.  Neither of them gives in to the temptation to believe that some form of cosmic justice punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous.  They know better than that.  But as a matter of faith, they profess a hope that, over hundreds or thousands of years, self-sacrifice is rewarded in the form of slight changes in the structures of society.  The moral arc they discern in thousands of years of history involves shifting the balance imperceptibly from force to persuasion, from narrowness of vision to a wider frame of reference, and from pursuit of purely hedonistic pleasures to the more complex pleasures that arise from making a community a better place to live.    Both authors would, I believe, agree with the following quote by Reinhold Niebuhr: "“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”
5 Recommendations
21st Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
"A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true."
                                                                                    -----  Socrates
1 Recommendation
21st Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
Dear Lilliana,
does this question "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." ?" have only one answer?
2 Recommendations
21st Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
Dear Callaway,
It was a happy time of allegoric vision, and symbolism of arcs was really divine. The similar images are in Orthodox iconography, church interiors... Now we have only old metaphors with a lightly "updated" sense .
I hope, not sure, that  "Emerson would also have liked" Perugino's works. The aesthetics of the High Renaissance and Catholicism is not very close to American Protestant preachers, though they use the same symbolic means, but in the language .   
21st Apr, 2016
Olga Laguta
National Chengchi University
Dear Susan,
what about temptations?
1 Recommendation
21st Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
""I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." King,
King's certitude stems from his vision through faith.  Vision through faith is not what most would think it is.  Most thinks that it is shutting down you brain, closing your eyes and just blindly swallow the sacred scripture.  This is the notion of faith from those rejecting anyking of faith.  Those having a faith but not in a superficial way, person such as King, faith becomes perceptual.  He acknowledged that it is not an intellectual perception, that he cannot see far away that way.  It is an historical interpretation coming from the hearth for someone totally committed into a certain sacred way of life.  This is called divination and it existed in all cultures but only possible for very few people that become the eye of a tradition, the vision of a  future through that tradition in a period of crisis.    Kind was such a person and it is apparent in his last speech that he also forsaw his imminent death.
Two experts of Martin Luther King's last speech. He delivered it on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. The next day, King was assassinated.
''God allowed me to go to the mountain top.   .... and I have seen the promess land''
2 Recommendations
21st Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
King was no doubt a man of faith, and, of course, a Baptist preacher. Here follows is a short piece from one of his speeches in which he makes the claim we have been discussing on this thread:
This runs about 2 Min.
"Faith" is one thing, however, and our question here is not whether participants have this faith. Instead the question is whether is is true or false that "the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice." And if you are convince that it is true or false, then we want to know what reasons there are to hold it true or false.
Even on the most orthodox religious views, matters of faith can sometimes be known by reason and evidence. What are the reasons and evidence for King's claim? I have argued, above, that it is open to a quite natural explanation.
H.G. Callaway
21st Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Laguta,
Compare Emerson on "The Transfiguration":
The Transfiguration, by Raphael, is an eminent example of this peculiar merit. A calm, benignant beauty shines over all this picture, and goes directly to the heart. It seems almost to call you by name. The sweet and sublime face of Jesus is beyond praise, yet how it disappoints all florid expectations! This familiar, simple, home-speaking countenance is as if one should meet a friend. The knowledge of picture-dealers has its value, but listen not to their criticism when your heart is touched by genius. It was not painted for them, it was painted for you; for such as had eyes capable of being touched by simplicity and lofty emotions.
---End quotation
See Emerson's essay "Art" from his Essays, first series, for more of a similar character. Appreciation of art is not usually limited by confessional or religious traditions, though you wouldn't expect the New England Protestants, say, to decorate in such a way.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
21st Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
Dear H.G. Callaway,
KIng used different type of arguments for advancing cause of the african american but the real power of his message stem more from the recognition by his audiences of his self-sacrifice for what he believed in.  Everything else counts very little in comparison to this.
1 Recommendation
21st Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
King was no doubt a man of faith, and, of course, a Baptist preacher. Here follows is a short piece from one of his speeches in which he makes the claim we have been discussing on this thread:
This runs about 2 Min.
"Faith" is one thing, however, and our question here is not whether participants have this faith. Instead the question is whether it is true or false that "the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice." And if you are convince that it is true or false, then we want to know what reasons there are to hold it true or false.
Even on the most orthodox religious views, matters of faith can sometimes be known by reason and evidence. What are the reasons and evidence for King's claim? I have argued, above, that it is open to a quite natural explanation.
H.G. Callaway
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." ? - ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/post/The_arc_of_the_moral_universe_is_long_but_it_bends_toward_justice [accessed Apr 21, 2016].
1 Recommendation
21st Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
I've just come across an article, on line, concerned with Edmund Burke and human rights, which I would like to point out to readers of this thread.
The paper is titled "Conservatism and Human Rights" by Priyanka Menon and appeared in The Harvard Political Review:
I want to quote here from the author's reflections on M.L. King and the Civil Rights movement. She says:
Though he admonished those who opposed the Civil Rights Movement on the grounds of favoring order over justice, King repudiated claims of radicalism and extremism made against him by drawing a connection between himself and a common past. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, one of the defining essays of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King justifies his use of civil disobedience by drawing parallels between his actions and those of biblical figures, early Christians, Socrates, participants of the Boston Tea Party, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. By doing so, King grounds his actions in a shared tradition, thus creating a historical legitimacy for the Civil Rights Movement, the very legitimacy Burke claimed the French Revolution lacked.
While King’s invocation of tradition with regards to the Civil Rights Movement did not automatically lead to its success, the rationale it provided helped draw supporters from every cross-section of American society. One of the key elements of a successful strategy for social change is the support of vocal, visible community leaders. As Rachel Vogelstein, a fellow in the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, puts it, “Engaging at the local community level is the critical question. It is so important and critical to have local leaders on board.” In the 1960s, King achieved exactly that, involving communities and their leaders in his movement.
---End quotation
My point is that King drew for support on tradition. That, of course, did not make of him a conservative. (Likewise, with Burke, his emphasis on tradition is conservative, only so far as the claim is consistent with Burke the reformer.) 
King drew not only on religious tradition, but also on American political tradition in making his case for Civil Rights. I hold that compelling arguments in value inquiry, since they depend on appeal to pre-existing values in a given society or population, will not be available when no particular pre-existing values are available to which we can appeal. Our arguments and argued positions essentially concern the better and worse of possible reforms of pre-existing values. To dispense with tradition has the effect of de-centering the debate and discussion. "King grounds his actions in a shared tradition, thus creating a historical legitimacy for the Civil Rights Movement..." Such arguments have their force for anyone sharing the values to which he appealed.
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
22nd Apr, 2016
John Mizzoni
Neumann University
It is easy to interpret King’s statement as strictly an implication of his theism. Yet, perhaps King’s comment also has to do with his understanding of history, and his observations about civilization.  Even the atheist Richard Dawkins observes that over the long term, we can see moral progress.  In the book The God Delusion (2006), Dawkins writes: “Religious or not, we have all changed massively in our attitude to what is right and what is wrong.  What is the nature of this change, and what drives it?  In any society there exists a somewhat mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades, and for which it is not pretentious to use the German loan-word Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) … It has shifted in all of us, and the shift has no connection with religion … The shift is in a recognizably consistent direction, which most of us would judge as improvement … Where, then, have these concerted and steady changes in social consciousness come from?  The onus is not on me to answer.  For my purposes it is sufficient that they certainly have not come from religion ... how is it synchronized across so many people?  … Some of us lag behind the advancing wave of the changing moral Zeitgeist and some of us are slightly ahead.  But most of us in the twenty-first century are bunched together and way ahead of our counterparts in the Middle Ages, or in the time of Abraham, or even as recently as the 1920s … Of course, the advance is not a smooth incline but a meandering sawtooth.  There are local and temporary setbacks … But over the longer timescale, the progressive trend is unmistakeable and it will continue” (pp. 265-271).
3 Recommendations
22nd Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
"Astronomers have been bewildered by the theory of an expanding universe, but there is no less expansion in the moral infinite of the universe of man. As far as the frontiers of science are pushed back, over the extended arc of these frontiers one will hear the poet's hounds on the chase."
                                                    ----   Saint-John Perse
1 Recommendation
22nd Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Mizzoni & readers,
Yes, that's a very nice argument. Even Dawkins, you say:
Even the atheist Richard Dawkins observes that over the long term, we can see moral progress. In the book The God Delusion (2006), Dawkins writes: “Religious or not, we have all changed massively in our attitude to what is right and what is wrong. What is the nature of this change, and what drives it? In any society there exists a somewhat mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades, and for which it is not pretentious to use the German loan-word Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) … It has shifted in all of us, and the shift has no connection with religion … The shift is in a recognizably consistent direction, which most of us would judge as improvement...
---End quotation
Many thanks for the reference. Dawkins wonders how this works. There is a somewhat old-fashioned term for it, "secular melioration," where "secular" doesn't mean non-religious or anti-religious, but something like "over the ages." We see some moral improvements over the ages, though not without backsliding and the danger of the re-emergence of barbarism.  For example, the "Hunger Games" may remind us of Roman gladiators and the Roman arena, but we need not take the moral from the movies that we are inevitably headed back that way. They might be understood as a warning against any similar development.
How does "secular melioration" work? Dawkins sees something of a mystery. But it is at least plausible that this happens by means of our inquiries, studies, experiments, papers and books published, discussions, debates, etc. We needn't be part of some grand social-political movement or organization, and we needn't be among those lionized by the media or "in" with the academic in-crowds. Scholarly and scientific work contributes. Sometimes, of course, we known not how. On the other hand, there may be sudden recognition of our work and efforts. How it will go is unpredictable--just as the acquisition of knowledge or moral insight is unpredictable. 
It appears that the most aggressive atheists need not be reductive moral materialists. Given his very negative view of religion, has Dawkins missed the point that religions, along with the family and the schools, transmit pre-existing values between the generations?
H.G. Callaway
2 Recommendations
22nd Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
John,
''The shift is in a recognizably consistent direction, which most of us would judge as improvement''
The situation is not so clear.  In the 1950, 1960 and 1970 I would have said, the situation was clearly improving.  But a lot of the promess and hope of these years vanished since then and the situation is worsening in many respects signaling a Zeitgeist crisis .
We can list a lot of changes that most of us could judge as improvement (science, technology, communication, education, health care, etc) but we can as well list a lot of changes that most of us could judge as deterioration or worsening (pollution, life extinction, over population, water supply, desertification, concentration of wealth in richer 1%).  And there are a lot of changes which are not the same everywhere, they improves in some part of the world and worsened in other parts of the world.  Some people and culture get eliminated and there is no future for them.  
1 Recommendation
22nd Apr, 2016
Nicolas Evers
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Dear all. I think the universe mentioned by Dr. King is made of the beliefs and convictions of the people. The variety of these beliefs and convictions is very long as King says; but in the end, so that the mentioned curvature becomes a true it depends on each of us as individuals. The moral may be an object of science so it is possible to navigate in this large universe and even bend it toward justice. The next question would be what kind of justice?
1 Recommendation
22nd Apr, 2016
Mario Radovan
University of Rijeka
Let me give a skeptical answer to this question. Partiality and hypocrisy have become "the great sickness of our Western press and television", says Robert Fisk. Such discourse of the media have become "the excuse for all of us to avoid the truth" (The Age of the Warrior, p. xiv).
Therefore, the partiality and hypocrisy of the public discourse have encouraged all us to become partial and hypocrites. Fisk gives a bleak picture of our reality, but his discourse is accurate. There are two tendencies in this story. First, we are inclined to avoid facing bad things; hence, we present things in a better shape than they really are. Second, we have learned (from the media & politicians) to be partial and hypocritical. For example, a group of democratic countries brought great troubles (to say the least) to millions of Iraqi people for no reason beyond greed and vanity. When this became obvious, the American and British citizens re-elected their leaders who perpetrated this dubious act. We learned to ignore the evil we do, and we proudly produce nice slogans about freedom, democracy, and justice, as if nothing happened.
In my book "Existence and Ephemerality", I proposed a criterion of right and wrong, which I called the mirror principle. In brief, imagine that somebody behaves towards us in the way we behave towards others: would we call such behaviour right or wrong? The same holds for justice. Had some other country done to Iraq (let alone to us) what the proud democrats have done, would we call this right or wrong? Would we vote for those who have done this? In sum, we may all wish that reality were better than it is, but I am not sure we are getting much better in practice.
4 Recommendations
23rd Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Radovan,
There is a short review of the Fisk book, The Age of the Warrior, available here, from The Independent:
I do not think you will find much to surprise you in the review, given your comments. My own view is that President Obama brought us back from the brink of these excesses; but, frankly, I simply do not understand the wide sympathy for the Clintons. My campaign slogan this primary season has been, simply, "No more Bushes, No more Clintons." 
A good part of the related problem seems to me to arise from the fact that campaigning and politics has been assimilated to advertising. It is too often run by political advisors and operators. Politicians are often unwilling to take positions which have not been shown to be already popular. More reasonable positions tend to be crowded out by sloganeering and vividly appealing positions having more the status of one-sided advertising.
I firmly believe that the Iraq war was a vast moral error, and that moral considerations  are too frequently being left out of political councils --in favor of the idea that "winning is everything." .
See my review of Schlesinger's War and the American Presidency:
Notice the quotation from J.Q. Adams, who Schlesinger called our "greatest Secretary of State." 
H.G. Callaway
4 Recommendations
23rd Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
RE: the definition of "anti-Semitism," see the following story from  the NY Times:
The definition mentioned in the review by Fisk is said to be a "relic" not supported by contemporary usage.
In any case, I believe that anti-Semitism is morally repugnant; and that people should generally be looked on as individuals and not judged as members of groups. Nor does it make much sense to me to aim to form one's relation to people and peoples on the basis of the behavior of the State of Israel, or on the basis of one's reaction to others sharing a collective identity of any sort. In spite of that, I am also aware that some members of particular groups refuse to be thought of except in terms of their membership and will take criticism or avoidance of any member of the group as amounting to rejection of the group as a whole. That seems to me a very doubtful policy.
As a country so largely based on immigration and integration, it is as though the entire constitutional policy of the U.S. was designed to avoid what we call (endless) "communal strife." If that is not completely true, then we ought to pursue reforms to make it true. You can see here my grounds for skepticism of "multiculturalism." In general terms, the U.S. constitution protects freedom of religious practice, freedom of speech, freedom to peacefully protest, etc. it does not protect ethnicity. That is how it should be.
How other countries arrange their affairs is basically their business, not ours.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
23rd Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Laird,
There are numerous laws, federal, state and local, in the U.S. protecting people against discrimination on ethnic or racial and other grounds. I think the constitutional basis of these laws, some of which are controversial, others not, is the federal government's constitutional power to "promote the general welfare," and the 14th Amendment's provisions protecting the rights of all citizens of the U.S. against the powers of the states. I am sure that the exact constitutional grounds could be brought to light by examination of court cases in which the various anti-discrimination laws have been challenged.
Clearly, all should be treated equally before the law. We do not want to see favoritism in hiring, employment, public accommodations, etc.
Laws come and go, in contrast to the constitution which is extremely difficult to amend. Even the law does not specifically protect ethnicity, it only protects citizens against pernicious discrimination. 
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
23rd Apr, 2016
Mario Radovan
University of Rijeka
Dear Callaway,
thank you for the information & links. I downloaded and printed your "Review of Schlesinger" and I will read it. Let me say that I am not particularly interested in politics. I gathered my frustrations & notes (made during the last fifteen years) in the book "Communication and Control", and put it on the Amazon/Kindle. I intend to conclude my "political writings" with this book.
Regarding elections, this is a specific game & business, which functions according to its own principles. Its activities and discourses are goal-oriented, and they are not to be taken literally. In the book mentioned above, I wrote:
Democracy is ... a kind of a rain dance: the rain may come or not; it may be calm and useful, or a storm which causes damage. ... Democracy is a collective rite that some people love, and many are frustrated with, but we do not have anything better with which we could replace it. Hence, we are compelled to stick to this colourful festival of noise and vanity in which some protagonists win a fortune, a part of the audience finds satisfaction, while the rest of us have no other choice but to endure all this.
Regarding the presidential candidates, the one I like the most is slightly too old; the others are not exactly my choice. Anyway, I do not vote in this story, and the outcome will be what it will be.
4 Recommendations
24th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Radovan,
Many thanks for your reply and your thoughts on democracy. I agree with much of what you say, but I do think we must be critical of the on-going practices of democracy. The reasonable supposition is that democracy is more than merely electoral politics and partisanship, noise, vanity  and "colorful festival." I think it clear that some politicians and particularly some political operatives and consultants prefer it that way, and do not want to see criticism of the practices of democratic societies. But if democratic and constitutional government has a normative purpose, then it is open to us to criticize the actual practices by reference to the presupposed normative aims or goals and ends of democratic practices.
The tendency toward "media circus," is fairly strong, and the media will tend to highlight whatever is capable of attracting attention. But the serious business of democracy has a cognitive function. There are outstanding problems and issues of any on-going society which require attention. Elected officials are representatives of the people and public trustees of the powers of government. These powers of government are designed to serve the public, and not designed to serve the self-aggrandizement of politicians and their friends. In elections the public is entitled to call our politicians to account for their exercise of the powers which have been entrusted to them. Media attention to problems and issues helps in this, but insofar as the media distract from these matters, highlighting, perhaps, only what may benefit their own business model,  then this is a disservice to the public which they ostensibly aim to serve. My point is that we should not acquiesce in the foibles of the electoral process. We do have some choice about this.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
25th Apr, 2016
Hazim Hashim Tahir
Ministry of Science and Technology, Iraq
Dear Colleagues,
Good Day,
"Belief is a moral act for which the believer is to be held responsible."
                                                                                  -----   H. A. Hodges
2 Recommendations
25th Apr, 2016
Mario Radovan
University of Rijeka
Dear  Callaway,
I agree with all you say. However, in reality, democracy does not function exactly as it is supposed to do. That is why I use expressions such as "rain dance" and "colourful festival". I want to stress the discrepancy between the nice ideas, and the less nice reality.
I speak about the holders of administrative, economic, and cultural power. We elect only the administrative power-holders, and they may well be the weakest one in the mentioned "trinity". In his farewell address, a former American president spoke about the "military-industrial complex" and similar things, which you surely know better than I do. I wrote that we do not have anything better than democracy, but the present democratic institutions (system) often seem dominated by other powers.
2 Recommendations
25th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
Dear Mario Radovan,
''capitalism is a spontaneous economic system driven its immanent tendencies, while the essence of democracy lies in people intervening through collective political praxis to shape their destinies, including especially their economic destinies, which militates against this spontaneity. ''
''in the era of globalization, when finance capital becomes globalized, while the state, which remains the only possible instrument through which the people could intervene on their own behalf, remains a nation-state. Here, as already mentioned, the state accedes to the demands of finance capital, so that no matter whom the people elect, the same policies remain in place, as long as the country remains within the vortex of globalized finance. Greece is only the latest example to underscore this point.''
It seems that globalisation is a global finacial power on the economy that has through the dogma of globalisation remains outside of the political, and so then vassalize the political/democracy  to the finacial.  So it seems that under globalisation the arc of the moral universe arc towards capital holding.
2 Recommendations
25th Apr, 2016
Mario Radovan
University of Rijeka
Louis: "... the state accedes to the demands of finance capital, so that no matter whom the people elect, the same policies remain in place"
Correct. And that reduces democracy to a "form without a relevant content", as I wrote somewhere.
1 Recommendation
26th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Radovan,
If the state accedes to the demands of finance capital, against the requirements of the common good, then, regarding the sitting politicians, it is time to "throw the bastards out." Or, more politely sated, it is time to make a careful review of the sitting politicians, their relationships to vested interests and to wisely select those who will most likely reverse the unfortunate and pernicious policies. 
Whether the moral universe will "bend toward justice," no doubt depends on what we do and what we will do--as we have already seen in this discussion. I think the negative consequences of not acting are usually pretty sure, say, if the great financial interests come to run a country without sufficient legal restraint. We pretty much know what would then happen. Sooner or later you get an economic, and perhaps also a financial catastrophe. As I see it, passive fatalism about outcomes always favors the ruling powers by default. We have to supply the content, though we can't supply the content arbitrarily and still expect reasonable and desirable results.
Surely, if everyone (cleverly as they may see it) just "goes along" (with-the-powers-that-be) in order to "get along" (e.g., for self-advancement) and the "powers-that-be" are dominated by unrestrained demands of "finance capital," then this will likely eventuate in a catastrophe. Its by avoiding such catastrophe that reasonable people will act to bend the moral universe toward justice. The moral necessity of avoiding dire consequences, though, is not a matter of what we happen to desire.
H.G. Callaway
26th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Laird,
My impression was that the question about the definition of "anti-Semitism" was settled several pages back. See the prior pages.
Webster's gives the following definition:
Full Definition of anti–Semitism
:  hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.
That is more or less what you will find on the web or if you look up the word in any good dictionary.
I take it as self-evident that we should not judge a person, "before" knowing them, on the basis of their ethnic or religious or racial affiliation. That is the meaning of a rejection of "prejudice." It is a word very morally charged, and rightly so, but from a purely epistemological perspective this kind of prejudice its about like judging a book by its cover. Again, anti-Semitism is morally repugnant.
It is true that the Arabic language is classified as "Semitic," meaning that it is more closely related to Hebrew than it is, say,  to Persian or Kurdish, which are Indo-European languages. But, no, the contemporary American usage of "anti-Semitic," does not include anti-Zionism or Islamophobia. By the way, not all Muslims are Semitic and nor do they all speak Semitic languages. 
H.G. Callaway
26th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear Laird,
I don't think you make clear the relationship of your last note on the "unbroken chain" to our topic and question here. Its important to try to do so. 
But it is perhaps worth mentioning that the concept of moral law also has its ancient Hebrew roots.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish, but he that keepth the law, happy is he." Proverbs 29:18.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
26th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
Dear Susan,
This account of the history of the Jewish people is a traditional religious one. So it is not an historical account based on acceptable historical facts. THe mythical Abraham did not necessarily exist.  He might as well been created after the fact and a mythical foundational figure of a largely mythical story of the beginning of this particular semitic group of people that much later were called the jewish people and of which we have historical traces.  Historically the story as told there is very dubious.  As dubious that the story that all humans began with a couple named Adam and Eve. It is maybe a good story for religious education. As an adult one needs a lot of faith for beleiving in this story.  I prefer to take it as a good moral fiction that has something to teach us while taking enormous historical liberty to this end
2 Recommendations
27th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
The suggestion was made to me in a private note that we might better understand the King quotation in terms of a concept of objective justice:
Justice [is] an objective reduction of harm toward others.
This idea might explain the intuition that we cannot arbitrarily select our direction of development or conception of values. Is this correct? Comments invited.
H.G. Callaway
3 Recommendations
27th Apr, 2016
Ramon Quintana
University of California, Los Angeles
King's quote assumes that the universe contains objective laws of morality, contrary to Hume's ought/is dictum. And further, that the universe contains laws that push/pull events toward moral perfection. It is a poetic quote but perhaps based on faulty premises. However, that does not mean our society cannot adopt such principles as working premises on which to base our laws and institutions, not unlike other "self-evident truths", e.g. that all men are created equal. King’s notion of universal morality also assumes teleological causes and laws. It is not clear (at least to me) that teleological causality and laws are absolutely foreclosed. If they are not, then perhaps King’s hope for justice is plausible –in the long run. But in the long run, we are all dead, as Keynes quipped. So King’s form of justice must be an other-worldly sort of thing. 
It seems to me Hume's law (is-ought) makes it difficult to ground any values (individual, collective or cosmic) in the absence of religious or other forms of absolutism. In political terms, the U.S. Constitution and its stated values (e.g. “we are all created equal”) serve to ground our “collective good will”, whether or not these values are a priori justifiable or simply taken on secular faith. Of course, most Americans believe that it is our Judeo-Christian heritage that grounds the good will we all rely to peacefully coexist and thrive. As an agnostic, I am wondering (rather late in life) where secular liberals search for their values in the absence of religion.
2 Recommendations
27th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
H.G. Callaway ,
''Justice [is] an objective reduction of harm toward others.''
This definition reminds me of Bentham's notion of morality.  It become a Felicific Calculus  where justice become a minimum of total of pain,.  This kind of moral calculus lead easily to justify dropping atomic bombs or to use enhance interrogation techniques for preventing terrorism.
I think that the notion of justice cannot be objectified.  How someone juge a situation , such as harm is enormously subjective.   For any situation, one will find the glass half full and the next person will find the glass half empty.  Same situation, two totally different judgements. 
We cannot re-invent a society from scratch and so we have to adopt of gradual reformist approach towards justice.  The question is then not what is the ultimate societal model but what is the best little realistic reform that can be done now.  In searching for this particular reform we should prioritizing correcting the more unfair societal situation, usually a situation affecting the most under privileges in the society.  The hope is that without even knowing where all this will lead, that repeating reforms privileging the most underprivileges will bring us to bend towards justice.
2 Recommendations
27th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Justice is a process? We can define it better by how it develops than we can by where it may be supposed to ultimately arrive? But, on the other hand, it is often said that "Justice delayed is justice denied."  Can these both be true? 
When M.L. King was asked how long the "arc of justice is?" He would answer, "Not long!"
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
27th Apr, 2016
Louis Brassard
H.G. Callaway,
Justice is always delayed, the best we can hope is that society is not moving aways from it but towards it.  We cannot delay moving towards it and even less delay the aspect of societies that are moving away from it.  Poeple are patients as long as they see things moving in the right direction but they tend to become impatient when they see moving things in the wrong directions.
1 Recommendation
27th Apr, 2016
H.G. Callaway
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Dear all,
Are we making some progress, then? Is it agreed that justice is a process? If so, how is this specific process to be defined?
Webster's gives the following general definition: "process"
: a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result
: a series of changes that happen naturally
& Full Definition of process
1a :  progress, advance <in the process of time>b :  something going on :  proceeding
2a (1) :  a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result <the process of growth> (2) :  a continuing natural or biological activity or function<such life processes as breathing>b :  a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially :  a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture
3a :  the whole course of proceedings in a legal action b :  the summons, mandate, or writ used by a court to compel the appearance of the defendant in a legal action or compliance with its orders
4:  a prominent or projecting part of an organism or organic structure <a bone process> <a nerve cell process>
---End quotation
Though it may seem a somewhat strange question, my familiarity with "process philosophy" leads me to ask whether a process can also be and object --a special kind of object, perhaps? I ask, because, the idea has already been broached that the ultimate outcome of the process of justice cannot be determined; we can only go through the process to find which way it goes.
Again, if this is not to be an arbitrary process, then it seems we have to give at least its initial conditions. How do we determine the conditions from which the process is to begin? I see no alternative here to the acceptance of the force of pre-existing values in a given society. We need to start with pre-existing values that people actually have, and which move them, in order to motivate reform of values in the direction of greater justice.
I continue to assume that we can tell the difference (sometimes at least) between the "better and worse" of proposals for reform.
H.G. Callaway
1 Recommendation
28th Apr, 2016
Olof Dahlberg
Combitech AB, Sweden
My view of the process of justice would be a steady decrease in the level of injustice. Each chance we get, we need to try to our ability to reduce the injustice we can see, and that is the responsibility of every one of us.
Whatever the definition of justice used, certain injustices are not so controversial, for example denying someone basic education, free speech or the equal protection of a legal system.
I think we can clearly see more justice as the information technologies have evolved to where a vastly increased amount of data is now available to a very large portion of the world population.
Examples of this decrease:
False accusations and hiding of evidence are both becoming ever more difficult and old cases are reopened as technical development enables investigators to re-evaluate old evidence. More legal equality.
History is shown in new light as old sources are re-examined and more people can be involved in gathering new information and analysing old data. Delayed justice, sure, but still an increase.
Current events are reported from more viewpoints, anyone can upload a text or a video. Showing just one side of a conflict is no longer so easy.
Not only technical but also social development enables this increase in justice. When more people have access to education, health care and a job, less opportunity exists to abuse them.
I have hope, since we have a steady increase in the abilities and knowledge of people. Each generation improves on the previous, with very few exceptions, whatever grumpy old men have had to say about it.
Olof Dahlberg
1 Recommendation
28th Apr, 2016
Sara Liyuba Vesely
itb cnr
Dear prof. Callaway,
as the above definition Nr. 4 differs from the previous ones, are you suggesting that the arc of the moral universe is like a ballistic trajectory, like that of a shooting-star, say? Then, according to physics, your question is if the arc process -- the becoming -- is subject to a law of motion, or is a random process. In physics it is a debated question.
1 Recommendation
28th Apr, 2016
Luca Noro
University of Southern Denmark
I think it is clear that the metaphor owes its plausibility to christian doctrine, and I really doubt that there can be any reason for supposing that morality is some kind of process directed towards a goal. I can see how you might believe that if you are religious, or if you accept teleological causes or whatever.
But from a scientifically informed and ever so slightly cautious philosophical temper,  with an honest interest in understanding and justification, the historical facts indicate that the moral universe is more or less constant - or at least it wobbles up and down, with some societies being more or less just for shorter or longer periods of time, and must societies being just towards some, cruel towards others, and inter-cultural conflicts being, well, pretty damn unjust when it comes to moral quality. Supposing that there is some sort of divine or nomological tendency towards some desirable outcome is, in my eyes, just as good as nihilism. No, get your hands dirty if you want some change, and interpret M.L. Kings paraphrase of Parker as a rhetorical device meant to emphazise a hope and appeal to some fundamental capacity for kindness and compassion - in the context of a struggle for equal rights and abolishion of unjust institutions.
Don't try to derive a coherent or plausible metaphysics of morality - I honestly doubt there is any such thing to be found in the quote. And the discussion so far indicates the fruitlessness of that approach, since you all propose questions and ask about them "how can that be answered?" - but the questions are about the meaning of the statement under weird interpretations, that are themselves unclear, and, well, yeah, I think an ethical realist - no matter how optimistic about morality - must accept a more realistic approach that allows for strategic communication as a means to affect opinion and pursue (hopefully) good causes. 
Or go Parker's route: Appeal to conscience an mystical holy insight. I think it speaks volumes about the viability of the justificatory project you are seeking to get going. Sure, we have some kind of access to moral content, but not of that sort at all! The evolution of morality through some kind of process is a type of phenomena that would be very... how should I put it... I can't imagine any sort of magical intuition about that kind of phenomena. It would be like realizing the existence and historical development of, say, some lineage of animals in a foreign world. Not the kind of stuff that can be grasped purely by introspecting moral sentiments or whatever!
1 Recommendation

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