[Milton-L] help interpret a line

David Ainsworth dbainswo at students.wisc.edu
Fri Jan 23 16:29:36 EST 2004

At 01:23 PM 1/23/2004 -0400, Derek Wood wrote:
>This discussion has been very interesting and at times brilliant.Perhaps I 
>am naive but it seems the falseness of Satan's conclusion is more obvious 
>than some of the complex commentaries have suggested.

I agree both concerning the discussion and concerning Satan's false 
premise.  Indeed, the more I read through Satan's arguments, the more I 
become convinced that they are literally serpent-like, that they consume 
themselves as conclusions falsify premises in a constant cycle of negation.

Satan's whole reasoning within lines 680-731 collapses upon itself.  I'll 
skip an extended reading, though I can't help but gesture at Satan's 
proposition that eating of the Tree is a "petty Trespass" (693) at one 
moment, and his conclusion later on (703-12) that God forbade eating of the 
fruit out of a desire to keep Adam and Eve "low and ignorant" because if 
they eat they "shall be as Gods."

For this particular part of the argument, Satan makes a series of empty 
logical statements:
1.  Knowledge of Good and Evil is surely desirable; knowing Good is simple 
justice, knowing evil the best way to shun evil.  This statement itself may 
be valid, but there is no immediate logical equation between the state of 
knowledge, and the action of eating the forbidden fruit.  Given that Adam 
and Eve have both discussed evil with each other, and seem to know 
something of good, eating the fruit of the Tree is not a prerequisite for 
such knowledge, so this particular statement does not constitute an 
argument for eating.
2.  Since possessing this knowledge is just, hurting you for possessing it 
is unjust.  Again, no actual argument here for the action of gaining this 
knowledge by eating the fruit.
3.  If God were not just, he would not be God; there would be no reason to 
fear or obey him in that event; therefore since you fear God you have no 
reason to fear death from eating the fruit.

This is marvellous--the initial assertion (God is not God if not just) will 
collapse Satan's next argument because it both depends upon God's 
injustice, and declares that Adam and Even can become Gods themselves (but 
not Gods if by a means unjust?).  The second statement need not necessarily 
follow--Satan's rebellion operated on the premise that God was not being 
just, and therefore was not God, but the results of that rebellion provide 
ample evidence that whether God is God or not, he retains ample 
power.  Indeed, if God is not just, but has the power of life and death, 
there would seem reason enough to fear him.  (Note that this argument is 
poised between two others--"God secretly wants you to eat of the fruit" and 
"God wants to keep you down"--which are not only contradictory but which 
may require a certain amount of injustice on God's part.)

But the last assertion is the best.  Since Eve fears God, God must BE God, 
and therefore just, and therefore he will not kill Eve if she eats the fruit.

God's identity as "really" God is thus predicated upon Eve's fear of God.

This is false, of course.  "Not feared" implies "Not God," but if you 
negate that proposition, you end up with "God" implies "feared," NOT with 
"Feared" implies "God."  There are, indeed, ample things in the world which 
might be feared, which are not God.  Worse, if Eve accepts this faulty 
logic, then again, God is not God, because a God who requires Eve's fear to 
be God is no God at all.


>  Milton is surely demonstrating a false rhetorician at work: we saw Satan 
> at his logical inventio earlier:
>              One fatal tree 
. Why should their Lord
>                  envy them that? Can it be sin to know
>              Can it be death? And do they only stand
>              By ignorance Hence I will excite their minds
>              With more desire to know 

>                      whom knowledge might exalt
>               Equal with gods; aspiring to be such
>              They taste and die: what likelier can
>                                             ensue?            (4: 512-27)
>  He prepares for his speech with the studied gestures of the trained 
> rhetorician: "each part, Motion, each act won audience." Then he begins 
> his "fraudulent temptation." The logical process is perfect and so the 
> conclusion (about fear) is faultless, but the starting point, or premise, 
> is false. One such premise is: "God cannot hurt ye and be just; Not just, 
> not God." Not only has Eve been warned about the truth but so has all 
> Heaven at that terrible climactic moment earlier, "Die he or justice 
> must." God's mercy is one thing but it cannot cancel out his justice. He 
> makes clear his Law and requires obedience. It is not ambiguous though it 
> may be mysterious.
>             Best wishes,
>             Derek Wood,
>             St. Francis Xavier University.
>  "His fraud is then thy fear, which plain infers / Thy
>equal fear that my firm Faith and Love / Can by his fraud be shak'n or
>seduc't;" (285-7)
>  "His fraud is then thy fear, which plain infers / Thy
>equal fear that my firm Faith and Love / Can by his fraud be shak'n or
>seduc't;" (285-7)
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <mailto:gcampbel at mwc.edu>Gardner Campbell
>To: <mailto:milton-l at koko.richmond.edu>milton-l at koko.richmond.edu ; 
><mailto:milton-l at koko.richmond.edu>milton-l at koko.richmond.edu ; 
><mailto:David.Harper at usma.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....
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>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu

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