The Virtue and Vice of Reason in More’s Utopia When reason permeates society, it does not necessarily imply greater happiness. When brought to the point of rationalization, or when there are errors in the analysis used in reasoning, reason tends to have adverse effects. On the other hand, when analysis is well thought out, and the correct conclusions are drawn, reason can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on a society. Many may think that Sir Thomas More’s Utopia infers that reason must be the foundation, and even the preoccupation, of any perfect society. In fact, according to Dr. Evans, More’s contemporaries had no doubt that More was attempting to depict a perfect society, one firmly based upon the precepts of reason. However, More injects several major flaws in the Utopian system, which subverts the possibility of that society being truly ideal. In his attempt to expose the inherent limitations of reason, More presents us with the Utopian society, which both benefits and loses from reason in their handling of material wealth, religious toleration, and respect for human life.
More uses the Utopians’ total rejection of material wealth to present the possibility of reason overcoming petty greed. The Utopians’ realization that material wealth has little value is, at least on face, one of the higher pinnacles of their civilization. As Raphael says, “Nor can they understand how a totally useless substance like gold should now, all over the world, be considered far more important than human beings . . .” (89). With this statement, Raphael is pointing out one of the great flaws of any capitalistic society, that human beings often pursue gold and riches at the expense of human dignity and morality. Some human beings, …
…posing ideas within it, Thomas More is not only exposing the limits of reason, but he is encouraging intellectual discourse and diversity of opinions. He is challenging individuals and society as a whole to not accept the so-called “perfect society,” but to think about the consequences that would occur if a Utopian system were to be adopted. Yet he presents to us the notion that even reason has its limitations and is only as good as the person who analyzes the situation. There is no perfect society, no perfect individual, and certainly no Utopia, but that does not mean that we should not strive toward that end. When we use reason, a perfect state of society, or a perfect individual is by no means guaranteed, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
More, Thomas. Utopia, ed. And trans. HVS Ogden. AHM Publishing Corporation, Illinois, 1949.