A Modest Proposal Ethos

Please help me find examples of logos, ethos, and pathos in the short story "A Modest Propsal" by Johnathan  Swift.


Thanks in advance

Asked on by tarrance17

2 Answers

thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Analyzing Swift's "A Modest Proposal" in terms of Aristotelian pisteis (proofs) requires two things.

First, one must understand that the work is a satire and not meant to be taken seriously. Swift does not intend for the arguments to convince you to eat babies, but instead wants to convince you that England needs to do more to address the issue of Irish poverty. This is what rhetorical theorists call a "figured problem," where one overt argument is advanced to actually make a covert point. Rhetorical theories concerning this sort of rhetorical approach were actually developed a few centuries after Aristotle. 

Next, to analyze something in terms of the three pisteis, one must have a clear notion of what these proofs are so that as one reads the essay, one can recognize how Swift deploys or refers to them.

Logos: This is the appeal to abstract reasoning. It does not mean facts or evidence, which in Greek are known as "pragmata." Swift uses this mode of argument when his narrator uses numbers and calculations.

Ethos: Ethos is defined as "the character of the speaker." It is created intrinsically by means of tone, diction, and self-description. The narrator creates the ethos of an educated, unprejudiced, and thoughtful speaker with the phrase: "having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors ..."

Pathos: Pathos is appeal to or evocation of the emotions of the audience. An example of this can be found at the beginning of the essay in the statement:

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags.


litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The ethos, pathos and logos are persuasive appeals.  Logos is the idea of a logical argument.

I believe no Gentleman would repine to give Ten Shillings for the Carcass of a good fat Child, which, as I have said will make four Dishes of excellent Nutritive Meat. (para 14)

This argument sounds pretty logical.  Children are nutritious and cheap, so why not eat them?

Pathos is the idea of using emotion to convince people.

But as to my self, having been wearied out for many Years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of Success, I fortunately fell upon this Proposal, which as it is wholly new, so it hath something Solid and Real, of no Expence and little Trouble, full in our own Power, and whereby we can incur no Danger in disobliging England. (para 17)

Don't you just feel for him?  I'm ready to eat those kids!

Ethos is the idea that a person should be listened to.

A very worthy Person, a true Lover of his Country, and whose Virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased, in discoursing on this matter, to offer a refinement upon my Scheme. (para 17)

Swift encourages us to believe him because a worthy, virtuous person gave him the idea because “so great a Number of both Sexes in every County being now ready to Starve, for want of Work and Service” (para 17). 

In short, Swift uses logic, emotion, and credibility to convince people to eat the children of the poor.