[Milton-L] Free will in Eden

Alanhorn3 at cs.com Alanhorn3 at cs.com
Wed Nov 10 01:24:15 EST 2004

I think your student is pointing to a contradiction in Milton's idea of 
reason. On the one hand reason is a faculty of judgement which by its nature can go 
either way (God says "reason also is choice" (III, 108)). On the other hand 
reason is that which tells you what's right.

Milton would like to suppress the contradiction between "discursive reason" 
and "right reason" by suggesting that the true exercise of the first always 
leads to the choice dictated by the second. So if you make the wrong choice 
you're not really using reason, but letting reason be ruled by appetite (see IX, 
1127ff.). But if reason always tells you what's right, there's no choice, or 
only a trivial one.

Both senses of "reason" appear in IX, 351-356, with confusing results. God 
made reason "right," but at the same time it's possible that "by some fair 
appearing good suprised" reason can "dictate false." And this is before the fall. 

I think the contradiction comes out of an attempt to reconcile conflicting 
ideologies: people should be able to judge for themselves (humanism) but there 
is also an absolute moral standard they must obey (traditional Christianity).

Alan H

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