Abstracts 500 years of Utopia, 3 February 2016
Thomas More’s Utopia as a Dystopia in its Particular Place in Time
More than a century before Thomas More, Geoffrey Chaucer already dealt with aspects of an English society that was increasingly becoming ‘mercantile,’ and prepared itself for what we would now call a ‘capitalist’ community. If his Canterbury Tales seem fully aware how the Flemish towns provided already fully-developed models of this new society, Thomas More’s Utopia appears to be even more conscious of the mercantile structures that defined a ‘polis’ like Bruges, or even more categorically Antwerp. In this place, some humanists were to a large extent directly in charge of the affairs of the town, and as a lawyer, More had himself been a key figure in ‘negocia’ between London and Antwerp.
This lecture investigates how More mixes utopian and dystopian visions to express his ambiguous attitude towards the well-established mercantile society in the Low Countries, and the more recent one developing in his own country.
Utopia and the elimination of poverty
Philippe Van Parijs
Abstract: “Does the elimination of relative poverty, as defined by the European Union, make sense as a social objective? Is it too utopian in the sense of being unachievable? And/or is it not utopian enough in the sense of providing a picture of a better society that can support our hopes and mobilize our energy?”
Pieter Gillis Lecture 2016
Utopia, a Republic of Letters
Hythloday tells the character of More that to approach the island of Utopia is to risk death; only someone who already knows its secrets can reach its hallowed shores. We might say the same for the book itself; for almost 500 years scholars have puzzled over this text, trying to work out its secrets. At the same time, we have every reason to believe that the audience for which More intended his text, the humanist scholars of sixteenth-century Europe, understood its meaning far more clearly than we do.
By understanding Utopia as a continuation of the themes central to the collective work of Erasmus and More, this talk not only explores Utopia in the context of the humanist Republic of Letters, but demonstrates it to be a literal ‘Republic of Letters’ to be shared amongst its members. In Utopia, More presents a central humanist theme, that of prizing what can be held in common over what is one’s own, leading to reflections on friendship, politics and mortality. In the end, to approach Utopia is indeed to face death, acknowledging our common fate, and our essential equality.