Julian Lucas and Tommie Shelby at The Point:
Julian Lucas: Your introductory essay suggests that when it comes to King, contemporary thought is held “captive by a picture.” Do you think that there can be a coexistence between King the political icon and King the serious philosophical thinker?
Tommie Shelby: Well, I suppose there’s not a lot we can do about his iconic status. But it’s possible to show a world-historical figure like him due respect without treating him like an infallible oracle. In philosophy as a field, we revere a small canon of figures. We also disagree with them, point out their limits, and take them down new avenues which might be more productive. One way of re-engaging King is to read him in the way we would thinkers like Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey—as interested in fundamental moral principles, what aspects of society deserve our allegiance and which do not.
He’s also engaged in a public discussion. No great thinker is just sitting in their study coming up with everything on their own. Everybody builds on what came before, and King is no different.