Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Morality and Ethics

By Jonathan Swift

Morality and Ethics

Part 1
The Proposer (Narrator)

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas, too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expense than the shame. (5)

This is the only line in which the narrator sympathizes with Irish children, calling them "poor innocent babes." Of course, he goes on to make his proposal only half a page later.

Part 2
The Proposer (Narrator)

[…] although I rather recommend buying the children alive and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs. (16)

The narrator's lack of empathy is chilling. Why does he provide so many gory details?

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. (28)

Way to say what everyone else is thinking, Narrator. Swift knows that his readers are looking for an easy solution to the overpopulation crisis.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. (18)

The narrator suggests he's only one of many who are concerned about the old and sick. In real life, Swift was upset because no one was stepping up to help.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food. (10)

What kind of reaction do you think this would provoke in a reader?

Fifthly, this food would likewise bring great customs to taverns […] frequented by all the fine gentlemen who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating. (24)

The wealthy value good taste in food as opposed to holding traditional values—you know, the ability to tell between right and wrong.

But I am not in the least pain upon that matter because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. (18)

Notice the shift in tone from the last quote. The narrator shows he can switch off concern and turn his attention to making money.

I profess in the sincerity of my heart that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country. (35)

The narrator paints himself as a true patriot, willing to sacrifice children for the common good. Wait, what's wrong with this picture again?

For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it. (30)

Swift loves to hate on England any chance he gets.

And besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however well intended. (17)

Who are these scrupulous people? The narrator doesn't exactly seem like the type to object against cruelty.

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