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Thomas More's Utopia

Thomas More's Utopia, first published in 1516, has often been called the greatest humanist reform tract of the Renaissance, and he is generally considered to be the father of the modern utopian conceptions. The philosophical foundations of More's Utopia are humanism, with its passion for the classics and social reform; Christianity, and especially the monastic ideal; communism and utilitarianism, with an emphasis on the collective good; and rationalism and self-interest.

A deep concern with the conflict between an individuals conscience and the laws and institutions of the society in which he lives informs Morels writing and his life (Davis 46). He argues in Utopia that laws and social institutions must be made to confirm the dictates of conscience rather than oppose them, as was occurring with tragic consequences in late fifteenth and early sixteenth century England, when he wrote the book. More eventually paid for his convictions of conscience with his life: he was beheaded in 1535 for refusing to sanction the Act of Supremacy which made Henry VIII rather than the Pope the head of the Church of England (and therefore allowed Henry VIII to divorce his wife Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn) (Scott xxvii).

More's humanist ideas are apparent in Book One of Utopia, in which he (through the mouth of Raphael Hythloday, the spokesman for Christian conscience), condemns the idleness and excesses of the nobility and the priesthood, and applauds the virtue of the common laborer. There are no nobles, idle or otherwise in Utopia, and the priests, he says, are "very saintly, and hence very few" (More 115). More reveals a passionate concern with the human condition in Book One, and in Book Two he puts forth a detailed blueprint for social reform.

The striking maldistribution of wealth, with a few people so rich they could hardly find enough ways to squander their money and the majority so poor they had to steal to feed their familie...

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Thomas More's Utopia. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:01, May 29, 2020, from