Rhetoric and philosophy in Swift's "A Tale of a Tub"

Burrow, R. W.


Burrow, R. W. (1986) Rhetoric and philosophy in Swift's "A Tale of a Tub".

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My aim is to show that Swift's rhetorical method in the Tale is determined by his adherence to a tradition of political philosophy which held that there is a radical distinction between the philosopher, or lover of knowledge; and the non-philosopher, or lover of delusion. In this ultimately Platonic view, 'noble lies' are though to be more useful to the generality of mankind than certain truths which weaken the fabric of society. The philosopher must work with illusions rather than attempting to destroy them; in fact, to be of any use to the state, he must vigorously maintain opinions which he secretly believes to be false. If he wishes to speak to his philosophical readers as well, his text must contain a second, concealed level which can be uncovered by readers with enquiring minds, but which is not apparent to the non-philosophical majority.I suggest that the forceful defence of Anglicanism in the Tale is swift's popular level, and is secretly contradicted by an argument addressed to the philosophical reader, in which swift admits that established opinions - among which we can number not only Anglicanism but Christianity itself - are false, but asserts that it would nevertheless be folly to discard them. Form and content are thus perfectly welded, as swift practises exactly what he preaches. The Tale's rhetorical method is shaped by a dual aim: to lead on the enquiring reader to its deepest levels, and to exclude'superficial' readers from all but a defence of healthy illusions. The Tale encourages two types of response because what is beneficial to one type of reader is not so to the other. This study treats equally of form and content because the Tale both utilizes and illustrates the principles which it secretly advocates.

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Item TypeThesis (Doctoral)
TitleRhetoric and philosophy in Swift's "A Tale of a Tub"
AuthorsBurrow, R. W.
Uncontrolled KeywordsEnglish Literature; Language, Literature And Linguistics; A; Philosophy; Rhetoric; S; Swift; Swift, Jonathan; Swift, Jonathan; Tale; Tub



Deposited by () on 01-Feb-2017 in Royal Holloway Research Online.Last modified on 01-Feb-2017


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