Gulliver's Travels Human Nature Essay

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In Gulliver's Travels, Swift unpacks certain dark aspects of human nature, namely, its innate selfishness. In contrast to modern theorists like Locke, who contend that the pursuit of self-interest will serve the common good, Swift underscores the potential for unleashing the beastliness in human nature, loosening the traditional moral constraints on avarice and ambition. As a commentary on the modern project, Swift introduces the crude and uncontrollably desirous "Yahoos," who, given the opportunity to pursue their self-interests, reveal a complete disregard for others. He employs the "Houyhnhnms" to serve as the rational antithesis to the Yahoos. For Swift, human beings prove a composite mix between the two. While they may mirror the Houyhnhnms …show more content…
However, in differentiating between the two sides to a human, Swift does not necessarily argue that human nature is to blame because, in the plainest terms, it is what it is-humans just simply have the capacity for both reason and passion. They exist rationis capax. He instead identifies moderns, like Locke, as the culprits leading humans to their darkest natures as they taint reason to "aggravate [their] natural Corruptions, and to acquire new ones which Nature had not given [them]" (Gulliver's Travels, 241). To Swift, the ancients practiced the model rule of reason because they used moral and intellectual virtues to restrain desires. Moderns shatter this ideal by endorsing the usage of reason to attain those unquenchable desires. Swift argues this in turn causes people to become blinded of their vices and spiral into their uncontrollably desirous Yahoo sides, unleashing brutish greed and ambition. He emphasizes this truth among moderns through his description of the Yahoos: "if…you throw among five Yahoos as much food as would be sufficient for fifty, they will, instead of eating peaceably, fall together by the Ears, each single one impatient to have it all to self" (Gulliver's Travels, 242). Just as the Yahoos quickly turn on one another in order to appease their desires, Swift asserts modern humans will just as quickly use and corrupt reason for …show more content…
Untouched by empathy, they make all decisions with the ultimate calculation; yet, Swift seems to critique them for almost being too practical. In their rationality, the Houyhnhnms view themselves as morally superior to the Yahoos, seeing it acceptable to exploit them through slave labor. In fact, forced servitude of the human-like Yahoos is one of the pillars of society in their state: "The Houyhnhnms keep the Yahoos for present Use in Huts not far from the House" (Gulliver's Travels, 248). They even go as far as suggesting a mass genocide of the Yahoos because of personal animosity against them due to the belief that "the Yahoos were the most filthy, noisome, and deformed Animal which Nature ever produced, so they were the most restive and indocile, mischievous and malicious" (Gulliver's Travels, 253). Supporting "malicious" creatures would never serve the personal interest of their sensible state, so the Houyhnhnms consider committing one of the most immoral acts known to man, exposing a flaw in their supposedly virtuous morals, and completely failing to provide any sort of benefit to the common good, only conflict and death. Obsessed with mimicking the seemingly perfect exterior of the Houyhnhnm philosophy, Swift's narrator, Gulliver, fails to recognize the cruelty hidden underneath their reason. He instead reaches further extremes by developing a severe sense

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