Location and Utopias


For More and Plato, location of a utopia affects its development and success. While More believes that a utopia must be physically separated from other societies, Plato suggests that any society can become a utopia wherever it is located if certain conditions are developed and met over time. More’s utopia is located on a remote island. His placement suggests the utopia cannot be corrupted because its inhabitants are physically separated from others. Essentially, More thought that outside contact corrupts the mind and society. In Book II of Utopia, More describes Utopia as not an “island at first, but part of a continent (More 28).” Utopus, the ruler of Utopia, believes that the continent they conquered was full of “uncivilized inhabitants (More 28).”  For this reason he orders all individuals of Utopia to dig a channel fifteen miles long to separate Utopia from the other continent. This channel serves not only as a physical separation, but also as a metaphorical one in which the ideas of Utopia become disconnected from the uncivilized culture surrounding their society. In addition, each town is located almost equidistant from the other. This placement is deliberate and creates an overall equality among the people because no individual has to go further for something than another individual demonstrating the true essence of a utopia.

In contrast, in Plato’s Republic, location is not as essential to the creation of a utopia.  However, location plays a small role in how Plato constructs his utopia. Plato believes that his “philosopher kings” must be separated from society at a young age so that their minds are not corrupt. Plato believes the separation from society allows the philosopher kings to rely not on sensorial observation, but rather on their training and understanding the Form of the Good. The utopian society that Plato creates is different than More’s because he does not believe his utopia needs to be isolated. Plato suggests that if certain conditions are met, any society can become a utopia.  For instance, if the philosopher kings are well trained in arithmetic, geometry, physical training, astronomy, and ultimately dialectics they will be able to create a utopian society no matter where they are.  More and Plato both use location in many different ways while describing their utopias. More uses location as a complete separation from the world. Plato uses location as a way to separate a few individuals and train them to then return to society and then rule society in a utopian fashion. Thus location is essential to the development of a utopia.

Comparing the function of location in both Plato and More’s utopias

Though Thomas More and Plato both had visions of a perfect world, their ideas of what would constitute such varied quite a bit, as demonstrated by how different the location of each of their utopias was. Not only did the placement of the utopias effect how they were physically portrayed, but additionally gave insight into how each community was to function.

When comparing the two utopias, the first aspect that should be taken into consideration is the literal, physical one. In this regard, the two are not very different. More’s interpretation of a utopia includes the society being distanced from all other populations by way of a barrier. Though the utopia itself is described as an “island… in the middle two hundred miles broad [of ocean],” it was originally landlocked, and the people residing in it were required to help dig a fifteen mile trench to keep it isolated (More, 28.) The republic that Plato describes in his novel functions similarly, based on how it too relies on solidarity to maintain a perfect state. The citizens of Plato’s utopia essentially invaded a city and banished anyone over the age of twelve, thus eliminating those who they did not deem an exact fit for their society.

This examination the physical structure of each utopia additionally tells the reader a lot about how these utopias function. Plato’s utopia, which is based on intelligence and learning more than anything, is exclusive. No matter how enlightened and able to contribute to society one may have been, if they were above a certain age, they were banished with no room to dispute such. On the other hand, More’s utopia is quite broad, and allows everyone an equal chance to prove their worth. Though this utopia did choose to isolate themselves, everyone within the community was given opportunity to excel because all trades were valued the same. This fairness was not present nearly as much in Plato’s utopia, where the intelligent ruled over those who weren’t considered to be so, and one could not achieve the title of a philosopher king unless they were successful in both arithmetic and dialect.

Physical descriptions of places may not strike anyone as largely informative, but by dissecting them one can unveil a variety of telling information. For example, through understanding that Plato’s utopia came to be through by forcing those deemed unintelligent away, the reader can begin to grasp that intelligence and a hierarchy of such is prominent in this utopia. More’s utopia- an island maintained by all of the community- focuses on both equal rights and an equal chance to succeed. It’s impossible to say which utopia is better because that’s a matter of opinion, but by analyzing the physical structure of both and the ideals that went hand in hand with such, the differences (and similarities) between the two were clearly defined.

Comparing the function of location in More’s and Plato’s utopias

Both More and Plato, in synthesizing their utopian visions in Utopia and Republic, respectively, use location to physically isolate the citizens of their societies from the outside world. However, Plato incorporates a selective education system to mentally isolate his utopia’s citizens as well, thus allowing for the shaping of their minds to make them “utopia-worthy”—able to work together in order to maintain an efficient society. Nevertheless, both of the authors’ motivations to isolate their citizens are to keep them from outside corruption, thus keeping peace and harmony within their cities’ boundaries.

In More’s Utopia, the citizens of the titular nation live on an island, isolated from the rest of the world. A similar case of physical isolation can be found in Plato’s utopian vision in Republic. When the character Socrates explains his utopia to Glaucon in Book VII, he describes taking children of a select age from the nearby city and sending them into the country. These children, who would have been protected from the influences of their homelands and families, would be raised in a society in which physical isolation prevents outside ideas from filtering into its boundaries. In both authors’ visions, their societies are physically isolated, allowing the ideas within to remain constant and the people to exist uncorrupted from the outside world.

Unlike More’s Utopia, however, isolation is present in Plato’s utopia on a mental level as well. The physical isolation gives way to an environment where the government can effectively brainwash its citizens through a controlled system of education. Such a system is described in Book III of Republic, in which the citizens would learn nothing of the evils of the world, thus giving them protection from them, and would instead learn not only basic material such as arithmetic and logic but also the heroic acts of the mythical figures. As a result of brainwashing, the people would be protected from the influence of evil, thus being able to work together to promote an efficient society. By controlling the education of a society, Plato believes that the minds of its people can be controlled as well.

Location plays an important role in isolating the societies envisioned by Plato and More. Because of this isolation, the people of the societies are protected from the influences of the outside world, keeping them incorruptible. However, Plato incorporates the idea of isolation past the physical level, using mental isolation to brainwash the citizens of his vision. Thus, while location plays an important role in both visions, it is taken more advantage of in Republic as it allows for even further isolation, making it easier for Plato to shape his vision into a utopia through controlling its people.