Before Utopia: The Making of Thomas More's Mind

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Before Utopia demonstrates that Thomas More's Utopia (1516) is not, as is widely accepted, a rhetorical play of spirit but is instead built from a particular philosophy. That philosophy was not Platonism, but classical Stoicism. Deeply disturbed in his youth by the conviction that he needed to decide between a worldly and a monastic path, Thomas More's outlook was transformed in 1504 by Erasmus' De taedio Iesu and Enchiridion. As a consequence, he married in 1505 and wholeheartedly committed himself to worldly affairs. His Lucian (1506), written after working directly with Erasmus, adopts the Stoic mindset; Erasmus' Praise of Folly (1511) shows from beginning to end the workings of More's life-changing Stoic outlook. More's Utopia then goes on to systematically illustrate the Stoic unitary two-dimensional frame of thought within an imaginary New World setting. Before Utopia is not just a book about Thomas More. It is a book about intellectual history and the movement of ideas from the ancient world to the Renaissance. Ross Dealy emphasizes the continuity between Erasmus and More in their religious and philosophical thought, and above all the decisive influence of Erasmus on More.