Thomas More, “Utopia,” Books I & II


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Thomas More’s Utopia, Books I & II. Please note that the page numbers below correspond to the Norton print edition of Utopia. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

Book I

What’s the basic plot on Book 1?

Who does More meet in Flanders?

How does More describe Hythloday before speaking with him?

Why does Giles suggest More would like to meet Hythloday?

How is Hythloday characterized by Giles? What do his characteristics qualify him for?

What happens to Hythloday and his men when they are left behind by Vespucci?

What invention does Raphael share with the indigenous “seamen”?

The major question raised in Book I begins in the middle of page seven. If the goal of Humanists is learning as much as possible in math, science, languages, philosophy and the arts how should a Humanist employ his knowledge?

What reasons does Giles give to compel Raphael to serve a Prince? How does Raphael respond?

According to More, how or why would Raphael’s influence or advice to a Prince influence an entire city/nation?

How does Raphael refute More’s suggestion?

What types of men are best suited to carry on business according to More? Is More supposed to provide an example of appropriate public service? (9)

What’s the main issue of the dialogue? Or what issue opens the conversation?

How does Raphael respond when the lawyer says, “‘…by which men may make a living unless they choose deliberately to be rogues'” (10)?

How does England produce thieves?

How are sheep killing Englishmen?

What other problems does the wool trade cause?

How does Raphael initially propose to solve thieves from hanging?

How or why should life be valued?

Just before Raphael launches into his discussion of how to deal with thieves, he based his authority on his travels to a place that doesn’t exist. What are we as readers supposed to make of his authority?

What does Raphael’s solution to thievery consist of?But then this seemingly nice solution gets a little scary…What are the offenses in Raphael’s system that can be punished by death?

Then how can we take him seriously when he says, “It is clear how mild and practical they are for the aim of the punishment is to destroy vices and save men” (17). What do you think, which system is preferable Raphael’s or capital punishment for thieves?

What does Raphael explain guarantee’s the success of his penal system? How does the lawyer react? How does the Cardinal react?

How does More respond to Raphael’s example/dialogue?

On what does More blame the lack of present happiness?

Where is the council of philosophers found, according to Raphael?

More and Raphael now enter into a debate on the same question that Giles and he debated earlier. What is Raphael’s main reason for not entering the service of a king?

Obviously More is criticizing or satirizing problems he dealt with as an advisor to King Henry VIII. What problems does Raphael show face the King of France’s ambitions and how would he respond as a councilor?

Why is the Kingdom of the Achorians thrown into disaster? How do they solve their problems?

What other problems does constant war mongering and territory shifting back and forth between kings cause?

What relationship does Raphael suggest a King have with his people?

What are some of the schemes for raising money proposed by the other councilors?

According to Raphael, why is it the King’s duty to take more care of his people?

According to Raphael, why doesn’t forcing people to live in poverty safeguard the public peace? (24)

According to Raphael, how should a king live? (24-5) These seem like the real solutions, just as in the last section the ideas Raphael presents before his scheme for punishing thieves through slavery is introduced. This is in large part a method of satire. Two polar extremes, the grossly corrupt councilors on one side and then Raphael’s discussion of rules in “Macarian” on the other.

What do the “Macarians” do to limit the injustices faced in England? Should the English learn from their examples? (People who live close to Utopia 25).

Why does More disagree with Raphael? More says: “Stone deaf, indeed, there’s no doubt about it…and no wonder! To tell you the truth, I don’t think you should offer advice or thrust on people ideas of this sort that you know will not be listened to” (25).

Who agrees with More? Why? What does More suggest Raphael do instead?

How does Raphael reply to More’s “realistic” suggestions?

What institution in Utopia would be unacceptable to England?

What, according to Raphael, constitutes ‘madness’ in government?

What metaphor does Raphael use to show that wise men are right in keeping clear of politics?

What two elements of English society keep the people from being happy and ruled justly?

Keep the following quote in mind: “So I reflect on the wonderfully wise and sacred institutions of the Utopians who are so well governed with so few laws” (28). Does Utopia really have “few laws”?

What does private property produce?

Instead of the total restructuring of English society by the elimination of property, what are Raphael’s more modest suggestions? (28-9)

“How can there be plenty of commodities where every man stops working?” (29)

How long did Raphael live in Utopia and why did he leave?

Why are European minds and government’s superior to the new world governments?

In what do Utopians surpass Europeans?

What does More want to know about Utopia? What type of audience is More for the discussion of Utopia?

Book II

What does Utopia look like?

Where did Utopia get its name? What does this story of origin tell us about Utopia? How is the settling of the once uncouth Utopians a mythological story of origin? What does it say about how the Utopians think about liberty or race?

How does the balance between the central government and the rural areas and cities work?

Are there really very few laws?

What occupation does everyone have to learn?

What are the clothes like?

Why aren’t commodities scarce due to the short workday?

What do the Utopians do to devalue gold, silver and precious metals?

Describe the way population is shifted through households…

What rules govern traveling? Why do you think the utopians have such high anxiety over travel inside the boundaries of the nation?

How does education impact/influence behavior in Utopia? What do the Utopians study and in what language?

Who can become a slave in Utopia? What jobs to slaves do?

How are the sick cared for? How are dying people cared for? Do any details in the care of the sick and dying surprise you?

How does the following fit into the debate about the duty of serving the state: “Since the welfare or ruin of a commonwealth depends wholly on the character of the official, where could thy make a more prudent choice than among Utopians, who cannot be tempted by money?”

Is it a paradox that a society which professes to disdain glory in war “…carries on vigorous military training, so they will be fit to fight should the need arise”?

What do some of the people in Utopia worship?

What do the wisest people worship? What are some characteristics of this entity?

Even though the sects differ, in what do they all believe?

What is the only religious position Utopians do not allow or respect? What is the danger of such beliefs? How are atheists treated?

What do people who “…err in the opposite direction…” believe and how are they treated?

What are some Utopian burial practices?

What are some of their religious practices or rights?

According to Utopians, what happens to people after they die? “…and thus they believe the dead come frequently among the living, to observe their words and actions”

How does More respond to Raphael’s dialogue? Is he convinced that Utopia is the greatest country in the world? Doe he think Utopian practices could be applied in England?

RQ: Scott Davies, “Sustainable Nostalgia”

Featured Image: Arches National Park


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Davies, “Sustainable Nostalgia” (262-268). The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

What is “sustainability”?

How has the term “sustainability” transformed since the 1970’s?

What does “sustainability” mean according to Davies?

What are some of its complexities, or rather what accounts for the term’s “political attractiveness” (262)?

What does he mean by “category error” (262)?

How does the Brundtland report define sustainability? Why do you think that definition has been so influential? What sorts of divisions does that definition imply between, for instance, present and future generations?

What does Davies mean when he says that sustainability, “subordinates change to itself” (263)? What does it mean that sustainability, “saturates the future with the present” (263)?

What are some problems with sustainability OR what are some results of the ways that sustainability produces temporalities?

How does sustainability respond to the threat of apocalypse?

Why have some members of the environmental movement called for the term “sustainability” to be recalled or replaced? Why does Davies disagree with such a call? Or, what “ethical advantages” does Davies see in living with sustainability as a goal?

Why is the quest for sustainability a kind-of “memory work”?

What does Davies mean when he says that the dream of sustainability synonymous with a nostalgia for the future?

How/why does sustainability posit our present as satisfactory and also a satisfactory point of origin?

What does he mean when he says, “For now, though, we in the present must look to the future, because it is in the future that the present will be inhabited as our home” (264)?

According to Davies, why must ecocriticism not “keep nostalgia at a safe distance” (265)? OR, “The question is not ‘how can ecological writing exploit nostalgia?’ but ‘how must ecotheory reflect upon and negotiate its own ineliminable, motivating desire for the coincidence of self and  dwelling place’” (264)?

RQ: Cohen, “Noah’s Arkive”

Featured Image: Svalbard Global Seed Vault


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s, “Noah’s Arkive.” The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

1. According to Cohen why are humans such “experts at imagining end times” (par 1)? What problems does apocalypse solve? How have representations of apocalypse changed over time?

2. Let’s try to answer the question that Cohen puts to his audience at the start of the post, “But as we brace for denouement in storm and tempest, what does our apocalyptic imagination unveil about the limits of our environmental frames, the limits of the stories that we tell?” (par 1)

3. How does Cohen define ‘ark’? What are some examples he gives? Can you think of more examples?

4. Why is ark building a natural response to (impending) catastrophe?

5. Why is ark building, in any of the contexts Cohen cites, always going to be a failed project? OR, put another way, why is Cohen more invested in what is left behind than what gets included an ark?

6. Why do we keep returning to biblical frames to imagine the future?

7. What does Cohen mean when he says, “Climate change requires more and better stories than the ones we have been telling” (par 4)?

8. What’s the story of Noah’s Flood? According to Cohen how has/does that story get read? How does Cohen read the long history of Noah’s Flood stories as “a source for counter-narratives that do not make of a coming Flood untroubled waters” (par 4)?

9. Who are Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, The blogger Burrito Justice, Jeffrey Linn? How do these designers envision the final effects of climate change? How/why does Cohen suggest we should shift away from this imaginative work?

10. Take a minute and think about the image below and then consider some of the following: who’s the audience for this image? Describe the point of view the photo renders. What does this image of the future suggest is missing from our present?

Postcards from the Future, Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

11. What sorts of social relationships do floods, ironically, reveal even as the cover over cities and countrysides?

12. What are some details from the Noah story that Cohen recounts, but often are left out of the simplified/children’s version of the story? Why do you think the story of the Flood is such a mainstay of children’s fiction?

13. What are some contradictions that Cohen points out in the Noah story? What does the etymology of the terms suggest for Cohen?

12. Why do you think Noah failed to “’ appeal for mercy on the world’s behalf’” (par. 10) like Abraham does? Why does Noah comply “leaving the earth to drown” (par. 10)?

13. Consider the series of illuminated illustrations that Cohen includes in his post—what’s the relationship between the manuscript images, such as BL Harley  4381 f. 12 and BL Royal 14 B IX, and the story of the flood? What choices do the artists make in the “translation” of the biblical story into images?

14. Why doesn’t Noah in the BL Royal 2 B VII  f. 7  and BL Add MS 47682 realize that the Devil stowed away on the Ark? Why doesn’t he consider the staggering loss of all the other life I the world? What would it take for him to realize?

15. Compare the illustration of the Flood below, drawn by William de Brails in the 13th c., to the image of flooded London above. Why/how does “He provides what’s missing from those pictures of a submerged London, Seattle, New York as seen from the sky” (par. 16)?

16.In Cohen’s final assessment,what is the value of an ark?

William de Brails