CIVILIZATION AND PURPOSE – PART VI (continued)

Thomas More was a Renaissance student of Plato and unabashedly borrows many of Plato’s ideas in his masterpiece, Utopia. This imaginary island is carefully organized and run by wise magistrates. Citizens perform cooperative scientific agriculture, physical work, or urban occupations only six hours per day and spend their leisure time reading, attending public lectures, and engaging in academic discussions. Immoral recreations, such as gambling, are non-existent, gold has no value, dress is simple, religious variety is tolerated, and marriages and families are highly regulated. Personal property is unknown and pleasure on the whole derives from a virtuous life.4 In brief, More conceives of the ideal world as one of puritanical, humanistic socialism.

In the following centuries various writers offer additional theories on a future ideal world. An important example is Francis Bacon, an early philosopher of science, who in Novum Organum (1620) argued that to acquire knowledge about the world requires interpretation of the particulars given in sense experience. In his view, the understanding of properties of substances by controlled observation and experimentation offer the possibility of inductive generalizations that become the foundation of knowledge which underlies the promise of technology.5 In his posthumously published and unfinished work, New Atlantis (1626), he presents a utopian society based on the unlimited potential of the developing methods of science. In retrospect, Bacon’s predictions about the vital role of science on the improvement in the human condition are absolutely uncanny, though the hope for this type of utopia is unfulfilled.

Two hundred years later, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels use their analysis of economic history to propose a utopia surprisingly similar but more extensive than that of Thomas More. They argue the fundamental imperfection of societies has been and continues to be class relations; specifically the exploitation of the working class (proletariat) by the middle and upper classes (bourgeoisie) due to the coveting of capital. An ideal world, in their view, would be classless, with the means of economic production owned by all and the work of the individual shared by all. Their utopia will arrive after a class war where the bourgeoisie is vanquished, a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat  is created, and a natural withering of the state and of international boundaries follows – in effect leading to global, classless, stateless socialism. This paradise on earth is described in the Communist Manifesto (1848): “In the place of the old society, with its classes and class antagonism, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”6

(finished next post)

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4Magill, Frank, Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form. Harper & Row Publishers, 1961, pages 348-353.

5Ibid., pagec373-379.

6 Zaehner, R.C., Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions. Barnes &Noble Books, New York, 1997. ISBN0-76070-712-X, page 399 .

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