Comparing the Genesis and Content of Morality in Plato and More’s Utopias

More and Plato have similar ideas on how one lives a virtuous life, but their reasons for encouraging their own versions of morality come from two different viewpoints. More encourages following God’s will, and ethics, while Plato praises balance for the common good; although both authors seek order and harmony for the citizens of their utopias, especially through knowledge, their differing inspirations for writing may be why their basis for pursuing virtue is inconsistent. Perhaps Plato puts more responsibility on the individual’s ability to shape society because of the disastrous results of group think, and mob mentality which led to the execution of his teacher Socrates. More, on the other hand, places higher importance on religion because of his strong support of the catholic faith, and his attempts to maintain its purity.

Both More and Plato believed that health is one of the greatest pleasures that man can obtain. Fulfilling desires for food, and drink are enjoyable in the act as well as in their results. For this reason, both authors encouraged the pleasures of eating and drinking because these actions lead to good health. Influenced by his catholic faith More further says that these are the appetites which come from nature, and since nature was created by God, as humans were, it is imperative that we live in accordance to its laws (More, 49). Although good eating habits may lead to health both authors also place importance on moderation because excess can lead to as much pain and harm as it would health when desires are pursued beyond needs. As food feeds the appetite of the body, knowledge fuels the mind. More believes, “The pleasures of the mind lie in knowledge, and in that delight which the contemplation of truth carries with it…”(More, 52). This of course is identical to Plato’s ideals which place the pursuit of an absolute truth above all else.

Structurally, both authors provide what could be considered a foil character to help show the complete opposite of their ideal citizen. More uses the Zapolets, glutinous, blood thirsty, savages who are motivated exclusively by greed to show more clearly his goals for humanity by providing the reader with an antagonist. The Zapolets are exposed to a superior way of living in their interactions with the Utopians, and still reject it. Plato uses a similar method in his cave analogy. The prisoners watching the shadows of reality perfectly contradict the most elite members of his society who are able to break free of their metaphorical bonds, and see the light outside of the cave. Furthermore they reject the ideal of enlightenment by attempting to discredit the truths told to them by the individuals who were able to leave the cave. In this way both sets of characters are not accepting of an ideal of their society which is explicitly shown to them by more correct citizens.

Plato’s reason for encouraging morality comes from his assumption that the good principles, and habits of the individual, pass from themselves to the entire state (Plato, 105). The perfect state can only be created by being filled with people who believe in morals which will help support the common good. More on the other hand puts his faith in a homogeneous population all following a similar religion. The citizens of Utopia are morally correct by following the virtues described by their faith. Since everyone believes that the soul is eternal, they are led away from selfishness because they believe vices will be punished, and virtues rewarded in the afterlife.

 

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