[Milton-L] Re: Forgiveness, free will, M's God

Richard Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sun Jul 23 18:18:18 EDT 2006


Please remember:  the most morally impressive form of forgiveness -- 
and the version of it that makes forgiveness ethically distinctive, 
and not a normal form of negotiation ("if you do X, I'll do Y") -- 
does not require any preconditions.  M's God seems pretty clearly to 
fail of this, regardless of how the preconditions are conceived 
(which is what a lot of the discussion has been about).

Of course, Milton is a maniac for free will.  He thinks that it 
solves the theodicy problem, and many on the list obviously agree.  I 
have tried to show at length the limitations that M's unquestionable 
and relentless emphasis on free will places on the theological and 
ethical range of PL ("Milton's Fetters, or Why Eden is Better than 
Heaven" in Milton Studies, 38), so I will not repeat any of those 
observations here.

My point here is to think about the ethical status of the statement 
(to one acting destructively and self-destructively), "Well, you 
chose this path," in cases where one can imagine that this statement 
is true.  I do not think that this sentiment is normally one of 
respect for the person to whom it is uttered, though it can be 
clothed as such.  Normally, this statement serves to distance the 
speaker from the erring being, and this is exactly how it functions 
in Milton; it amounts to saying, "My hands are clean."  It seems to 
me that there are many more important things in the moral life than 
having technically clean hands.

The statement to the wicked/willfully erring that they have, after 
all, chosen their actions always signifies a failure of love.  This 
is, of course, especially true when it can be imagined that the being 
who is so carefully asserting the cleanness of its hands is in a 
position to continue engagement with the erring figure.  I have 
already mentioned the "Habermasian" and the purgatorial options, so 
won't repeat myself (see Thursday post on "hell and forgiveness").

Finally, let me remind the group of what the Shelleyan critique is, 
since most Miltonists don't seem to pay any attention to it.  Shelley 
finds M's God morally repulsive precisely because of His 

[M's God is] "one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph 
inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any 
mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in 
enmity, but with the alleged [meaning explicit] design of 
exasperating him to deserve new torments."
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