[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 2 02:09:26 EDT 2008

Many thanks to Harold Skulsky and Michael Gillum for their very interesting, clear, organized, and (to me) persuasive arguments that Adam and Eve sin prior to taking the fruit. I was especially unaware of the "early modern theory of action," but it fits my view of Milton's depiction of Adam and Eve's culpability.
My only remaining question (already alluded to in an earlier post) is precisely how culpable the willfully approved thought-sin would be if the action of taking the fruit had not occurred. Death was the penalty for taking and eating the fruit, but what would the penalty have been if Adam -- after the thought-sin of willfully approving a desire to eat the fruit -- had not actually taken the fruit but had changed his mind and decided not to join Eve?
Would that sin not have been followed by death? Would it have been more easily forgiveable.
My suspicion is that Milton might have considered the occurrence of such a case impossible. Adam, already fallen into sin, necessarily follows through on his intent, for his mind is already impaired -- as we see in his reasoning after approving the desire to sin.
But I don't yet have a very good argument for this.
Jeffery Hodges
P.S. Note that my name has an unusual spelling: "Jeffery."

--- On Tue, 7/1/08, Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at email.smith.edu> wrote:

From: Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at email.smith.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2008, 12:46 PM

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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