Thomas More's Utopia - moral philosophy and religion

As to moral philosophy, they have the same disputes among them as we have here: they examine what are properly good both for the body and the mind, and whether any outward thing can be called truly good, or if that term belong only to the endowments of the soul. They inquire likewise into the nature of virtue and pleasure; but their chief dispute is concerning the happiness of a man, and wherein it consists? Whether in some one thing, or in a great many? They seem, indeed, more inclinable to that opinion that places, if not the whole, yet the chief part of a man's happiness in pleasure; and, what may seem more strange, they make use of arguments even from religion, notwithstanding its severity and roughness, for the support of that opinion so indulgent to pleasure; for they never dispute concerning happiness without fetching some arguments from the principles of religion, as well as from natural reason, since without the former they reckon that all our inquiries after happiness must be but conjectural and defective.

Background

More set out three key principles of Utopian religion:

  • The soul of a person is immortal
  • God has designed the soul to be happy
  • God has appointed rewards for good and virtuous acts and punishments for vice. These rewards and punishments are distributed after this life

These principles shape the attitudes and behaviour of Utopian citizens, who seek happiness in good and honest pleasures. To be virtuous is to live according to nature and the dictates of reason.

Utopians believe that reason:

  • Kindles in us a love for the Divine Majesty
  • Keeps our minds cheerful, free from passion, and committed to the happiness of others as well as to our own pleasure
  • Inclines us to enter into society and seek the public good

Image taken from: LUtopie de Thomas Morus
Creator: Thomas More
Publisher: Pierre van der Aa
Date created: 1715
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 232.b.20

Taken from: Sir Thomas More's Utopia
Author / Creator: Thomas More (translated by Gilbert Burnet)
Publisher: George Routledge & Sons
Date: 1885
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 12204.gg.1/23