These lectures explore the history of "utopianism" and "idealism" through the writings of their proponents. Professor Baumann distinguishes between these two categories by saying that the first emphasizes the "no-place" side of utopia, and the second emphasizes the "good place" side of utopia.
Examples of "utopianism" would be Plato's Republic
, Moore's Utopia
, and Rousseau's The Social Contract
. These acknowledge the fundamental insolubility of the human problem because human beings are necessarily a living contradiction between private and public, for themselves and for others., or, as Genesis puts it, "in the image" (but only in the image) of God. Still, that doesn't lead the authors to throw up their hands in despair. But rather they conduct thought experiments that allow us, by exaggerating one part and suppressing another, to see our situation better. In other words, they were writing with their tongue in their cheek.
Examples of "idealism" would be Bacon's New Atlantis
, Marx's Communist Manifesto
, Skinner's Walden Two
, and the Jacobin interpretation of Rousseau. These are works that mean seriously to attain their ends. History has generally discredited the aspirations of the idealists.
However, there are signs that the serious, practical "idealist" form of utopianism may yet have the last word. Professor Baumann ends by bringing up a current movement of thought that calls itself "transhumanism." It asks why we can't use our developing knowledge of genetics and biology to change human nature into something that can transcend the traditional limits of the human condition.
I listened to these lectures to provide myself general background information on the subject of utopias which I hoped would prepare me for a planned meeting of Great Books KC where we will discuss Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley. It appears that the future imagined by Brave New World
could be interpreted as an extrapolation of the thinking of the "transhumanist." Except that Brave New World
has a negative view of the future prospects, and I presume the advocates of "transhumanism" have a more positive view.
There was a comment made in the final lecture that caught my attention. The question was asked, "What good are adolescent males?" After all, all they do is cause trouble. If humans could bypass that stage of life, wouldn't we all be better off? I can't help but notice that there is no problem with adolescent males in Brave New World