History of Ideas: Thomas More

The discussion points are based on my page on Thomas More:

I would like you to consider the following issues. I have pointed out the relevant notes in the text and the numbers of the primary sources that deal with the subject.

(1) Thomas More: Religious Humanism

Notes (4-7)

As a young man Thomas More was a Religious Humanist. More was forced to leave university over the issue. Humanists wanted to widen the curriculum and study the Classics (the literatures, material culture, and history of the societies of the ancient world). The Church authorities were worried about the dangers of studying pre-Christian subjects. In time, Classics played a prominent role in the education of the upper classes and became a part of grammar-school education, but not in the schools for pupils who failed the 11+. There were calls to include the Classics in the National Curriculum in the 1980s and for a short- period students studied Roman History at Key Stage 3, but it was dropped after a couple of years.

Should "Classics" be part of the National Curriculum today? Do you think there should be any changes to the National Curriculum? Are our young people receiving the education required for the 21 st century?

(2) Thomas More: Women's Education

Notes (9-12) Quotations (1, 11, 12)

Thomas More is known for his progressive views on women's education. In a letter to the man he was about to employ as his children's tutor he wrote: "Nor do I think the harvest will be much affected whether it is a man or a woman who sows the field. They both have the same human nature, which reason differentiates from that of beasts; both, therefore, are equally suited for these studies by which reason is cultivated, and becomes fruitful like a ploughed land on which seed of good lessons has been sown." (source 3)

I will not insult your intelligence by asking you if More was right. However, men resisted education for women until the late 19 th century. In 1870 Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon helped to set up Girton College, the first university college for women, but it was not recognized by the university authorities. In 1880 Newnham College was established at Cambridge University. By 1910 there were just over a thousand women students at Oxford and Cambridge. However, they had to obtain permission to attend lectures and were not allowed to take degrees. Without a university degree it was difficult for women to enter the professions. After a long struggle the medical profession allowed women to become doctors. Even so, by 1900 there were only 200 women doctors. It was not until 1910 that women were allowed to become accountants and bankers. However, there were still no women diplomats, barristers or judges.

For many years, boys received better results than girls in school exams. However, in the 1980s things began to change and girls began outperforming boys at GCSE and A level. Now more women receive firsts and upper seconds degrees at universities than men. However, males still dominate in the top jobs in 2020: Chief Executives (92.6), Court Judges (71%), Government Cabinet Ministers (72.7%), etc. Why is this? Are women lacking something that is needed to get to the top?

(3) Utopia

Notes (14-28) Quotations (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14)

In 1515 Thomas More began writing a story entitled Utopia (Greek for nowhere). Published in 1516 the book had been influenced by the writings of Plato, especially his book, The Republic (c. 375 BC). In this book he attempted to describe the ideal society.

The book tells of a seaman who has discovered an island called Utopia. More tells the reader he was told about Utopia by a traveler Raphael Hythlodaeus (Greek for expert in nonsense), whom he met in Belgium.

Would you like to live in Utopia? Would such a system work? Why was it than when More had power he did everything he could to fight against the values of Utopia? At the end of the 19 th Century there were several popular Utopian novels. For example, Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888), William Morris, News from Nowhere , (1890) and Donald McMartin, A Leap into the Future, or How Things Will Be in 2000 (1890). In the 20th Century we have had mainly Dystopian novels such as Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1921), Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932), George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962) and Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985). Why?

Are people who have strong utopian views about society a benefit or a danger to society? For example, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Castro and Chávez were all utopians?

(4) Heretics

Notes (32-46) Quotations (14-20)

As soon as More had political power he attempted to destroy those people who advocated the type of society portrayed in Utopia. A good example of this is the way he treated Anabaptists, who were the best example of Christian Utopians, in existence at the time. Is it possible to justify More's actions?

(5) Thomas More: An Assessment

Quotations (14-27)

Today, most people's opinions on More will greatly be influenced by the way he has been portrayed in novels and in films. Do you prefer the interpretation of Robert Bolt or Hilary Mantel? Or, do your religious views influence your opinion of More. (see reviews of Mantel's books in Catholic publications). In 1935 (the date is highly significant) More was canonized and proclaimed a saint of the universal Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI. Is Thomas More a saint or sinner?