[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Tue Jul 1 14:02:46 EDT 2008

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From: Harold Skulsky Tuesday - July 1, 2008 1:46 PM 
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu  
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins) 

Michael Gillum and Jeffrey Hodges argue convincingly that A&E sin before they eat the fruit, in the sense that they begin by approving, or consentiing to, the forbidden bodily movements (of arm and hand and mouth toward apple) before these movements occur. 

The early modern theory of action yields the same result -- with boring schematization but compensating precision. What follows is me regurgitating some (I hope) helpful commonplaces of the relevant action psychology (this is stuff Milton surely learned at or before Cambridge).

(i) Bodily movements don't constitute acts; for example, my arm's rising is only part of my act of raising my arm. For the raising to occur, my arm needs to rise BECAUSE I WILLED the rising. 

(ii) In general, the whole act of moving my body is made up of (a) my intention (b) the bodily movement it causes. Every external act, to use Jeffrey's apt term, is a PROCESS with an essential part that is internal: the relevant act of will. (Eve's and Adam's internal monologues in PL 9, on Michael's showing, are designed by Milton to establish intent, and hence responsibility, for both moral agents.)

(iii) Will should not be confused with desire. Typically the relevant act of will is both a CONSENT to some desires and a RESISTANCE to others. 

(iv) All too often, my will resists a desire that ends by causing the external movement anyhow. The resulting combination of inner and outer parts is involuntary or compulsive, and I'm not responsible for the result. 

Likewise, Eve is not responsible for her spontaneous urge to eat the apple or to achieve godllike knowledge, and Adam is not responsible for the passions spontaneously aroused in him by Eve. (The pre-sin internal monologues show Eve and Adam CONSENTING to the desire to sin [a desire that by itself constitutes no sin].)

(v) At the point of consent a pure sin of thought could always emerge. Suppose Adam consents to the desire to disobey God by emulating Eve's sin and dying with her (rather than, for example, helping her to repent and suing for her forgiveness). And suppose Adam's consent is on the verge of triggering the matching bodily movement -- when the movement is suddenly made impossible by cardiac arrest or a stroke. What becomes of the internal act of will? It seems clear that it is still a sinful act of will, but now it is a pure act of thought rather than the inner part of an external act. Just as attempting to commit a crime is a crime in itself according to early modern jurisprudence, a thwarted attempt to sin is still a sin in moral theology.

By the way, my regurgitation of these principles should not be construed as an endorsement of the psychology they represent.

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