In Thomas More’s Utopia, a prominent debate between the two characters Morus and Hythloday considers to what extent the philosopher should place himself at the service of government. Hythloday is uncompromisingly idealistic; if the philosopher’s purpose lies in uncovering ultimate truth, then performing even the most well-meaning public service would at best distract him from this goal. Morus, a fictionalised version of the historical author, counters with his pragmatic vision that individuals and ideas must both work in the best interests of the majority of the population, even in the face of entrenched immorality and corruption. Critical interpretations of the Utopia tend to read the text as favouring Morus’ position, a case bolstered by reference to the actions and words of the historical More. Interpreting the Utopia as a stand-alone text, however, reveals the interdependency of Morus’ practice and Hythloday’s ideals. The text presents an unresolved dialectic of ideal and practice, one in which each side cannot make its argument with constant reference and concession to the other. Ultimately, ideal and practice are inseparable; indeed they are drawn together, with mutual fascination, gracious hospitality, and not without the occasional clash, in a process which actively considers real world society in relation to the ideal for the ultimate betterment of both.
SCOTT CAMERON is a third year student at Huron University College, pursuing a Specialisation in History and a Major in English Language and Literature. His research interests include the American South and Scottish Jacobitism.
Cameron, Scott M.
"Interdependencies of Idea and Practice in More’s Utopia,"
Liberated Arts: a journal for undergraduate research: Vol. 1
, Article 2.
Available at: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/lajur/vol1/iss1/2