[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 2 15:44:13 EDT 2008

Jim Rovira wrote:
"My argument is that for Adam and Eve there is only one possible prohibition: do not learn about evil. So what is a multitude of rules for us is only a single rule for them."

Michael Gillum has already responded to this in his remarks about the natural law to which Adam and Eve are attuned through their reason -- "in all things else, our
reason is our law" -- but I will agree and also quote the precise lines from Paradise Lost in their larger context:
Serpent, we might have spar'd our coming hither,
Fruitless to mee, though Fruit be here to excess,
The credit of whose vertue rest with thee,
Wondrous indeed, if cause of such effects.
But of this Tree we may not taste nor touch;
God so commanded, and left that Command
Sole Daughter of his voice; the rest, we live
Law to our selves, our Reason is our Law. 
(Paradise Lost 9.647-654)
(Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room, http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton, July, 2008.)
There is only one explicit command (the Bat Qol, "daughter of a voice," as Harold Skulsky has noted), a rule that would otherwise be unknown and therefore has to be revealed, but there is also reason to guide Adam and Eve, enabling them to freely choose good over evil based on their abstract (as opposed to experiential) knowledge of evil. Eve emphasizes: "our Reason is our Law." I take this to mean that Adam and Eve follow moral 'rules' discoverable by reason, 'rules' that need not be made known through revelation -- and thus not explicitly formulated as rules but nevertheless rules.
The revealed command is arbitrary, for God could instead have chosen some other command to test Adam and Eve, and as an arbitrary rule, this command falls outside the bounds of reason in the sense that Adam and Eve would never be led to it by rational thought.
Satan, incidentally, is able to make use of the arbitrariness of God's command not to eat of the tree of knowledge. This is the one rule opaque to reason, a rule not discoverable through reasoning. By reason alone, Eve cannot defend herself against Satan's seemingly plausible arguments. There is no rational defense of the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge; on this point, Eve (via Adam) must rely upon trust in God's revelation beyond reason, and on this, she pointedly fails. Trust in God would be reasonable in Paradise, of course, and Eve 'knows' that eating the fruit leads to 'death' . . . but as to why it leads to something called 'death'? Reason fails because the command is arbitrary.
This arbitrary command, however, is not the only law; it is simply the only arbitrary law.
Jeffery Hodges

--- On Wed, 7/2/08, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:

From: Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)
To: "milton-l" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Wednesday, July 2, 2008, 9:54 AM

Harold Skulsky--
As a belated novice Miltonist, I'm honored (OK, pathetically grateful!) to
meet with your approval on a subject of this sort.

Jim R-- 
Now I understand your point, thanks. A difference would be that (I think)
Milton thought the natural law to be real and external to A&E, although
their reason is attuned to it and naturally inclined to cooperate. Reason
and law are the two faces of the coin logos. A&E might entertain ideas,
feelings, impulses that are contrary to natural law, but their reason is
supposed to leave those "unapproved." That is the issue in Adam's
to Raphael about his excessive admiration for Eve, which Adam understands to
be a bit off. A&E's emotions are fundamentally good, but may need to be
checked or kept in proportion. When Eve says, "in all things else, our
reason is our law," she doesn't mean they can act on any impulse, but
that they should follow the natural law through reason. As I understand it,
Milton's Stoic-flavored and rationalist Christian humanism is quite alien
the line of Luther-Kierkegaard-etc. This is not to say a Kierkegaardian
perspective can't cast light on PL. Your posts on that theme have been very

--On the two kinds of knowledge of evil, see Jeffery Hodges' short and


On 7/2/08 9:32 AM, "James Rovira" <jamesrovira at gmail.com>

[snip]> <<Now, where you and I are talking past each other is that I
> persistently denying that the forbiddance of the fruit is the only
> rule for A&E. It is rather the only rule that needs to be spoken,
> because they already know, or have the ability to discern, the other
> rules. >>
> Yes, but what I have been arguing is that in the state of innocence
> all these other rules, whatever they are, are bound up in the
> prohibition not to eat of the tree.  Adam and Eve were not commanded
> to love God; they simply did.  They were not commanded to love one
> another; they simply did.  They were not commanded not to hate, not to
> sleep with animals (Adam was shown the animals were not suitable for
> him; he did not need to be commanded to stay away from them), not to
> lie, etc.  They did not need to be.  Again, a little Blake goes a long
> way here, whose Christ acted on impulse rather than rules.  Perfect,
> unfallen humanity does not need a multitude of rules; being perfect,
> they follow by nature that which is embodied in the ten commandments
> and subsequent teachings today.  Redemption moves us back to this
> state -- Christ is the "end of the law for everyone who
> Law serves an intermediate function of helping to restore unfallen
> subjectivity through obedience to its commands.  My argument is that
> for Adam and Eve there is only one possible prohibition: do not learn
> about evil.  So what is a multitude of rules for us is only a single
> rule for them.
> But I think you make a good case that Milton thought otherwise.
> Jim R
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