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Thomas More’s Utopia, Utilitarianism, and Technology Essay

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Updated: Feb 26th, 2022

The desire to create an improved society seems to be one of the most prominent in philosophy. Thomas More, a social philosopher, envisioned a perfect world in his most celebrated work, Utopia, which shaped philosophical discourse for centuries. Although fundamental, the book was not the first of its type – fantasizing about a better life is a significant part of human existence. For instance, long before More, Plato described an ideal society in Republic (Sharpe, 2019). Nonetheless, More’s vision and the name that he gave to the phenomenon contributed immensely to the idea of an idealized world and shaped modern philosophical tendencies.

The original meaning of the word “utopia” accentuates the elusive nature of the notion. The word coined to signify a community with a flawless government can be translated from Greek as “no place,” a place that does not or cannot exist (Hodgkinson, 2016). The modern meaning of “utopia” in many aspects coincides with Greek translation. Although the word seems to be chiefly used to mean a perfect state or a place and not necessarily from a political standpoint, its connotative meaning entails a sense of infeasibility or impracticability. From a political perspective, the word becomes utilized to speak of an unrealizable state, such as communism. Therefore, the meaning of “utopia” did not change to a tangible extent, as the modern meaning aligns with the one that More assigned to it.

Utopia could be closely related to the philosophical school of utilitarianism. The utopian idea of moral and political right and wrong can be thought of as utilitarian, meant to maximize individual and societal well-being. More’s Utopian society has several characteristics that are utilitarian: for instance, the book shows that a criminal justice system should be rather rehabilitative than punitive. It is stated that “instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood” (More, 2001, p. 44). Hence, based on More’s Utopia, primarily punitive systems are politically wrong, whereas those that prefer rehabilitation are favored. The notion that to improve society, offenders should be rehabilitated rather than punished is utilitarian in nature.

Technological progress could change the idea that a utopian society is unfeasible. Technological utopianism allocates a fundamental role in scientific advancement in achieving a perfect society, particularly regarding social justice (Clint & Cameron, 2016). Even though technological development prompts alarmism, the benefits that it entails eclipse the polarization in viewpoints. Such innovations as genetic engineering, extensive use of solar energy, and universal access to the Internet could alleviate the colossal divide between countries and social classes (Dyson, 1997). For example, access to the Internet in remote places can enhance their financial situation by enabling businesses and farms and connecting them to the current global economy (Dyson, 1997). Thus, despite the polarization to which it contributes, technology is instrumental in completing an immense objective – mitigating social inequity. The objective’s significance helps to overcome the concern regarding polarization.

The society that More described in Utopia served as a blueprint for many political activists and possibly tipped history in the direction of somewhat higher social justice. Although the way the word “utopia” is used as a shade of unfeasibility, the current technological advancement could change it. Progress in renewable energy research, genetic manipulations, and communication technologies give a reason to think that the society that More envisioned could be not too removed in time.

References

Clint, J., & Cameron, E. (2016). The individual and utopia: A multidisciplinary study of humanity and perfection. Routledge.

Dyson, F. (1997). [PDF document]. Web.

Hodgkinson, T. (2016). BBC Culture. Web.

More, T. (2001). Utopia. (C. H. Miller, Trans.). Yale University Press.

Sharpe, M. (2019). The Conversation. Web.

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