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,
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