More's Utopia and Plato's Republic

Essay by hadilCollege, Undergraduate February 2005

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It can be safely assumed that most utopias are written as a form of critical commentary on the author's own society. Thus, it can hardly be surprising when a philosopher's view of the perfect community differs radically from the community in which he himself lives. However, in many ways, the author is a product of his own society, and thus his work contains biases and preconceptions ingrained in him by his cultural context. This dichotomy of similarities and differences is evident in the depiction of women's roles in both The Republic, by Plato, and Utopia, by Thomas More. Both Plato and More, in their respective works, assign to women a role that is much more progressive than the role held by women in their contemporary societies. However, even with this progressive view, the differences between the roles assigned to men, and those assigned to women clearly reflect the preconceptions regarding gender roles present in the authors' societies, as well as those of the authors themselves.

In Athenian society of the 3rd and 4th centuries BCE, women led very sheltered, cloistered lives. Athens is viewed as the earliest model of democracy, and yet fully half of its inhabitants, all of the women, were denied citizenship, and thereby an participation in the governing of the city-state. Within this context, Plato's depiction of the role of women in his utopia is startling. To make his argument, Plato first brings up the analogy of a watchdog. He argues that one would not exempt a female watchdog from her work as a guardian, simply because she gives birth to puppies. Since Plato sees the upper-class, the Guardians, as the watchdogs of the state, he similarly holds that female Guardians ought to be given the same responsibilities as men. He argues that the only...