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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


Works of Sir Thomas More

Woodcut from the 1516 edition of Utopia.

Excerpt from Utopia, Book 2.


These and such like opinions have they conceived, partly by education, being brought up in that commonwealth, whose laws and customs be far different from these kinds of folly, and partly by good literature and learning. For though there be not many in every city, which be exempt and discharged of all other labours, and appointed only to learning, that is to say such in whom even from their very childhood they have perceived a singular towardness, a fine wit, and a mind apt to good learning, yet all in their childhood be instructed in learning. And the better part of the people, both men and women throughout all their whole life do bestow in learning those spare hours, which we said they have vacant from bodily labours. They be taught learning in their own native tongue. For it is both copious in words, and also pleasant to the ear, and for the utterance of a man's mind very perfect and sure. The most part of all that side of the world useth the same language, saving that among the Utopians it is finest and purest, and according to the diversity of the countries it is diversly altered. Of all these Philosophers, whose names be here famous in this part of the world to us known, before our coming thither not as much as the fame of any of them was comen among them. And yet in Music, Logic, Arithmetic, and Geometry they have found out in a manner all that our ancient Philosophers have taught. But as they in all things be almost equal to our old ancient clerks, so our new Logicians in subtle inventions have far passed and gone beyond them. For they have not devised one of all those rules of restrictions, amplifications, and suppositions, very wittily invented in the small Logicals, which here our children in every place do learn. Furthermore they were never yet able to find out the second intentions: insomuch that none of them all could ever see man himself in common, as they call him, though he be (as you know) bigger than ever was any giant, yea and pointed to of us even with our finger. But they be in the course of the stars, and the movings of the heavenly spheres very expert and cunning. They have also wittily excogitated and devised instruments of divers fashions: wherein is exactly comprehended and contained the movings and situations of the sun, the moon, and of all the other stars, which appear in their horizon. But as for the amities and dissensions of the planets, and all that deceitful divination by the stars, they never as much as dreamed thereof. Rains, winds, and other courses of tempests they know before by certain tokens, which they have learned by long use and observation. But of the causes of all these things and of the ebbing, flowing, and saltness of the sea, and finally of the original beginning and nature of heaven and of the world, they hold partly the same opinions that our old Philosophers hold, and partly, as our Philosophers vary among themselves, so they also, whiles they bring new reasons of things, do disagree from all them, and yet among themselves in all points they do not accord. In that part of Philosophy, which entreateth of manners and virtue, their reasons and opinions agree with ours. They dispute of the good qualities of the soul, of the body, and of fortune. And whether the name of goodness may be applied to all these, or only to the endowments and gifts of the soul.

They reason of virtue and pleasure. But the chief and principal question is in what thing, be it one or more, the felicity of man consisteth. But in this point they seem almost too much given and inclined to the opinion of them, which defend pleasure, wherein they determine either all or the chiefest part of man's felicity to rest. And (which is more to be marvelled at) the defence of this so dainty and delicate an opinion, they fetch even from their grave, sharp, bitter, and rigorous religion. For they never dispute of felicity or blessedness, but they join unto the reasons of Philosophy certain principles taken out of religion : without the which to the investigation of true felicity they think reason of itself weak and imperfect. Those principles be these and such like. That the soul is immortal, and by the bountiful goodness of God ordained to felicity. That to our virtues and good deeds rewards be appointed after this life, and to our evil deeds punishments. Though these be pertaining to religion yet they think it meet that they should be believed and granted by proofs of reason. But if these principles were condemned and disannulled, then without any delay they pronounce no man to be so foolish, which would not do all his diligence and endeavour to obtain pleasure by right or wrong, only avoiding this inconvenience, that the less pleasure should not be a let or hinderance to the bigger, or that he laboured not for that pleasure, which would bring after it displeasure, grief, and sorrow. For they judge it extreme madness to follow sharp and painful virtue, and not only to banish the pleasure of life, but also willingly to suffer grief, without any hope of profit thereof ensuing. For what profit can there be, if a man, when he hath passed over all his life unpleasantly, that is to say, miserably, shall have no reward after his death ? But now, sir, they think not felicity to rest in all pleasure, but only in that pleasure that is good and honest, and that hereto, as to perfect blessedness, our nature is allured and drawn even of virtue, whereto only they that be of the contrary opinion do attribute felicity. For they define virtue to be life ordered according to nature, and that we be hereunto ordained of God. And that he doth follow the course of nature, which in desiring and refusing things is ruled by reason. Furthermore that reason doth chiefly and principally kindle in men the love and veneration of the divine majesty. Of whose goodness it is that we be, and that we be in possibility to attain felicity. And that secondarily it both stirreth and provoketh us to lead our life out of care in joy and mirth, and also moveth us to help and further all other in respect of the society of nature to obtain and enjoy the same. For there was never man so earnest and painful a follower of virtue and hater of pleasure, that would so enjoin you labours, watchings, and fastings, but he would also exhort you to ease, lighten, and relieve to your power the lack and misery of others, praising the same as a deed of humanity and pity. Then if it be a point of humanity for man to bring health and comfort to man, and specially (which is a virtue most peculiarly belonging to man) to mitigate and assuage the grief of others, and by taking from them the sorrow and heaviness of life, to restore them to joy, that is to say to pleasure, why may it not then be said, that nature doth provoke every man to do the same to himself? For a joyful life, that is to say, a pleasant life is either evil, and if it be so, then thou shouldest not only help no man thereto, but rather, as much as in thee lieth, withdraw all men from it, as noisome and hurtful, or else if thou not only mayst, but also of duty art bound to procure it to others, why not chiefly to thee self? To whom thou art bound to show as much favour and gentleness as to others. For when nature biddeth thee to be good and gentle to other, she commandeth thee not to be cruel and ungentle to thee self. Therefore even very nature (say they) prescribeth to us a joyful life, that is to say, pleasure as the end of all our operations.

Craik, Henry, ed. English Prose. Vol I.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916. 164-167.

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