• How Socratic was Swift's Irony?

    Chris A. Kramer (see profile)
    Film-Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Political Philosophy & Theory, Public Philosophy Journal
    Literature--Philosophy, Philosophy, Political science--Philosophy, Wit and humor, Education, Satire, Popular culture
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Humor, Jonathan Swift, Philosophy and literature, Political philosophy, Humor studies
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    Was Swift correct that “reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired” (Letter to a Young Gentleman)? If so, what recourse is there to change attitudes especially among those who continue to fervently believe unjustified claims and act upon them in a way that affects other people? I will answer the first question with a qualified yes, and the second I will follow Swift’s implicit proposal to rely upon humor, satire, playful ridicule, and especially irony to unsettle the certainties of those who have not appealed to reason or epistemic justification to maintain their cherished opinions. In the bulk of the chapter, I will then assess what sort of irony Swift employs: is his irony primarily a trope in the service of a particular idea? Or is he truly Socratic in his irony, the sort Kierkegaard admired that transcends the mere rhetorical device and can be viewed as a stance on life in general? The answer to the latter question, in typical Aristotelian fashion, will be yes and no. My account of Socratic Irony will be informed primarily by the works of Alexander Nehemas, Jorge Portilla, and Jonathan Lear’s interpretation of Kierkegaard on Socrates’ irony.
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    2 years ago
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