What are the three dimensions of complete life?

According to Martin Luther King Jr., the three dimensions of complete life are length, breadth, and height. He outlined these dimensions in a sermon he delivered in the 1950s and 1960s, and the dimensions themselves have roots in Plato's Euthyphro.

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In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro , written in 380 BCE, Socrates meets a man named Euthyphro outside the office of the legal magistrate of Athens who is known as the "King Archon." Euthyphro is involved in a matter regarding the murder of a family servant for which his father is being...

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In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, written in 380 BCE, Socrates meets a man named Euthyphro outside the office of the legal magistrate of Athens who is known as the "King Archon." Euthyphro is involved in a matter regarding the murder of a family servant for which his father is being charged. Socrates has been charged by one of his students with "impiety," corrupting the youth of Athens, and inventing new gods and rejecting existing gods.

Socrates's meeting with the King Archon is essentially a "preliminary hearing" which will ultimately lead to his trial for his life on the same charges.

This chance meeting between the real Socrates and the fictional Euthyphro evolves into an extended discussion about the nature and meaning of piety and justice, explored within the context of Socrates's philosophy regarding "the greatest good of man," later expressed at his trial:

I say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living. (Plato, Apology, "Socrates' Proposal for his Sentence")

According to Socrates, a life worth living—which is to say, a compete life—requires rigorous self-examination in all aspects, but most particularly regarding moral and ethical matters.

Martin Luther King Jr. studied Plato and Socrates and often quoted Socrates to support his belief in civil disobedience and nonviolence (for example, in "Letter from Birmingham City Jail"). Dr. King expanded on Socrates's philosophy of an examined life in a sermon on the subject of "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," which he gave at various times in the 1950s and 1960s.

And there are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height. Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others. And the height of life is the upward reach for God. Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life.

Dr. King goes on to explain that the first dimension, length—the "inner concern"—involves serious, in-depth self-examination of a person's own life.

Now let's turn for the moment to the length of life. I said that this is the dimension of life where we are concerned with developing our inner powers.... So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you've got to accept yourself.

Accepting oneself requires that a person first knows oneself, and to know oneself, a person must necessarily examine all areas of their life.

The second dimension, breadth, is an exploration of justice, which is, in essence, how people treat each other.

Now the breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others, as I said. And a man has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his own individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Socrates was a religious man, as was Dr. King, of course. Dr. King, like Socrates, believed that his religious convictions were integral to his philosophy of life, his moral self-examination, and his concerns for humanity and essential for the completeness of his life.

Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest. We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up for the God of the universe ... You may not be able to define God in philosophical terms. Men through the ages have tried to talk about him. Plato said that he was the Architectonic Good. Aristotle called him the Unmoved Mover. Hegel called him the Absolute Whole. Then there was a man named Paul Tillich who called him Being-Itself.... Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind. That is the height of life. And when you do this, you’ll live the complete life.

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