[Milton-L] pre-fallen knowledge of sin

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Wed Jul 2 09:00:22 EDT 2008

Kim -- Your post points out to me that my responses are still being
informed by Kierkegaard, I think.  My thinking has been guided by the
assumption that we don't have knowledge of sin until we sin.  When I
said there was no evil to observe, I was speaking only of Adam and
Eve, of course -- they did not observe Satan's rebellion.  Yes, Adam
and Eve were warned, but an external warning is not knowledge of good
and evil, otherwise the tree is misnamed.  The point of the name of
the tree is that eating its fruit imparts knowledge of good and evil.
Having ideas about something and having experience of something are
two entirely different things, even in our present experience.

Jim R

On Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 6:58 PM, Kim Maxwell <kim-maxwell at sbcglobal.net> wrote:
> 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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