Politicians, religious leaders, and group leaders alike have preyed on the weaknesses of their constituents and taken advantage of their disposition to be persuaded easily into circumstances with the lack of rational thinking and reasoning. In his controversial essay “A Modest Proposal”, Jonathan Swift, through his use of satire and logos, expresses the dangers of relying on speculative reason to solve problems which may lead to thinking the unthinkable rather than following what should be more natural and humane.
Despite the dire and vulnerable state of Ireland, Swift introduces his audience to his unrealistic solution to poverty and famine which he uses satirically to exemplify the dangers of allowing desperation and speculative reason to solve their problems. While the reader is hooked and begins to formulate a stance on the issue, Swift intelligently gets the reader to accept and reject the proposal when he states “I am assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London; that a young healthy child, well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food; whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled, and I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout’. This is by far the most famous line of the whole text because it grounds his satirical tone by proposing that they shall consume their babies. This is intended to shock the audience, create outrage and utter rejection of Swift’s previously established credibility. This use of satire mocked the haughty and desperate attitude of the Protestant Aristocracy as well as the apathy of the impoverished Irish. It is meant to emphasize the debilitated and desperate condition Ireland was in and encouraged the reader to block out Swift yet remain immersed because of their curiosity. Because of their weakened state, Swift takes advantage of their desperate nature to convey the problems that can arise when society allows itself to be polarized. This polarization is easily created when society as a whole permits its desperation to take over morality and rational thought. He wants to make sure his audience learns to think for themselves and not be misguided through irrational persuasion and processes, as seen by other countries in similar situations at the time.
In order for any speaker to be listened to and to have his words have any effect whatsoever, credibility and trust must be established between the audience and speaker first. Swift acknowledges this and acts upon it effectively through his use of logos throughout his essay. The essay begins innocently by establishing Swift as another citizen concerned with the wellbeing of his peers who is genuinely sympathetic to the Irish poor, whose suffering he describes with melancholy. Sensitive, knowledgeable, and confident- all are characteristics which Swift utilized to present himself in his ability to resolve through rational, logical analysis. Once he established a basic sense of trust between him and the audience, he continues to build on it through logical reasoning when he states “I subtract thirty thousand couples…there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders subtract fifty thousand only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children.”This is an example of logos because it uses statistics and numerical reasoning to apply Swift’s theme of how one may go to extremes to draw attention to the issues in society. Swift uses these statistics to show the audience the amount of families that could be saved from the burden of their children as well as be rescued from their impoverished conditions. His strategic use of logos and logical analysis allows him to lure his audience in and to make unrealistic, hyperbolic claims sound like legitimate reasoning. However, while on the surface the speaker argues for the reader to agree with his proposition, the reader is supposed to be in outrage by his proposal and reject it. Swift, is essentially attempting to teach the vulnerable, poverty-stricken people of Ireland a lesson about the hazards their gullibility and fascination with numerical reasoning can pose to their decision making. His use of logic essentially bypasses the questioning of the morality of the proposal by discussing the benefits to the economy and society through statistics and sheer, emotionless numbers. The power of this logical appeal warns Swift’s hopeless audience to not allow themselves to be persuaded into a state of polarization where there is a lack of rationale and moral thought behind every action.
The exploitation of human flaws for power and personal gain has been exercised ever since the first social and socio economic classes were created. Jonathan Swift, in his essay “A Modest Proposal”, addresses the widespread poverty and famine in Ireland and proposes a satirical and unrealistic solution which involves using and consuming babies in order to create balance and order. Swift adopts the position of a politician and demonstrates the dangers of speculative reasoning to solve issues which can lead to the neglection of moral and natural values through his use of satire and logos. When, as a group, one is faced with adversity and debilitating circumstances, it is essential that one maintains morality and rational reasoning to reach decisions as often others take advantage of one’s desperate condition to set themselves into positions of power. This can be seen all around the world through cults, some religions, and a handful of countries which have created polarized groups through exploiting the desperate who have lost their individual and rational thinking amongst a fleet of unanimous followers.
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