Why is Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" a valuable text within its own context and in our contemporary context?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"A Modest Proposal" was significant in its own time as a critique of the overreliance on reason and empiricism to solve social problems. Writing in the early stages of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Swift was troubled by the proclivity, current in his time, to argue that rationality and an emerging scientific mode of thinking provided the best answers to human issues. From a purely economic and rationalistic point of view, of course, Swift's proposal makes sense. From a perspective that acknowledges the humanity of the people involved, on the other hand, it is ghastly and unthinkable. This lesson is, of course, not irrelevant to the modern world, but the main reason Swift's essay has achieved enduring importance is that it is a masterpiece of satire. By employing humor, albeit extremely dark humor, Swift makes his point in a way that is unforgettable, far more than some sort of philosophical treatise or pamphlet would have been able to do. 


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