[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

jfleming at sfu.ca jfleming at sfu.ca
Wed Jul 2 10:40:51 EDT 2008


I have been having some trouble finding my way into this very extensive
discussion. But here, as well as anywhere, several points. First, I think it
is necessary to beware of angels crowding onto pinheads. In other words,
there is a difference, easily missed in criticism, between tractable and
intractable questions. It seems to me that counter-textual questions like
"would A and E still have fallen if they had thought 'eat fruit' but not
done it" come dangerously close to the latter.

Second, I am troubled by the idea of law or nomos as normative for Milton's
representation of unfallen life. It seems to me that Milton's garden (like
his exegesis in _DDD_) is antinomian. In other words, it is characterized,
not by regulation or the consciousness of regulation, but by the absence of
both. The non-contradiction that obtains between this state of affairs and
the sole exception of the prohibition on the tree is the normative wonder
that Milton tries, precisely through its paradoxicality, both to glimpse and
to show. 

Third, the category of "thought-sins" seems to me not a terribly useful one.
Partly this is because it seems to lead into the realm of the intractable.
Partly it is because, insofar as M has represented Edenic sin-thoughts, he
has represented them as an absolute marker of the fall. See Eve's speech
immediately after eating the fruit.

In any case, and as I have tried to argue, the ethical and psychological
ideality (in M's  terms) of A and E before eating the fruit mean that it is
impossible for them to sin in thought but not in deed. They live in the
absolute continuity of perfect speech-action. Thus, in a sense, the joke is
on them. Only after the fall (after eating the fruit) does it become
possible to separate (to secrete) intension from expression. Indeed, that
separation is, again, a marker of the fall (perhaps _the_ marker), in and of
itself. Therefore, there is simply no such thing as an unfallen
"thought-sin"; not because unfallen thoughts cannot become sinful, but
because they cannot, as such, remain merely thoughts. 

JD Fleming

On Tue, 1 Jul 2008 23:09:26 -0700 (PDT) milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:
> 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.
> 
> Cheers,
> Harold
> 
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James Dougal Fleming
Department of English
Simon Fraser University
778-782-4713
cell: 604-290-1637

Nicht deines, einer Welt.


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