[Milton-L] help interpret a line

Derek Wood dwood at stfx.ca
Fri Jan 23 12:25:51 EST 2004


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Gardner Campbell 
  To: milton-l at koko.richmond.edu ; milton-l at koko.richmond.edu ; David.Harper at usma.edu 
  Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 7:20 PM
  Subject: RE: [Milton-L] help interpret a line


  I agree with this analysis and with most that have preceded it. My particular focus was not so much on the process of Satan's logic as on the wording of its triumphant conclusion, in which absence and presence become indistinguishable in terms of ethical choice or understanding. Guilt, dread, elation, attraction, what not: they're all the same, and "prove" the same thing. It's a strange lesson in denial, at the end, and one that erases the distinction between understanding and acceptance. Perhaps what I'm really saying is that the last line proposes a kind of faith that looks like logic, for the reasoning that produces evidence stemming from and supporting a premise leads to a closed system in which contrary evidence no longer exists. 

  Gardner Campbell
  Mary Washington College

  >>> David.Harper at usma.edu 01/21/04 04:55PM >>>
  I think some previous posters (I cannot recall your names - sorry) are
  on the mark. It is not "faulty logic," but perhaps convoluted
  (serpentine?) logic that rests fragilely on a key assumption:

  The key to the passage is found in the preceding lines (700-701):

  God therefore cannot hurt ye, and be just;
  Not just, not God; not fear'd then, nor obey'd:
  Your fear itself of Death removes the fear.

  The fact that Eve fears God will punish her  ("Your fear itself")
  removes the fear of Death. Satan claims that her very fear of God proves
  he isn't God (and therefore can't provide this "Death" thing). This
  hinges on his assertion that partaking of the fruit is not a crime. In
  fact, his logic makes it impossible for her to have faith in God and yet
  fear death. If she buys that this is a "petty Trespass" (693) that is
  outshined by her "dauntless virtue" (694), then she has to admit that
  either (1) the True God can't punish her because he can't be unjust, or
  (2)  this "not God" can't punish her simply because he is not God. In a
  sense, Satan is using the tried and true problem of evil against Eve.

  Can this line of reasoning be argued against? Sure. Eve might have
  questioned the underlying assumption (that this is a "petty Trespass"
  outside the realm of justice to punish for). Or, she might have worried
  that just because the command came from "not God"doesn't mean that being
  can't make good on Its promise to deliver Death.  Eve is sucked in to
  this argument through her vanity. Satan offers her the chance to display
  "dauntless virtue." Besides which, he offers "evidence" that this "God"
  can't deliver Death - he says he ate the fruit and it has not hurt him.
  Far from it. It is this, plus the allure of the Fruit itself that
  ultimately allows his "words replete with guile" to win the day.

  Just my two cents.

  Dave Haper




  Captain David A. Harper
  Assistant Professor, Department of English
  United States Military Academy
  (845) 938-2643


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Gardner Campbell [mailto:gcampbel at mwc.edu] 
  Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 1:47 PM
  To: milton-l at koko.richmond.edu
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] help interpret a line


  Yes, but isn't this particular line of reasoning suspect because it
  can't be argued against? Satan claims that contrary evidence is actually
  supporting evidence. All evidence is thus supporting evidence. Neatly,
  the very notion of "evidence" vanishes away. An odd thing emerges:
  persuasive nullity.

  Does every assertion of consistency between underlying principles and
  instances of their application necessarily render all possible
  contradictions invalid? (That's a real question, actually.)

  Gardner Campbell
  Mary Washington College


  >>> jfleming at sfu.ca 01/21/04 10:35AM >>>
  Is there really anything "poisoned" or "Satanic" about the logic of
  "your fear itself of death removes the fear"? Granted, "bad logic" is
  the sort of thing that we think we are supposed to say about the sorts
  of things that Satan says; but isn't that rather reductive and
  convenient? It seems to me that "your fear itself of death removes the
  fear" is the kind of enthymeme that we quite often employ when trying to
  examine the consistency between underlying principles and instances of
  their application. 

  J.D. Fleming

  ------------------------

  Dr. James Dougal Fleming,
  Assistant Professor of English,
  Simon Fraser University,
  (604) 291-4713

  Laissez parler les faits.
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