Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

Tolhurst on Swift

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Tolhurst argues that Anti-Intentionalists have a difficult time making sense of irony. He uses Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as an example of "pure irony"; irony for which there is no internal evidence. Consider these passages from Swift.

“There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary 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, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.”

”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, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.” 

First, the irony is evident in the text's meaning. It is an ironic text. Second, the sentence meaning is not ironic. Given that the text's meaning is a product of sentence and utterer's meaning, then it must be ironic because of the intentions of Swift. So, is pure irony a problem for Anti-Intentionalists? Why or why not?