[Milton-L] theodicy and critique

Dennis Danielson danielso at interchange.ubc.ca
Thu Jul 27 14:19:35 EDT 2006


I appreciate James Fleming's brilliant précis of Leibniz, but I don't 
accept that seeing PL as theodicy necessarily imports a Leibnizian 
reading or something like the ontological argument for God's existence.

Parenthetically, it's interesting how much of this debate does 
rely--consciously or not--on others' writings rather than Milton's, be 
it the Romantics', or Pope's (the persistent error of replacing "to 
men" with "to man"--ably corrected by Diane McColley), or Michael 
Bryson's or C.Q. Drummond's (behind whom Peter Herman thinks he can 
take refuge). This phenomenon is apparently world-wide. This day last 
week I gave a long lecture on Milton at People's University in Beijing, 
focusing heavily on the first invocation as "PL in a nutshell" (most of 
my 60 students were from disciplines outside literature). After the 
class the few literature students in the class approached me and 
declared that, though they had been "taught Milton" before, most of 
that teaching had focused on structuralist, post-structuralist, and 
other theoretical approaches to PL--but now they felt they were 
starting to understand Milton himself. Their comments were undoubtedly 
more generous than I deserved, but they did strengthen my conviction 
that when purporting to talk about Milton, it's a not a bad idea 
actually to talk about Milton.

So, simply, I predicate "theodicy" of PL because of the etymological 
symmetry between that one word and the phrase "justify the ways of 
God." Furthermore, I do see Milton's  theodicy as envisaging the 
possibility of a "critique of God" given the presence in the world of 
the evil that his creatures must face and try to understand. The 
strongest evidence for this view, I think, is the Son's own response to 
the scenario--though it turns out to be contrary to both fact and 
divine intention--in which God permits the universal triumph of malice: 
"So should thy goodness and thy greatness both / Be questioned and 
blasphemed without defence."

Milton wrote that.

Dennis Danielson
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