[Milton-L] pre-fallen knowledge of sin

Kim Maxwell kim-maxwell at sbcglobal.net
Tue Jul 1 18:58:09 EDT 2008

this strikes me as an important but not easily settled issue.  God says, "Happier, had it sufficed him to have known good by itself, and evil not at all." (11.88)  Much depends upon what we take "know" to mean here, and how such knowledge relates to "knowledge of good and evil."  Certainly in some sense Adam and Eve "know" evil, whether by observation (does listening count as observation?) or by whatever way they summon the concept of not doing something.  This is the essence of Adam's first speech in the poem.  That would make eating the fruit not a matter of acquiring knowledge  but of experiencing evil itself (what Eve really got wrong in her thought process).  But Adam is as clearly unable to summon an idea of the sole command's punishment ("something dreadful no doubt" is the best he can manage), and God changes the punishment anyway (unless we argue that his first interdiction was a metaphor), suggesting that Adam really could not grasp "evil" in its fullest sense
 before the fall.  If we insist that Adam should have recognized his duty to God, we have to persuade ourselves that the poem gives Adam the cognitive stuff to appreciate God's authority compared to, say, Eve's or his own, which, if we take the end at face value, Adam only learns because he sins first (and hence the justification for the felix cupa).  So this is not easy material, I don't think. 

Kim Maxwell
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