In Sir Thomas More’s book Utopia, we encounter a world traveler named Raphael Hythloday. Raphael tells a few listeners about the island of Utopia, a place where everything seems perfect. Raphael says he returned to Europe to tell people about this amazing place. Raphael doesn’t care for riches or power and is therefore presented as a neutral figure in the book. He is also a philosophical man, and has learned a lot during his five-year stay in Utopia. He disagrees with standing armies, hates nobles for their luxurious living, and wants the government to get rid of taverns and make idle people work. He also rejects capital punishment for thieves because they would be led to kill their victims because there was no difference in punishment.
He also hates the free market, and wants the government to hold all property in common.He blames all of the evils of society on private property, and says that people. More (who is also a character in the book) responded to Raphael by saying that people need incentives, and that if the government instituted a form of communism, the people would not want to work. Raphael responds by saying that More hasn’t seen Utopia, where the people do not need incentives. Raphael says that in Utopia, cities don’t make war with each other. He also says that in Utopia everyone works in all occupations. In other words, there is no division of labor. Everyone learns agriculture, and they work only 6 hours a day. Also, the magistrates know exactly how much to produce for the needs of the people. All surpluses are shared with other cities.
Utopia is described as a place where everyone is diligent and no one is greedy. They are said to despise gold, silver and jewels.
Raphael says that all attempts at reform are useless unless private property is abolished. He refuses to advise kings, saying that it will be hopeless. Raphael says that he agrees with Plato, who held very different views than Aristotle on Politics. Plato wanted society to be controlled by philosopher kings who centralized society, while Aristotle doubted that this would work. At first, Raphael seems like someone who is a reformer who wants to change the world, and then says that any such reform is impossible.
This may be because More, who was a devout Catholic, wanted to link the church with realism. This contrasts with his description of Utopia (which literally means “no place”) as a society that is impossible. Aristotelian thinking had dominated the church since the time of Thomas Aquinas, and support to Aristotle’s thinking would also help the position of the church. Since More wrote Utopia in Latin, his readers were probably learned people who would have known of the Plato-Aristotle debate. More may have really believed that reform must not remake men, as would have been necessary in Utopia.
A possible indication that More did not really believe the views Raphael spoke about was that his last name, Hythloday, literally means “Speaker of nonsense”. Also, More, who was at one point a judge, did not give any indication that he believed Raphael’s views on the punishment of criminals.