Gulliver's Travels

Plato’s Swift Idolization of Rationality

How far can an ancient ideal stretch? From Euclidean geometry to Plato’s Republic, ancient ideas are still being analyzed and furthered. One example, the fourth book in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, is directly related to Plato’s ideal state, Kallipolis. In that book, we follow Gulliver on his journey from England into a moral and physical foil of the society we currently understand. There, Houyhnhnms -- purely logical horses -- reign over the humanoid epitomes of irrationality, the Yahoos. This provides a perfect opportunity for Swift to show us the essential aspects of humans and how they are still prevalent in his society as in Plato’s, and indeed in ours as well. From the fundamental question of life’s meaning to a not-so-simple depiction of the human soul, Swift follows Plato’s example of an ideal society to a T. In holding rationality highest among the various aspects of the human soul, Swift and Plato both spin a tale in which the three parts of a human soul are split, resulting in an immediate realization that all are necessary in order to properly function in society.

Initially, reason is held out as the most valuable component of the human soul in Plato’s Kallipolis and on Swift’s island. As Gulliver notices,

Neither is...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 739 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4416 literature essays, 1446 sample college application essays, 182 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in