[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Fri Jul 4 21:58:20 EDT 2008


Are you really sure Raphael is right to rebuke Adam for his
curiousity?  Eve's desire to test her moral strength is counter to NT
injunctions to flee temptation, of course, so from a Christian point
of view that would certainly be mistaken. I see in both these events,
however, not so much a description of flaws in Adam and Eve, but weak
points that can be exploited by their adversary.  In part this depends
upon some of the assumptions we bring to the text: if God created Adam
and Eve without moral flaw, then he cannot be blamed for their sin,
but if God did, then he can -- but the latter is an odd assumption to
bring to a text written to justify the ways of God to man.  If by
nature, and uninfluenced by external temptation, either Adam or Eve
are inclined toward sinful or wrong desires, this casts some shadow
upon  the God who created them.

Now Peter Herman's reading would be, absolutely yes, the God of PL is
not a good guy, and that was Milton's intent (if I understand him
correctly).  I don't agree with this reading at this point, but that
doesn't mean I don't think it's defensible.

About your earlier post:

Here you describe A&E's conceptual knowledge of evil before the fall:

<<Before receiving any divine or angelic tutelage, A&E are able to
recognize the toad-inspired dream as evil. Eve says it is a dream "of
offense and trouble" (5.34). She recognizes evil in the two senses I
pointed out earlier: (1) offense or moral wrongness — disobedience in
this case — and (2) trouble or harm suffered (perhaps as a potential
that she fears). Then Adam reasons that it must have sprung from some
external evil, since Eve was created pure (5.95-100). Raphael's
mission in Books 5 and 6 is to identify and explain that external
evil. But A&E's response to the dream shows they are capable of
identifying evil as evil through reason alone.>>

It's possible you might be overstating your case about reason with
your last line: the impression I get from Eve's initial reaction is
that the dream was a type of ravishment.  Her response seemed
emotional and visceral, so that her feelings seemed to be telling her
that her dream was somehow wrong or defiling more than calm, collected
reasoning.  "Offense and trouble" seem more emotionally laden to me
than rationally, although I agree with you that "offense" refers to
"moral offense."

<<From Raphael's narrative they learn some particular aspects of evil:
pride leading to disobedience, sin leading to corruption of the
reason, destructive malice, seductive guile, the external consequence
(punishment, or evil as harm suffered).

Then, doesn't Eve experience evil in the dream, that is,
imaginatively? She does taste the fancied fruit, though she avoids
describing that fancied action. Her sleep is disturbed and her
feelings disordered; she seems to experience guilt for the "offense"
until Adam explains it away. Adam acknowledges that evil has come into
her mind, but without guilt.>>

I don't think it's possible to experience evil as guilt without
deliberately choosing it.  That's different from watching something
you consider wrong and feeling defiled by it.  If I recall, the first
time I read Joyce's Ulysses I wanted to take out my brain and wash it
in the sink...ha...

I think if we're going  to place Milton is a Christian humanist camp,
perhaps we should recall Plato's seventh letter and Plato's
distinction between two different types of knowledge -- abstract,
rational knowledge is not knowledge at all without experiential
knowledge supporting it.  To return to Kierkegaard a bit, Kierkegaard
has a concept of transferred language in that two different people can
use the same words but speak an entirely different language.  The
difference between the two is that one has lined up neat, empty
concepts divorced from experience, while another has experience
supporting their concepts -- the concepts are just ways of talking
about their experience.

How is it that Adam and Eve understand concepts such as pride, malice,
seduction, and death without having experienced them?  Aren't these
just words?  Furthermore, does any of this add up to anything more
than, "don't eat the fruit, it's bad"?  Adam and Eve before the fall
could be told about shame, but only after the fall did they understand
it -- and hide from each other then try to dress themselves.

Jim R

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