In what ways does Jonathan Swift concede some of the objections that could be raised against his proposal in "A Modest Proposal"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It is towards the middle of his satirical essay "A Modest Proposal" that author Jonathan Swift concedes objections to his proposal. He opens his conceding remarks with the statement, "[L]et no man talk to me of other expedients," meaning other means to the end. In other words, he is saying that no one should oppose his proposal by discussing means other than eating excessive children to eliminate the poverty and suffering he is describing in his essay. From this statement he goes on to list other possible means to eliminate poverty and suffering.

One means is that those citizens of Ireland who are not living in Ireland could be taxed at "five shilling a pound" of their income. The extra money from taxes could be put to use caring for the poor. A second means he lists is prohibiting citizens of Ireland from buying any clothes or furniture not grown and manufactured in Ireland so that only Ireland would receive any profits from the items. Ensuring only Ireland received profits for such goods would strengthen Ireland's economy, which would also help lessen poverty within Ireland. Other means he names consist of improving the character of Irish citizens, especially the character of landlords who could "have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants." A final means he names is improving the character and skills of the "shop-keepers" so that, when a measure is put forth to only buy goods native to Ireland, the shopkeepers do not cheat the Irish by raising prices and lessening quality. All of these means he lists count as objections people can raise to his proposal of eating children. The argument is that if there are other ways we can lessen poverty in Ireland, then those ways/means should be pursued rather than his proposal.

In listing these means as possible objections to his proposal, he is also conceding objections people may raise, which means he is acknowledging objections. But more interesting than his list of objections is his reason for stating that no one should speak to him of these objections, a reason he gives us after this paragraph:

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

In other words, no one should speak to him of the above possible means to putting an end to the poverty because it is extremely unlikely anyone in Ireland will try to employ any of those means due to the poor characters of the Protestants in Ireland who are causing the problem. In other words, Swift concedes possible objections to his proposal by listing them, then offers the counterargument that any other means of eliminating the problem will never be employed.

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