What is Eutopia?

James Withers

Eutopia is a homophone of utopia, which expresses the idea of a perfect human existence. Rarely used outside of academic circles, this word combines the Greek prefix eu meaning good, happy, or pleasing, with the Greek suffix topia, describing a place or localized region. In 1516, Thomas More paired this word with different one, outopia, meaning "no place," to coin a fresh term, utopia. While More's term is used to describe one of any number of idealistic, fictional political systems, eutopia simply refers to a place of happiness.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Within the context of More's work, this word represents a pleasant state of order that bears the potential to exist in nature. Contrasted against utopia, in a poem crafted by one of More's fictional characters, the term is described in More's work as "a place of felicity." Thus, in addition to being a happy region, this place is also free of the constraints of outopia. Thus, the possibility that it may be attainable under natural conditions is strongly suggested by More.

Furthermore, More reinforced the ideas contained in his book by distinguishing them from the Idealistic philosophy of Plato, who wrote the political masterwork The Republic almost 2,000 years earlier. More establishes eutopia as a naturally-attainable environment, more agreeable to the assertions of Materialistic philosophy than those of Idealism.

By briefly alluding to eutopia as an enviable order capable of occurring within human history, More actually attempts to emphasize the fact that his self-created concept of utopia is absolutely fictional. Nevertheless, More invented this word and authored a book about it as a way to make a veiled commentary about the European society in which he lived.

Each of these terms is the subject of scholarly analysis in a field of academia called Utopian Studies. Scholars consider such issues as how a state of complete contentment may occur within a society, and how and why it may be undermined.

A related term, dystopia, refers to a society in which misery is prevalent. In The Problem of a 'Flawed Utopia', Lyman Tower Sargent states that complete contentment is a condition that humans must strive for in order to avoid falling prey to misery. Thus, whether or not these appealing ideals are attainable under natural conditions, they are arguably worth striving for.

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