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Utopia

Sir Thomas More

Education, Science, Philosophy

Occupations, Workload, and Productivity

Slaves, Euthanasia, Marriage, Treaties

Summary

Though, as has been mentioned earlier, only certain accomplished people are allowed to give up manual labor for intellectual studies, every Utopian child receives a thorough education. The Utopians believe that it is through education that the values and dispositions of citizens are molded. The success of the Utopian educational system is evident in the fact that while most Utopians are engaged in manual labor as a career, in their free time Utopians choose to follow intellectual pursuits. Utopians conduct all of their studies in their native language.

In science the Utopians are rational and accomplished. They have the same general level of understanding as Europeans in the fields of music, logic, arithmetic, and geometry. They are adept at astronomy and no one believes in astrology. They are able to predict changes in weather, though, like the Europeans, the underlying causes of these changes remain at the moment beyond their grasp.

In philosophy, the Utopians are uninterested in the abstract suppositions that are the rage in Europe and which Hythloday finds empty. The foremost topic of Utopian philosophy is the nature of happiness, and the relation of happiness to pleasure. In such matters they ground their reason in religion, believing reason alone is ill equipped to handle such an investigation.

Utopians believe the soul is immortal and that there exists an afterlife in which the deeds of life are rewarded or punished. They further believe that if people were skeptical of an afterlife, all intelligent people would pursue physical pleasure and ignore all higher moral laws. Belief in an afterlife means that pleasure exists only in acts of virtue, because it is these acts that will ultimately be rewarded.

Utopians make a distinction between true and counterfeit pleasure. True pleasure involves any movement of body or mind in which a person takes a natural delight, such as reflecting on true knowledge, eating well, or exercising. Counterfeit pleasures are those sensations that are not naturally delightful, but that distorted desires have tricked people into believing they pleasurable. Examples of such counterfeit pleasures are pride in appearance, wealth, or honorific titles. Pursuit of these counterfeit pleasures often interfere with pursuit of true pleasures, and so Utopians do everything in their power to root counterfeit pleasures out of their society.

Utopians believe that their understanding of the relationship between pain and pleasure is the height of reason. The only possible way to gain a deeper understanding, they hold, would be if God were to send some religion down from heaven to "inspire more sacred convictions."

Commentary

The Utopian belief in education as a right and a necessity is surprisingly familiar to modern readers but a far cry from the policies of Europe in which only the rich and powerful could hope to be educated. Utopian education, moreover, is systematized and uniform, unlike the European system that often involved independent private tutors and certainly differed from school to school. Through this rational educational system, Utopians felt they could shape the morality and values of their children, to instill in their children the ability to be good Utopians. Education, then, in Utopia is not just a means of intellectual enlightenment; it is a program of moral and cultural development designed to make sure that Utopia will always replenish itself through its children.

The reference to science is once again an effort to show the irrationality of Europe. Thomas More's Europe was a society rapidly expanding its scientific knowledge. Yet despite its scientific achievements Europe was filled with believers in astrology, which had no rational or scientific basis whatsoever. This contrast displays that while Europe has the means to think and act rationally, it often does not seem to have the commitment. Utopia, on the other hand, exists at almost exactly the same level of scientific understanding as Europe, but is committed to rational thought, and so astrology and other similar superstitions do not exist. Similarly, the discussion of Utopian philosophy, which pays no heed to the suppositions of the new European philosophers, is meant to be a biting criticism of the state of European thought. Thomas More's displeasure with the state of European philosophy was not unique to Utopia. During the period in which he wrote Book 2 of Utopia, Thomas More wrote a long letter disparaging the new European philosophers and logicians.

In the matter of the Utopian investigation into the nature of happiness, Utopian reason comes to the conclusion that it is ill-equipped to handle such an inquiry on its own. This seems a strange outcome for reason to come to, and this strangeness underlines a tension between reason and religion that became more evident as the Renaissance led eventually into the Enlightenment and beyond. However, for Thomas More and the Humanists, reason and religion went hand in hand. There simply was no question of the eternal truth of Christ and Christianity. The Utopian investigation of happiness, which begins by categorizing types of happiness and ends with the conclusion that happiness lies in acting virtuously because virtue will be rewarded in the afterlife, comes to much the same conclusion as Christianity. Also, Utopians believe that the only thing better than their philosophical investigation into the nature of things would be a divine revelation, which is exactly what Christianity conceives itself to be. By setting up this situation in which his ideal society, Utopia, venerates the religion of the European society he is trying to criticize, Thomas More manages to endorse the tenets of Christianity itself as the only outcome of rational thought while at the same time forcefully using the model of Utopia to criticize Europe. If the Utopians, with their inferior understanding of the nature of things, can act rationally and justly, then why can't the Europeans, who have the divine revelations of Christ, act similarly? The question is a damning one for Europe as a whole.

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