Biography (1748-1535)

  • More was an English philosopher, scholar, statesman and writer of the Renaissance.
  • More was an archbishop, lawyer, writer, philosopher, and trusted advisor to the King.
  • Although it was rare for the time he lived, More educated both his daughters and sons, arguing forcefully that women were just as capable as men.
  • More rose in the service of King Henry VIII, eventually becoming one of his most trusted advisors and member of his small council.
  • More was very concerned about the threat to the unity of Christianity and led King Henry VIII to write a condemnation of Martin Luther. More was so committed to the cause that, at one point, he had six Lutherans burned at the stake for heresy.
  • More’s downfall began in 1530 when Henry VIII began his break from Catholicism because he wanted to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He tried everything from feigning illness to quitting his job, but Henry began to put pressure on More until he was finally beheaded in 1535.
  • His head was placed on a pike over London Bridge for a month, according to the normal custom for traitors. His daughter Margaret Roper rescued it, and the skull is believed to rest in the St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury.
  • He became a saint (patron saint of politicians) in 1980.


  • The story of Utopia is presented in a novel form as More has a character named Raphael Hythloday, a traveler and wise man, who, during the European Age of Discovery, travels to an island called Utopia.
  • The name itself is significant, as translated from Greek, it means both “good place” and “no place.” Some believe that this shows More believe Utopia could not exist, while others believed he thought it could happen anywhere.
  • Since many of the elements of Utopian life contradict Catholic teaching, scholars have debated whether More meant the work as a critique of Catholic teaching or was satirizing those critics.


  • Almost complete tolerance of religion.
  • Atheism, however, is not tolerated, with More arguing that, if a man did not believe in a god or in an afterlife, he could never be trusted because logically he would not acknowledge any authority or principle outside himself.

Government and Economy

  • The utopian society is based on monastic communalism, with all goods, lands, and labor shared by all the people.
  • Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn.
  • There is no private property on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need.
  • There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, and the houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years.
  • Agriculture provides the most important occupation on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men.
  • Each citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel.
  • All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimized: the people only have to work six hours a day
  • Each city has not more 6000 households, each family consisting of between 10 and 16 adults. Thirty households are grouped together and elect a Syphograntus. Every ten Syphogranti have an elected Traniborus ruling over them. The 200 Syphogranti of a city elect a Prince in a secret ballot. The Prince stays for life unless he is deposed or removed for suspicion of tyranny.

Social Life in Utopia

  • More used the work to further defend his belief in hedonism. Unlike Epicurus, More offered a religious justification for it, arguing that God designed humans to enjoy life and that our desire for happiness makes us moral.
  • More believed in emphasizing pleasures of the mind and rejecting the idea of luxury.
  • Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view.
  • Other significant innovations of Utopia include:
    • a welfare state with free hospitals,
    • euthanasia permissible by the state,
    • priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted,
    • premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement.


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