Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book II: The Discourse on Utopia: Learning

Summary

Although only a few persons who reveal a special capacity and disposition for studies are allowed to devote themselves entirely to learning, the entire population is encouraged to devote a good share of its leisure time to reading.

The Utopians had never heard of any of the chief thinkers of the Western world until Hythloday's company visited them, and yet they had developed independently the same skills and concepts as the Greeks had in music, logic, arithmetic, and geometry. They are truly excellent logicians, although they have no understanding of, or appreciation for, abstract speculation and fantastical images, having never been exposed to certain niceties of logic that English students are regularly trained to employ. They have made great advances in astronomy and have devised ingenious instruments for observations and calculations in that study, but they take no account of astrology or divining by the stars. They are skillful in predicting the weather, but their inquiries into the causes of natural phenomena have not proved successful.

Analysis

This section gives little insight into the educational system but is rather devoted to the achievements of their learned men. In the remarks about abstract speculation and fantastical learning, More pretends to treat the absence of such learning among the Utopians as a weakness in their intellectual development, but his satirical intention is evident enough. It is not the Utopians being ridiculed, but the type of learning, a kind of logical acrobatics practiced by the scholastics, which Bacon later called the "cobwebs of learning." Likewise, in revealing the skeptical attitude of the Utopians toward astrology, he shows them turning their backs on Medieval beliefs and adopting a distinctly modern point of view.

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