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Pride and the Public Good: Thomas More's Use of 9 opi Plato m Ut a THOMAS I. WHITE THE MOST COMMON OBSERVATION that historians of philosophy make about Utopia is that Thomas More wrote the book in imitation of Plato's Republic. L But while there is some truth to this claim, it is a misleading statement. First, it suggests that the Republic was the only, or at least the major, Platonic dialogue that affected More, whereas the Laws holds this position. Second, it I would like to express my appreciation to Professors Lee Cullen Khanna and Richard C. Marius for the many friendly and spirited conversations about More which have helped to shape my thinking. ' A number of scholars give this impression by referring either solely or primarily to the Republic. These studies include: Lina Beger, "Thomas Morus und Plato: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Humanismus," Zeitschrift fiir die gesammte Staatswissenschaft 35 (1879): 187--216, 4o5--83; Eva Brann, " 'An Exquisite Platform': Utopia," Interpretation 3 (Autumn 1972): 1-26; Fritz Caspari, Humanism and the Social Order in Tudor England 0954; reprint ed., New York, 1968); J. H. Hexter, More's "Utopia": The Biography of an Idea (1952; reprint ed., New York, 1965); Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, Mass., x979); Proctor Fenn Sherwin, "Some Sources of More's Utopia," Bulletin of the University of New Mexico, no. 88 (September 1917), pp. 168-9o; James Steintrager, "Plato and More's Utopia," Social Research 36 (Autumn 1969): 357-72; and Hans Sflssmuth, Studien zur "Utopia" des Thomas Morus (Mimster, 1967). The extent to which the emphasis on the Republic has been absorbed by historians of philosophy can be seen in Frederick Copleston and Friedrich Ueberweg . Copleston writes, "Under the influence of Plato's Republic, [More wrote] a kind of philosophical novel describing an ideal State on the island of Utopia" (A History of Philosophy, vol. 3, pt. 2, Late Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy [a953; reprint ed., Garden City, N.Y., x963], p. 134). Ueberweg refers to More as "Platons Idealstaat frei nachbildend" (Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. 3 [Berlin, 1888], p. 46). All references to Utopia will be to vol. 4 of The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. Edward Surtz, S.J., and J. H. Hexter (New Haven, 1965). Quotations from Plato are taken from the translations in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Including the Letters, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, 1961). [329] 33~ HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY intimates that More was a Renaissance neo-Platonist, whereas in fact he was an eclectic thinker, as Utopia,shows. And third, by saying little more than that Utopia imitates Plato, scholars imply that the book is philosophically significant primarily as an episode in the history of Platonism; yet such an attitude fails to relate More's use of classical philosophy to Utopia'sother facets or to More's general purposes in writing the book. That is, it fails to appreciate the fact that Utopiais not simply an excursus into the problems of councilorship and a critique of sixteenth-century Europe but is, more importantly , More's testimony of the moral, social, and political utility of classical philosophy. Thus, in this article I aim to elucidate the central role of ancient philosophy in Utopiaand to clarify the relationship between More's book and the thinker commonly thought to be its chief inspiration--Plato. 1 More than four and a half centuries after Thomas More composed Utopia we are not surprised to pick up the book and come upon the numerous classical parallels. We simply expect that a Renaissance humanist will lace his writings with classical allusions. However, to understand properly the significance of More's "borrowings" we must begin by asking why More wrote Utopia with such a heavy dependence on ancient philosophy. Why are there so many references to the sentiments of earlier thinkers? Why ancient rather than Christian? And why is Plato singled out? The key to answering these questions lies in the fact that the mind of Thomas More was at one with most other Renaissance humanists about the practical value of classical learning...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 329-354
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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