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

Thomas More’s Utopia and Plato’s The Republic both address morality in the context of ideal civilizations.  Similarities arise when each novel describes its people, and how they come to be functioning and ideal members of Utopia or the perfect State.  Each author describes some sort of conditioning process that each society’s residents must go through.  However, Plato’s subjects are closely inculcated with specific information and preplanned cultural influences from birth; thus, they know nothing other than their enforced goodness.  More’s Utopia was first populated by “rude and uncivilized”(p. 28) people, who, through generations of residing in their perfect civilization, came to be virtuous citizens.  The only true morality is that which is displayed by someone who has been presented with the opportunity to be dishonorable.

Book VII of The Republic features Socrates’s description of the perfect society.  To build it, Socrates suggests that everyone over the age of ten be expelled from the city, and those remaining—who possess the most potential—will be trained until the age of fifty to be perfect citizens or Philosopher Kings.

Similarly, in books II-IV, Plato describes that guardians of another perfect society, the Luxurious State, must be specifically taught what is and isn’t appropriate to do and think.  The populace is told fictitious stories of its gods and rulers to instill respect.  Various information, both true and false, is strategically fed to and withheld from the citizens of the Luxurious State to ensure that they unknowingly grow to be dignified, trusting, and most importantly, moral— but is accidental morality actual morality?

The answer is no.  More’s Utpoia was founded by one man who created an artificial island away from the rest of society, and used its old, corrupt inhabitants to populate his new city, Utopia.  When Utopia’s government and laws were established, the new citizens could choose to either follow or break the law, and accept the consequences.  Through generations, Utopians grew to appreciate their lifestyles, and became exceptionally virtuous people.  They witnessed acts of evil, saw their consequences, then often chose not to commit them for the benefit of society and themselves.  Plato’s people are made “moral” by masterminds, while More’s people are made moral by the community.  Plato’s citizens are characterized by a fictitious and enforced integrity, whereas Utopians are truly moral, because they are exposed to evil, and choose to be honorable.

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