Humanists championed the revival of Greek and Roman philosophy and literature. Inspired by ancient thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus and other humanists tended to regard contemporary norms with skepticism, arguing that reason and a belief in human dignity should govern human conduct and the facilitate the reform of political and religious practices. In 1516, filled with these ideas, More wrote Utopia, his most important work, a critical examination of contemporary English institutions and customs.


The predominant societal order of Europe during the medieval period and that was still operating in a diminished form during the time of Sir Thomas More and Henry VIII. Under this system, hereditary nobles controlled lands technically owned by the monarch in exchange for their military and political support of the monarch. At the bottom of this order were peasants who worked the land and were obliged to give fealty and physical assets to the nobility, supposedly in return for the nobles’ protection from outside enemies.

Great Chain of Being

A conception of society that held that everyone’s social and political status results from the direction of God.

Christian Folly

A distinct notion of Humanist thought first conceived by Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus in Praise of Folly. Christian Folly is the belief that those who acts according to the laws of Christianity, independent of his wisdom or intelligence, are acting foolishly. The concept of Christian Folly claimed that Christianity did not mesh with European culture at large, regardless of what those in power claimed.


The political center of the island of Utopia, it is simply the center because it is the city most accessible to all the other cities.

Enclosure Movement

A drive in Britain that transformed the wool and agricultural market into an oligopoly (a market in which a small number large operators dominate) that simultaneously drove up prices and deprived small landholders of their livelihood.

True Pleasure

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 Pleasure

Those sensations that are not naturally delightful, but that distorted desires have tricked people into believing they are pleasurable. Examples of such counterfeit pleasures are pride in appearance, wealth, or honorific titles.

Utopia and the Utopian Novel

Utopia is a word of Greek origin that suggests both a “good place” and a non-existent place. A utopian novel, therefore, is a speculative work of fiction depicting a societal order that the author finds positive and appealing. This designation is derived from Sir Thomas More’s 1516 work Utopia, but a much earlier work, Plato’s The Republic, which was written around 380 BCE, fits this definition as well. Dystopian works of fiction—which include such works as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and The Hunger Games—by contrast, depict societies that the author intends readers to find negative and repelling.

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