Authors born between 1450 and 1500 CE
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The Futility of Counseling Kings
Against the Death Penalty for Theft
Alternative Forms of Punishment
Against Accumulation of Wealth
Against Private Property
Utopia—The Six-Hour Working Day
Why Other Nations are not so Productive
Concern for the Public Good
Pleasure and Happiness
False Notions of Pleasure
Pleasures of the Mind
Care for Hygiene and Health
More's Concluding Remarks
Thomas More (1478-1535) was born in London, England. He learned Latin at St. Anthony’s School. When More was about age 12, his father sent him to become a page in the household of John Morton, Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. There he was exposed to the ways of power politics. After about two years More went to Oxford, where he studied Greek. His father then sent More to London to study law, where he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn. More distinguished himself in his studies and gave public lectures in theology and humanism, two reigning influences in his life. At that time, humanistic studies included grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy, requiring familiarity with Greek and Latin authors, notably Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca, Lucretius, and Cicero.
When he was about twenty, More turned from the humanities and subjected himself to the discipline of a Carthusian monk—hair shirt next to the skin, scourging, fasting, sleeping on bare ground with a log for a pillow. After this phase passed, More returned to humanism, influenced by friends from Oxford and by Erasmus. He also pursued an active career in public service. He was appointed to the judicial post of under-sheriff of the city of London in 1502. He had the temerity to persuade parliament to reduce a request by Henry VII for excessive funds for a marriage dowry. More's father was imprisoned in the Tower on a trumped up charge and More retired from public life, to study the humanities, sciences and music.
On the death of Henry VII in 1509, More returned to public life, becoming extremely successful in his legal practice. When More defeated Henry VIII in a Star Chamber trial, the king, who was present at the trial, had the good sense to take More into his service. More was sent on diplomatic missions and frequently acted as secretary to the king. Henry VIII and More became very close, although More recognized that he was immediately expendable to any important interest of the king. More became Lord Chancellor in 1529.
More probably wrote Utopia in 1515, publishing it in Latin in1516. In it he set out arguments against abuses of power and for tolerance of different religious creeds. However, the reforming tendencies that Henry perceived in this work did not lead More to agree with the king’s justification for his divorce and remarriage. Recognizing the king was set on pursuing this course, More decided to retire. Unfortunately, he was too prominent to be able to disappear from public life. In declining an invitation to the king’s wedding to Anne Boleyn, he took a step that ultimately led to his execution.
More published Utopia as two books bound together with a letter of explanation and letters of commendation. In Book 1, More meets his friend Peter Giles in Antwerp and is introduced to an explorer named Raphael Hythloday. More is immediately impressed by Hythloday’s breadth of experience and learning, and urges that he offer his services as counsel to a prince or king. Hythloday responds by saying that his ideas would be laughed out of court, and proceeds to demonstrate this with arguments for reform of the criminal justice system, for abandonment of wars of conquest, and for equitable distribution of property. Asked by More where these ideas came to him, Hythloday identifies the island of Utopia. At More’s request, Hythloday in Book 2 describes the commonwealth of Utopia.
By using every artifice to present his fictional character as real, More gained attention for his ideas for reform in England and Europe. By making it evident on deeper examination that Utopia was fictional, More escaped condemnation for subversion of the status quo. Structurally, Book 1 is a brilliant demonstration of Greek rhetorical techniques. Politically, by making himself part of the discussion with Hythloday, More was able to claim for himself the counter arguments to Hythloday’s revolutionary ideas. Book 2 is an excellent example, in substance but not in form, of the Greek approach to constructing an ideal commonwealth. The use of the witty, fictional form is More’s entertaining innovation.
More’s unparalleled combination of impeccable moral character, his experience in high administrative office and in courts of law, and his extensive learning in the humanities combined to produce a work of unique value. The following extracts are taken from both books. Extracts from Book 2 start at the section on the Utopian six-hour working day.
More: I perceive, Raphael, that you neither desire wealth nor greatness; and indeed I value and admire such a man much more than I do any of the great men in the world. Yet I think what would well become so generous and philosophical a soul as yours would be to apply your time and thoughts to public affairs. You might find it a little hard on yourself and no great personal advantage if you entered into the counsel of some powerful prince; but you could steer him to noble and worthy actions. I know you would do this if you were in such a position, for the source of both good and evil flow from the prince, over a whole nation, as from a running fountain.
Hythloday: You are doubly mistaken, Mr. More, both in your opinion of me, and in the judgment you make of the affairs of government. I do not have that capacity that you fancy I have. Even if I did, the public would not be one jot the better if I sacrificed my peace and quiet to serve it. This is because rather than apply themselves to the useful arts of peace, most princes prefer to apply themselves to military affairs. In these I neither have any knowledge nor do I much desire it. Princes are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, rightly or wrongly, than on governing well those they possess. And among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise that they need no assistance. Or at least they think themselves so wise that they imagine they need no assistance. And if they do seek any advice, it is only from the prince’s personal favorites, on whom they fawn and flatter as a way of promoting their own interests. . .
Now if in such a court—made up of persons who envy all others and only admire themselves—a person should go so far as to propose anything that he had either read in history or observed in his travels, the rest of the court would think that their reputation for wisdom would sink and that their interest would suffer if they could not disparage it. If all other things failed, they would urge that as such-and-such things pleased our ancestors, what was good enough for them is good enough for us. They would stake their case on such an answer, as a sufficient confutation of anything that could be said—as if it were a great misfortune that any should be found wiser than his ancestors. Though they ignore all good things from former ages, yet if better things are proposed they cover themselves obstinately with this excuse of reverence for the past. I have met with these proud, morose, and absurd arguments in many places, once even in England.
Hythloday: One day when I was dining with him [John Morton] there happened to be at table an English layman knowledgeable in the laws of that country. He took occasion to commend highly the severity with which justice was executed upon thieves. These, he said, were hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty on one gibbet. But he was amazed that with so few escaping pubishment, there were still so many thieves about, robbing everywhere.
Upon this, I was bold enough to speak freely before the cardinal and point out that there was no reason to be surprised at this. Such a method of punishing thieves was neither just in itself nor good for the public. The severity was too great, so the remedy was ineffectual. Simple theft was not so great a crime that it ought to cost a man his life. For no punishment, however severe, is able to restrain those from robbing who can find no other livelihood. In this, not only you in England, but a great part of the world, imitate bad schoolmasters who are readier to thrash their pupils rather than to teach them. Dreadful punishments are enacted against thieves, but it would be much better to provide every man some method of livelihood, and so preserve him from the fatal necessity of stealing and of dying for it.
Hythloday: It seems to me very unjust to take away a man's life for a little money; for nothing in the world can be of equal value with a man's life. . . God has commanded us not to kill; so shall we kill so readily for a little money? We may argue that we are forbidden to kill except when the laws of the land allow it. Then upon the same grounds, laws may be made to allow rape, adultery and perjury. God has taken from us the right of disposing either of our own or of other people's lives. If it is pretended that mutual consent between men can make laws to authorize manslaughter in cases where God has given us no example, this frees people from the obligation of the divine law and so makes murder a lawful action. What is this but to give a preference to human laws over the divine?
Hythloday: It is for these reasons that I think putting thieves to death is not lawful. It is also plain and obvious that it is absurd and harmful to the general good to punish a thief and a murderer in exactly the same way. For if a robber sees that the risk to his own life is the same if he is convicted of theft or if he is guilty of murder, this will naturally motivate him to kill the person he would otherwise have only robbed. When the punishment is the same, there is more security, and less danger of discovery, when the best witness is put out of the way. Thus terrifying thieves too much, provokes them to cruelty.
Hythloday: As to the question of a more suitable form of punishment, I think it is much easier to find one than to invent anything that is worse. Why should we reject the method of punishment that was so long in use among the ancient Romans, who understood so well the arts of government? They condemned those found guilty of great crimes to work their whole lives in shackles in quarries or mines.
Hythloday: But the method that I like best, I observed in my travels in Persia, among the Polylerites, who are a considerable and well-governed people. . . Those that are found guilty of theft among them are made to make restitution to the owner, and not, as in other places, to the prince. For they consider that the prince has no more right to the stolen goods than the thief.
If that which was stolen no longer exists, then the goods of the thieves are valued, and restitution is made out of them. The remainder of their goods are given to their wives and children, and they themselves are condemned to serve in the public works. However, they are neither imprisoned, nor chained, unless there happened to be some extraordinary circumstances in their crimes. They go about unrestrained and free, working for the public. If they are idle or backward at work, they are whipped. If they work hard, they are not abused and are treated without any mark of reproach. They are subject to a roll call at night, and then they are locked up. They suffer no other punishment but this of constant labor. As they work for the public, they are fed well out of public resources, although this is done differently in different places.
More: You might, by the advice which it is in your power to give, do a great deal of good for mankind. This in itself is the chief goal that every good man ought to propose to himself in living; for your friend Plato thinks that nations will be happy when either philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers. It is no wonder if we are so far from that happiness while philosophers will not think it their duty to assist kings with their council.
Hythloday: They are not so base-minded but that they would willingly do it. Many of them have already done it by their books, if those that are in power would but attend to their good advice. But Plato judged right, kings themselves must become philosophers, because those who from their childhood are corrupted with false notions will never accept the councils of philosophers. This he himself found to be true in the person of Dionysius. Do you not think that if I attended any king, proposing good laws to him and endeavoring to root out all the cursed seeds of evil that I found, I would either be turned out of his court or at the very least be laughed at for my pains?
For instance, suppose I were with the King of France and called into his inner council. There several counselors with his ear are proposing many schemes, as to how Milan may be kept, and Naples, which had so often slipped from out of their hands, might be recovered. How the Venetians, and after them the rest of Italy, might be subdued. And then how Flanders, Brabant, and all Burgundy, and some other kingdoms he has in mind might be added to his empire. One proposes an alliance with the Venetians, to be kept as long as he finds it profitable, sharing strategies with them and giving them some share of the loot, till his success makes him need or fear them less, and then it will be easily taken back from their hands.
Another proposes hiring German mercenaries, another paying off the Switzers. Another proposes gaining an alliance with the Emperor with money, which is omnipotent with him. Another proposes a peace with the King of Aragon and, in order to cement it, the yielding up the King of Navarre's territories. Another thinks the Prince of Castile is to be brought over, by the hope of an alliance; and that some of his courtiers are to be gained to the French faction by bribes. . .
Now when things are in so great a ferment, and so many gallant fellows are offering advice on how to carry on the war, what if so ordinary a man as I should stand up, and urge a totally different approach? Suppose I advised the king to let Italy alone, and stay at home, because the Kingdom of France is already larger than can be well governed by one man, and therefore he ought not to think of adding other kingdoms to it . . . that the King should improve his ancient kingdom all he could, and make it flourish as much as possible; that he should love his people, and be beloved of them; that he should live among them, govern them gently, and let other kingdoms alone, since that which had fallen to his share was big enough, if not too big for him. Pray how do you think would such a speech as this would be heard?
More: I admit I think it would not go over very well.
Hythloday: But what if I should get involved with another set of ministers, whose chief expertise and consultancy are by what means the prince's wealth might be increased? Where one proposes raising the value of money when the King's debts are large, and lowering it when his revenues are to come in, so that he might both pay much with a little, and in a little receive a great deal. Another proposes a pretence of a war, that money might be raised in order to carry it on, but that a peace be concluded as soon as that was done. This would have to be done with such a display of religion as might influence the people and make them impute it to the piety of their prince and to his tenderness for the lives of his subjects. A third minister offers some old musty laws that have been antiquated by a long disuse. As these laws have been forgotten by all of the king’s subjects, they have also broken them. He therefore proposes collecting the penalties of such laws, as this would bring in vast wealth and have a very good justification, since it would look like enforcing the law and dispensing justice. . . .
Thus all these ministers agree with a maxim of Crassus, that a king cannot never have enough treasure, since he must maintain his armies out of it. Also, they agree that a king, even if he wanted to, can do nothing unjustly, because all property is his, not excepting his individual subjects. They add that no man has any property other than that which the king out of his goodness decides not to take from him. And they think it is in the king's interest that there be as little of this left as possible—as if it were to his advantage that his people should have neither riches nor liberty, since these things make them less easy and less willing to submit to a cruel and unjust government. Necessity and poverty, on the other hand, blunt their ambition, make them patient, beat them down, and break that rising spirit that might otherwise dispose them to rebel.
Now what if after all these propositions were urged, I should stand up and assert that such councils were both unbecoming for a king, and damaging to his interests, and that not only his honor but his safety rested more in his people's wealth than in his own. What if I should show that the people choose a king for their own sake, not for his, so that by his care and endeavors they may be both properous and safe; and that therefore a prince ought to take more care of his people's happiness than of his own, as a shepherd is to take more care of his flock than of himself?. . . .
If, I ask, I should urge these or similar policies to men that had adopted an opposite bias, how deaf would they be to all I could say?
More: No doubt, very deaf. And no wonder, for we should never offer propositions or advice that we are certain will not be entertained. Advice so far from the usual could not gain anything, nor have any effect on men whose minds were prejudiced with different sentiments. This philosophical way of speculation is not displeasing among friends in uninhibited conversation, but there is no room for it in the courts of princes where great affairs are carried on by authority.
Hythloday: My point exactly: there is no room for philosophy in the courts of princes.
Hythloday: To make clear my real concern, I must openly admit that as long as private property exists, and while money is the standard of all other things, I cannot see how a nation can be governed either justly or with good results. It will not be governed justly because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men. And the results will be bad because everything will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to be absolutely miserable.
Therefore when I reflect on the wise and good constitution of the Utopians—among whom all things are so well governed, and with so few laws; where virtue has its due reward, and yet there is such an equality that every man lives in plenty—when I compare them with so many other nations that are still making new laws and yet can never govern themselves properly (in spite of everyone having his property, all the laws that they can invent do not have the power either to obtain or preserve it, or even to enable men to distinguish with certainty what is their own from what is another's, as is demonstrated all too plainly by the many eternal lawsuits that break out every day). When, I say, I balance all these things in my thoughts, I grow more favorable to Plato, and I am not surprised that he resolved not to draw up any laws for people who would not submit to a sharing of all things.
Such a wise man could not but foresee that setting everyone all at one a level was the only way to make a nation happy, and that this could not be obtained so long as there was private property. For when every man clutches to himself all that he can grab, by one title or another, it must needs follow that however rich a nation may be, a few dividing the wealth of it among themselves must cause the rest fall into poverty. So that there will be two sorts of people left among them, who deserve that their fortunes should be interchanged. The former are useless, but wicked and ravenous; and the latter, who by their constant industry serve the public more than themselves, are sincere and modest men.
From this I am persuaded that till property is taken away there can be no equitable or just distribution of things. Nor can the world be happily governed. For as long as private property is maintained, the greatest and by far the best part of mankind will be still oppressed with a burden of cares and anxieties. I admit that without taking private property away all together, the burden on a great part of mankind might be made lighter; but it can never be quite removed. For if laws were made to limit the amount of land and the amount of money held by every man—to limit the prince that he might not grow too great, and to restrain the people that they might not become too insolent—and to ensure that none might purchase public office (which ought neither to be sold, nor made burdensome by those that serve in office being tempted to reimburse themselves by cheating and violence, not to mention the necessity of seeking rich men for offices that ought rather to be trusted to the wise)—these laws, I say, might have such effects, as good diet and care might have for a very sick man desperate for recovery. They might allay and mitigate the disease but it could never be quite healed. Nor can the body politic be made to function well again, as long as private property remains. Moreover, it will turn out, as in the complications from a diseases, that by applying a remedy to one sore, you will provoke another; and by removing one ill symptom you produce others, while strengthening one part of the body weakens the rest.
More: On the contrary, it seems to me that men cannot live well where all things are common: how can there be any plenty where every man will excuse himself from labor? For as the hope of gain is not there to excite him, so the confidence that he has in other men's industry may make him slothful. If people come to be distressed with need and yet cannot sell off anything as their own, what can follow upon this but perpetual sedition and bloodshed, especially when the reverence and authority due to magistrates falls to the ground? After all, I cannot imagine how authority can be maintained among those that are equal to one another in all things.
Hythloday: The chief, and almost the only concern of a syphogrant [a wise old man of Utopia] is to take care that no men are idle, with all fully occupied by their trades. However, they do not wear themselves out with perpetual toil, from morning to night, as if they were beasts of burden. Such a fate, while it is indeed heavy slavery, is everywhere the common course of life among all working people except the Utopians. They, dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, designate six of these for work—three of which are before dinner, and three after. They then have a meal, and at eight o'clock, counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours.
The rest of their time outside that taken up in work, eating and sleeping is left to every man's discretion. Yet they are not to abuse that time with luxury and idleness. They must employ it in some proper exercise according to their various inclinations, which is for the most part reading. It is usual to have public lectures every morning before daybreak. Only those working in literary matters are obliged to attend. Yet a great many, both men and women of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort of other, according to their inclination.
But if others not so contemplative choose rather to employ themselves in their trades at that time, as many of them do, they are not hindered. Rather, they are commended, as men that take care to serve their country.
After supper, all spend an hour in some diversion—in summer in their gardens, and in winter in the halls where they eat. There they entertain each other, either with music or conversation. They do not so much as know dice, or any such foolish and mischievous games.
Hythloday: But the restricted time for labor is not to be narrowly criticized. Otherwise you might imagine that since there are only six hours appointed for work, they may experience a scarcity of the necessities of life. But this is far from being true. This time is not only sufficient for supplying them with plenty of all things, either necessary or convenient, it is rather too much.
You will easily see this, if you consider how a great portion of the population all other nations is quite idle. First, women generally do little, who are the half of mankind. Even if some few women are diligent, their husbands are idle. Then consider the great company of idle priests, and of those that are called religious men. Add to these all rich men, chiefly those that have landed estates, who are called noblemen and gentlemen, together with their dependents, made up of idle persons kept more for show than use. Add to these all those strong and lusty beggars who go about pretending some disease as excuse for their begging.
With a full accounting, you will find that the number who carry out the labors of mankind is much less than you perhaps imagined. Then consider how few of those that work are employed in labors that are of real service. For we who measure all things by money give rise to many trades that are both vain and superfluous, serving only to support licentiousness and luxury. On the other hand, if those who work were employed only in such practical things as a natural life requires, there would be such an abundance of useful products that their price would drop so much that tradesmen could not make a living. If all those who work at useless things were set to more profitable employments, and if all those who yawn out their lives in sloth and idleness were forced to labor (every one of whom consumes as much as any two of the men that work), you may easily imagine that a small proportion of time would serve for doing all that is either necessary, profitable, or pleasant for mankind, especially when pleasure is kept within its due bounds.
Hythloday: As far as moral philosophy is concerned, they discuss the same things as we do. They investigate what it is proper to refer to as good, both for the body and the mind. They discuss whether any outward thing can be truly called good, or if that term belongs only to the properties of the soul. They inquire in a similar way into the nature of virtue and pleasure. However, their chief discussion is about the happiness of a man and what it consists of—whether found in some one thing, or in a great many. Surprisingly, they seem more inclined to the opinion that places, if not the whole, yet the chief part of a man's happiness in pleasure. And what may seem even more strange, they make use of arguments from religion, notwithstanding its severity and roughness, for the support of an opinion so indulgent to pleasure. This is because they never discuss happiness without fetching some arguments from the principles of religion, as well as from natural reason. Without the former they reckon that all our inquiries after happiness must be but conjectural and defective. . .
Yet they do not place happiness in all sorts of pleasures, but only in those that in themselves are good and honest. There is a group among them that places happiness in virtue itself; others think that our natures are conducted to happiness by exercise of virtue, as that is the chief good in man. They define virtue as living according to nature, and think that we are made by God for that end. They believe, then, that a man follows the dictates of nature when he pursues or avoids things according to the direction of reason. They say that the first dictate of reason is the kindling in us of a love and reverence for the Divine Majesty, to whom we owe both all that we have and all that we can ever hope for.
Hythloday: In the next place, they argue that reason directs us to keep our minds as free from passion and to be as cheerful as we can. Furthermore, we should consider ourselves bound by the ties of good-nature and humanity to do our utmost to help forward the happiness of all others. That is, there is no virtue more proper and peculiar to our nature than to ease the miseries of others, to free them from trouble and anxiety, and to furnish them with the comforts of life, that is, to give them pleasure. And from this they infer that if a man ought to advance the welfare and comfort of the rest of mankind in this way, nature dictates that he should do all this for himself.
Either life of pleasure is evil, in which case we ought not to assist others in their pursuit of it but, on the contrary, keep them from it all we can, as from anything that is most hurtful and deadly. Or a life of pleasure is a good thing, so that we not only may, but should help others to it. Why, then, ought not a man begin with himself? After all, no man can be more bound to look after another’s well being more than his own. For nature cannot direct us to be good and kind to others and yet at the same time to be unmerciful and cruel to ourselves. Thus, just as they define virtue to be living according to nature, so they imagine that nature prompts all people to seek after pleasure as the end of all they do.
Hythloday: They regard it as piety to prefer the public good to one's private concerns; but they think it unjust for a man to seek for pleasure by snatching another man's pleasures from him. On the contrary, they think it a sign of a gentle and good soul for a man to dispense with his own advantage for the good of others. By this means a good man derives as much pleasure in one way as he parts with it in another. For he may expect similar treatment from others when he may come to need it. And if that should not occur, yet the sense of a good action, and the reflections that he makes on the love and gratitude of those whom he has so obliged, gives his mind more pleasure than the body could have found in what it gave up.
Thus, upon an inquiry into the whole matter, they reckon that all our actions, and even all our virtues, terminate in pleasure, as in our chief end and greatest happiness. And they call every motion or state of body or mind in which nature gives us delight, a pleasure. Thus they cautiously limit pleasure only to those appetites to which nature leads us. For they say that nature leads us only to those delights to which reason as well as sense carry us, and by which we neither injure any other person nor lose the possession of greater pleasures, and are such as to draw no troubles after them. But they look upon those delights that men by a foolish though common mistake call pleasure—as if they could change as easily the nature of things as the meanings of words—as things that greatly obstruct their real happiness instead of advancing it. This is because, so captivated are their minds with a false notion of pleasure, that there is no room left for pleasures of a truer or purer kind.
Hythloday: There are many things that in themselves have nothing that is truly delightful. On the contrary, they have a good deal of bitterness in them. Yet from our perverse appetites after forbidden objects, they are not only ranked among the pleasures, but are made even the greatest designs of life. Among those who pursue these sophisticated pleasures, they include those I mentioned before, who think themselves really the better for having fine clothes. In this they are considered to be doubly mistaken, both in the opinion that they have of their clothes, and in that they have of themselves. Because, if you consider what clothes are used for, why should a fine thread be thought better than a coarse one? And yet these men, as if they possessed some real advantage rather than the personal fantasy they indulge in, look big, seem to fancy themselves to be more valuable, and imagine that a respect is due to them for the sake of a rich garment—a respect to which they would not have pretended if they had been more meanly clothed. They even take it as an affront if that respect is not paid them.
It is also a great folly to be taken with outward marks of respect, which signify nothing. What true or real pleasure can one man find in another's standing baring his head, or kneeling before him? Will the bending another man's knees give ease to yours? And will another’s head being bare cure the madness of ours? And yet it is wonderful to see how this false notion of pleasure bewitches many who delight themselves with the fancy of their own nobility. Such people are pleased with the conceit that they are descended from a succession of rich ancestors, for this is all that makes nobility at present. Yet they do not think themselves an iota less noble if their immediate parents have left none of this wealth to them, or if they themselves have squandered it away.
The Utopians have no better opinion of those who are much taken with gems and precious stones. . . or all that delight in hunting, fowling, or gaming—a madness they have only heard tell of, for they have no such things among them.
Hythloday: They divide the pleasures of the body into two sorts. The first is that which gives our senses some real delight. This is performed, either by satisfying our nature by supplying those parts which feed the internal heat of life, as by eating and drinking; or by easing our nature of any pressure that oppresses it, as when we are relieved from sudden pain, or when we satisfy the appetite which nature has wisely given to lead us to the birth of children.
There is a kind of pleasure that arises neither from our receiving what the body requires nor from its being relieved when overcharged. This pleasure by a secret, unseen virtue affects the senses, raises the passions, and strikes the mind with generous impressions. This is the pleasure that arises from music.
Another kind of bodily pleasure is that which results from an undisturbed and vigorous constitution of the body, when life and active spirits seem to energise every part. This lively health, when entirely free from all mixture of pain, in itself gives an inward pleasure, independent of all external objects of delight. And though this pleasure does not affect us so powerfully, nor act so strongly on the senses as some of the others, yet it may be esteemed as the greatest of all pleasures. Almost all the Utopians reckon it the foundation and basis of all the other joys of life, since this alone makes the state of life easy and desirable. When this is wanting, a man is really capable of no other pleasure. They look upon freedom from pain, if it does not rise from perfect health, to be a state of stupidity rather than of pleasure.
Hythloday: But of all pleasures, they esteem those that lie in the mind to be most valuable. The chief of these arises out of true virtue, and the possession of a good conscience.
The pleasures of the mind lie in knowledge, and in the delight that the contemplation of truth carries with it. To this they add the joyful reflections on a well-spent life, and the assured hopes of a future happiness. . .
They also entertain themselves with the delightful things that enter their eyes, their ears, and their nostrils, as the pleasant relishes and seasonings of life. Nature seems to have marked out this pleasure as peculiar to man, because no other animal contemplates the structure and beauty of the universe, nor is delighted by odors, beyond using them to distinguish food. Nor do animals apprehend the concords or discords of sound.
Yet in all their pleasures the Utopians take care that a lesser joy does not hinder a greater, and that pleasure may never lead to pain, which they think always follows dishonest pleasures. But they think it madness for a man to wear out the beauty of his face or the force of his natural strength; to corrupt the sprightliness of his body by sloth and laziness, or to waste it by fasting. They think it is madness to weaken the strength of his constitution and reject the other delights of life, in expectation of a greater recompense from God, unless by renouncing his own satisfaction he can either serve the public or promote the happiness of others. They look on such a course of life as the mark of a mind that is both cruel to itself, and ungrateful to the Author of nature—as if we would not be beholden to Him for His favors, and therefore reject all His blessings. They look on such a person as one who should afflict himself for the empty shadow of virtue, or for no better end than to render himself capable of bearing those misfortunes which possibly will never happen.
Hythloday: Those among them that have not received our religion, are not disturbed by it. They also do not ill-treat anyone who converts to it. In fact, all the time I was there, only one man was punished in regards to this matter. In spite of all that we could tell him to the contrary, when he was newly baptized he engaged in public disputes concerning the Christian religion with more zeal than discretion. He did this with so much heat, that he not only praised Christian worship over theirs, but also condemned all of their rites as profane. He harangued all that adhered to them as impious and sacrilegious persons, damned to everlasting hell fire.
Upon his having frequently preached in this manner, he was seized and after trial he was condemned to banishment. This was not for having disparaged their religion, but for his inflaming the people to sedition; for one of their most ancient laws is that no man ought to be punished for his religion.
In setting up their government for the first time, King Utopus knew that before his arrival the previous inhabitants had been engaged in great quarrels concerning religion. In fact, they were so divided among themselves that he found it easy to conquer them. Instead of uniting their forces against him, every different religious party fought by itself. So after he had conquered them, he made a law that every man might be of what religion he pleased. He might endeavor to draw others to it by strength of argument and by amicable and modest ways, but not with bitterness against those of other opinions. In fact, he should use no other means beyond persuasion. He was not to mix persuasion with reproaches or violence. Those who did so were to be condemned to banishment or slavery.
Hythloday: They do not make slaves of prisoners of war, except those that are taken in battle. The sons of slaves do not become slaves. The Utopians do not accept slaves from other nations unless they are condemned to that status for the commission of some crime or, which is more common, condemned to die. In such cases, their merchants may sometimes redeem them at low rates, and in other places accept them for nothing.
Slaves are kept at perpetual labor, and are always chained. Their own native slaves are treated much harsher than others, as they are considered as more profligate than the rest. They are judged worthy of harder measures because they could not be restrained by the advantages of so excellent an education.
Another sort of slaves are the poor from neighboring countries, who offer of their own accord to come and serve them. They treat these poor immigrants better, and use them in all other respects as decently as their own countrymen, except for imposing more labor upon them. This no hard task for those accustomed to it. And if any of them wish to go back to their own country, which indeed rarely happens, they do not force them to stay, and do not send them away empty-handed.
Hythloday: Outside their towns there are places located near running water for killing their cattle and for washing away filth, which is done by their slaves. They do not allow their citizens to kill cattle, because they think that pity and good-nature, which are among the best of those affections born in us, are much degraded by butchering animals. They also do not allow anything that is foul or unclean to be brought inside their towns, for fear that the air might be infected by ill-smells which might affect their health. . .
They take more care of their sick than of any others. These are lodged and provided for in public hospitals, of which every town has four. These are built outside their walls and are so large that they might be taken for little towns. By this arrangement, if they ever have a large number of sick persons, they could lodge them conveniently at such a distance that those with infectious diseases may be kept far enough from the rest of the population that there can be no danger of contagion. The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick. Those that are put in them are looked after with tender and watchful care, are constantly attended by their skilful physicians, and no one is sent there against their will. As a result, there is hardly anyone in a whole town who, if he should fall ill, would not choose to go to the hospital rather than lie sick at home.
More: When Raphael came to the end of his narrative many things occurred to me. The manners and laws of that people seemed very absurd, as did their way of making war, their notions of religion and divinity, and several other things. But what chiefly seemed strange was the foundation of all the rest: their sharing all things without the use of money, which by common opinion would take away the true ornaments of a nation—all nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty. However, I saw that Raphael was weary and felt he was not ready for extended argument. I remembered, too, that he had observed there were some who seemed to think they were bound in honor to protect their own ideas by finding something to deny in other men's inventions, when these differed from their own. Therefore I only commended that people’s constitution and the account he had given of it in general terms. And so, taking him by the hand, I led him in to supper and said I would find some other time to examine the subject more closely, and to discuss it in detail. And indeed I shall welcome an opportunity of doing so.
In the meanwhile, though it must be confessed that he is both a very learned man and a person who has obtained a great knowledge of the world, I cannot perfectly agree to everything he has described. However, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.
Adapted from Utopia, by Thomas More, translated by Gilbert Burnet. F. M. Lupton Publishing Company, New York, late 19th Century.
Thomas More: Utopia, edited by George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1995. This modern translation also contains a Latin text, and relates the structure of More’s work to the procedures of Greek rhetoric.
A translation is available on-line from the Thomas More site, from the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia, and from the .Liberty Library.
The earliest translation of Utopia into English is by Raphe Robynson, reprinted by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1908.
A version of Robynson’s translation is modernized by Mildred Campbell in The Utopia of Sir Thomas More. Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, N.Y., 1947.