[Milton-L] Free will in Eden

Dr. Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 9 20:40:44 EST 2004

See also Marjorie Hope Nicolson on Adam and Eve's first argument
(prelapsarian) in which Prof. Nicolson likens Eve to a rebellious teenager.
(An recurrent Internet joke that pits God the father against daughter Eve
and son Adam plays on the same notion -- albeit a little more comically.) It
was Northrop Frye, I believe, who said that human beings would have quickly
died of boredom, had we remained in Paradise. But Eve herself is the one who
makes the case about "virtue unattempted" -- which is NOT the same thing as
vice. The idea is that there IS but "one Easie prohibition": the test is a
simple (if arbitrary) one, and easily passed. To do good, all Adam and Eve
have to do is *not* do evil. (This was a different world from the one that
would be inhabited by Edmund Burke.)

Adam displays his ability to reason after Eve's dream (in Book IV), in Book
VIII in conversation with Raphael, and again in Book IX, when Eve suggests
that they will work better separate -- and are otherwise "strait'n'd by a

I hope this quick ramble is helpful in some way . . .

Best to all,

Carol Barton
----- Original Message -----
From: "Christopher Baker" <bakerchr at mail.armstrong.edu>
To: <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 3:55 PM
Subject: [Milton-L] Free will in Eden

>     This question is likely an old issue with experienced Miltonists,
> but I will ask it anyway.  To what extent would Milton have regarded
> Adam in his unfallen state as having truly exercised his reason? Would
> it not be the case that all choices (except for eating of the Tree) made
> by Adam and Eve would be for good, as Eden contains no other actual
> moral condition or state (prior to the entrance of Satan)? Or are we to
> presume that the prelapsarian condition implied first a rational choice
> by Adam and Eve to be obedient? (Yet granted that, what is there in Eden
> to "see and know" that will validate a choice between real good and real
> evil?) Put another way, is their (wrong) choice to eat of the apple
> their first actual ethical decision, and thus they fall both into sin
> and into "true humanity"?  I have a student who wishes to argue that in
> Eden they were not "truly human," and I would like some assistance in
> reading the relevant portions of the text correctly. Thanks.
> Christopher Baker
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