The Language of Logical Argument

  • James A. W. Rembert


Swift’s use of the language of logic has often been noticed and sometimes stressed, but rarely from a dialectical perspective. It is a commonplace to see his usual satirical method as ‘that of a devastating logic’ but one more in appearance than reality, a ‘logic on the basis of a preposterous major premise’.1 His ‘mocking echoes of … logic’ are sometimes a ‘unique Swiftian amalgam of wild fancy and perverse logic’, a ‘perverse consistency of … preposterous logic’, ‘a kind of “internal logic of error” ‘.2 A brief discussion of ‘The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man’ contains (unflattering) references to the essay’s logical framework, logical outline, logical surface and logical skeleton.3 Largely overlooking the dialectical basis of Swift’s language,4 as opposed to the logical, and the dialectical foundation of much of his satire, is perhaps less of a disservice to the dialectical perspective than is confusing it with rhetorical analysis of his style, by including, for example, rhetorical devices like ‘aposiopesis’ and ‘epiphonemas’ in a passage explicitly concerned with Swift’s use of the terminology of the logic taught in the schools5 or by unnecessarily substituting for ‘dialectic’ a phrase like ‘polemic rhetoric’.6 Ehrenpreis goes a small way towards righting the imbalance of concern with Swift’s rhetoric and monologic logic to the exclusion of dialectic by pointing out that by statute the candidate for the BA at Trinity College, Dublin, was required to argue twelve times on the right side of the disputation questions and twenty-four on the wrong side, a procedure likely to engender an ironic viewpoint in a fertile mind.7


Logical Argument Syllogistic Reasoning Rhetorical Device Logical Outline Rhetorical Analysis 
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  1. 1.
    W. B. C. Watkins, Perilous Balance: The Tragic Genius of Swift, Johnson and Sterne (1939; rpt. Cambridge, Mass.: Walker-de Berry, 1960) p. 21.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    E. W. Rosenheim, Swift and the Satirist’s Art (University of Chicago Press, 1963) pp. 43, 50, 122, 147, 152.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    I. Ehrenpreis, Dr Swift (London: Methuen, 1967) pp. 125–7.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    J. M. Bullitt, Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953) p. 73; ch. 3 has useful insights, but the chapter is more an analysis of rhetoric than of dialectic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Ehrenpreis, Mr Swift and His Contemporaries (London: Methuen, 1962) p. 62, seems to be using ‘formal rhetoric’ for ‘dialectic’.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    D. W. Jefferson, ‘An Approach to Swift’, Pelican Guide to English Literature, ed. B. Ford, vol. rv (London: Penguin, 1957) p. 236.Google Scholar
  7. Johnson’s review of Jenyn’s Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil and the letters of Junius (e.g. that to the Printer of the Public Advertiser, 19 July 1769) might be considered evidence that dialectic had not greatly diminished in the ‘Age of Reason’.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    3rd Question: A. Clark (ed.), Register of the University of Oxford, vol. II pt 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887) pp. 171, 175.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    Cf. Johnson’s attempt to place his opponent in an unacceptable either/or predicament in the ‘Review of a Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil’, Works of Johnson (London, 1787) vol. X p. 222: ‘I am told, that this pamphlet is not the effort of hunger: what can it be then but the product of vanity?’ Cf. also the clever dialectical turn of the question whether or not to heal a withered hand on the sabbath: ‘And he said unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace’ Mark 3:4.Google Scholar
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    For a concise description of the various moods and figures of syllogisms, ‘Barbara, Celarent’, etc., see L. Jardine, ‘The Place of Dialectic Teaching in Sixteenth-Century Cambridge’, Studies in the Renaissance, 21 (1974) p. 38 n. 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 27.
    ‘By an argument’s being stated in regular logical form, is meant, its being so arranged, that the conclusiveness of it is manifest from the mere force of the expression, i.e. without considering the meaning of the terms.’ Charles Wesley, A Guide to Syllogism (Cambridge, 1832) p. 2.Google Scholar
  12. J. C. Cooley, A Primer of Formal Logic (New York, 1942) p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Richard Cumberland, Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, Written by Himself (London, 1806) p. 81.Google Scholar
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    Letter to the Earl of Peterborough, 18 May 1714: Correspondence of Swift, ed. H. Williams, vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963) p. 22.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    ‘A syllogism is discourse in which, certain things being stated, something other than what is stated follows of necessity from their being so’: An. Pr., 24b18–20. ‘Syllogismus est oratio, in qua quibusdam positus, aliud quiddam ab iis, quae posita sunt, necessario accidit, eo quod haec sunt’: Narcissus Marsh, Institutions Logicae (Dublin, 1681) p. 127.Google Scholar
  16. Thomas Blount, Glossographia; or, a Dictionary Interpreting … Hard Words (London, 1656).Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    and W. T. Costello, The Scholastic Curriculum at Early Seventeenth-Century Cambridge (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958) pp. 21–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 42.
    See Jan Lukasiewicz, Aristotle’s Syllogistic, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957) pp. 1–3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James A. W. Rembert 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • James A. W. Rembert
    • 1
  1. 1.The CitadelCharlestonUSA

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