“Gulliver’s Fourth Voyage and Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding”

Downie, Alan (J. A.). 2008. “Gulliver’s Fourth Voyage and Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding”. In: , ed. Reading Swift: Papers from the Fifth Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift. Munich, Germany: Wilhelm Fink, pp. 453-464. ISBN 978-3-7705-4402-8 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

From the fourth edition of An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1700) onwards, Locke quotes at length from Temple's memoirs of What Past In Christendom about a parrot "that spoke, and asked, and answered common Questions like a reasonable Creature." Swift not only knew Locke's Essay, he was also familiar with the anecdote which infact he himself copied out in the MS of Temple's Memoirs which went to the printer. While Locke maintained that "whoever should see a Creature of his own Shape and Make, though it had no more reason all its Life, than a Cat or a Parrot, would call him still a Man," Gulliver, on first encountering the Yahoos, fails to recognize "in this abominable Animal, a perfect human Figure." Concerned with the logical consequences of the traditional definition of man as animal rationale, Swift appears to be recalling Locke's treatment of the subject in Gulliver's Fourth Voyage. In exploiting Locke's argument about real essences and complex ideas, Swift's satire was playing with ideas current in his own day.

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Book Section

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English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

01 Jul 2013 08:04

Last Modified:

23 Jun 2017 15:51



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