MIDDLE AGES YEAR: Utopia by Sir Thomas More
MIDDLE AGES YEAR: Utopia by Sir Thomas More
 
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Sir Thomas More (later canonized St. Thomas More) is famous for his book Utopia (1515) and for his martyrdom. As Chancellor to Henry VIII he refused to sanction Henry's divorce of Queen Catherine. More was imprisoned, tried and executed. This drama was made into a play and an excellent (though not historically accurate) film - A Man of for All Seasons. More is an excellent example of the early English Renaissance. He was friends with such humanists as Erasmus, John Colet, Thomas Linacre and others. Renaisance thinkers were mainly concerned with four ancient schools -- Aristotelianism, Platonism, Stoicism and Epicureanism. The alliance between Platonism and Christianity was as old as Saint Augustine, but had been revived in the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino. Aristotle had been Christianized by St Thoma Aquinas. Christianity and Stoicism had many close connections from early on. Epicureanism was being Christianized by Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus. This process was to be continued by Pierre Gassendi. More coined the term "utopia" which is a pun meaning both "good place" and "no place." More's Utopia is discovered on a voyage to the newly discovered Americas. It is thus one of the first books to invoke the analogy between the great voyages of discovery and discoveries of the mind. Plato's Republic and the Laws provide models for More's reflections on the good citizen and the good state, but More's Utopia is significantly different from these models and blends a variety of philosophical influences. In contrast to the Platonic Republic, More's society is a communistic democracy and not an aristocracy with communism confined to the ruling elite. The new emphasis on the philosophy of pleasure comes from More's understanding of Epicureanism. From the Stoics More gets the notions that mankind form a natural commnnity and the assumed existance of natural law. More's Utopia established the genre of philosophical utopias much the way in which Montaigne and Bacon established the essay as a philosophical form.