[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Sat Jul 5 11:17:34 EDT 2008

Everyone who has contributed agrees that Eve's dream does not incur actual
guilt. It's just a dream and not even a spontaneous one, but a program
somehow injected by Satan, who has made a shrewd guess that she would
respond to the notion of rising on the chain of being. If Eve's
"unconscious" somehow assented or helped to form the dream, that doesn't
matter from the standpoint of assessing actual guilt or sin. However, Freud
was surely right to claim that people can feel guilty on the basis of
thoughts apart from actions. Waking-Eve knows that Dream-Eve cooperated to
some extent with the dream's temptation and felt satisfaction on rising
above her place, and so Waking-Eve is disturbed. That is what I meant by
claiming she "has undergone in some partial sense the subjective experience
of evil."

Harold Skulsky's analysis is very helpful, and I take the point that the
absence of "I tasted" might well be understood as a gap in the dream rather
than an erasure in Eve's report. Regarding "Possibility Three," she
describes the inner compulsion to eat as an irresistible physical hunger (a
morally questionable notion, but very dreamlike). Also there is a feeling
almost of external physical compulsion where the angel presses the fruit
right to her mouth (5.82-86). A Freudian would regard these details as
proleptic excuse-making. I assume Harold Skulsky would argue the feeling of
compulsion doesn't affect the moral analysis. But what most strikes me is
that Milton has constructed is such a vivid, convincing, and resonant dream

A further point -- Early in the dream, Eve's moral sense seems intact: "me
damp horror chilled / At such bold words" (5.65-66). Does this suggest that
Satan doesn't dictate the dream-experience to the extent of controlling all
of Dream-Eve's responses, so she remains to some extent a moral agent? If
so, it would matter that, as Harold has argued, she never gives full


On 7/4/08 7:33 PM, "Harold Skulsky" <hskulsky at email.smith.edu> wrote:

> The last few rounds of the Abdiel dispute ‹ about whether Eve's dream
> has added acquaintance knowledge to her conceptual knowledge of what it
> is to do wrong ‹ indicates a source of possible confusion in sorting
> out examples of the two sorts of knowledge.
> Assume that I have been blind since birth and that a surgical
> intervention gives me sight. Being a blind neurologist and physicist, I
> already have the CONCEPT of seeing red objects. Surgery enables me to
> know, for the first time, WHAT IT'S LIKE to see red once I enjoy the
> visual sensation caused by a red object. Now, here's the point: clearly,
> I can have a red sensation even if the object I'm looking at is not in
> fact red ‹ or even if I'm not looking at anything in the first place.
> One can argue, by analogy, that Eve can learn what it's like to do
> something wrong even if it turns out that the deed was a dream; she can
> doing of an evil act. If so, Eve can add (i) guiltless (experiential)
> knowledge of WHAT IT'S LIKE to do wrong to (ii) her guiltless
> (conceptual) knowledge of what it IS to do wrong. She can acquire
> experiential but innocence-preserving knowledge of evil.
> This I take to be Michael Gillum's point about Eve's dream. But unless
> I'm mistaken, there's a complication here that I think Milton
> appreciates and assumes that we will appreciate, and that is therefore
> worth a little extra reflection.
> Let's be a bit more specific.
> For Eve to be morally responsible for eating the forbidden fruit,
> according to Milton's tradition of moral theology, is  for Eve (a) to
> know that eating the forbidden fruit is wrong, (b) to come to know that
> she has an opportunity to eat it, (c) to desire to take that
> opportunity, (d) to give her free consent to that desire, (e) for Eve's
> consent to cause her body to perform all the movements that fulfil the
> desire.
> The question before the house is: Does Eve's dream enable her, with no
> moral responsibility for sin at all,  to learn what it's like to be in
> states (a-e), and hence to acquire blameless experiential knowledge of
> what it is to do evil? The answer depends on how (c) and (d) apply to
> Eve's narrative in PL 5. There are at least three possibilities.
> Possibility One: Eve freely consents to her desire to take an
> opportunity to do something wrong. Eve's mental acts of desiring and
> freely consenting are real enough, but unbeknownst to her the
> opportunity is not ‹ it's a dream appearance. In this case, Eve is
> morally responsible for a sinful act of thought, rather than for the sin
> of eating the fruit. She has acquired experiential knowledge of evil ‹
> but the knowledge is not guiltless.
> Possibility Two: Eve doesn't in fact consent, but her desire ("I,
> methought, could not but taste") is followed immediately by a bogus
> piece of observational evidence that she is enjoying the RESULTS of
> having consented ("Forthwith up to the Clouds / With him I flew"). She
> has learned what it's like to consent to evil freely without having done
> so, just as a blind person suddenly granted sight can learn what it's
> like to see a red object even if the object isn't red, or even if
> there's no object at all.
> Possibility Three: Eve consents, but under duress; note that the desire
> she reports is irresistible ("I, methought, could not but taste").
> Again, she has learned what it's like to sin ‹ to give free consent to
> evil ‹ without having done so.
> I opt for Possibiliity Two, for the following reasons.
> (1) The somewhat misleading phrase "in her dream Eve freely consents to
> eat the apple," if it means anything, just describes a certain mental
> act on Eve's part as having been occasioned by a dream.The fact that
> states of mind or acts of mind are occasioned by a dream doesn't mean
> that the states and acts don't actually happen. Minds are funny things
> that way.
> (2) If Eve merely avoids describing her free consent, then she has
> freely consented ipso facto and incurs guilt for a sin (see (1)), even
> if the sin isn't the outwardly manifested act we're all worried about.
> Compare the situation of a believer in voodoo who plunges a needle into
> the heart of a doll representing someone he envies: he is not guilty of
> murder, but he is guilty of something ‹ in fact, something serious.
> (3) There's no evidence of an omission in Eve's report; she's reporting
> the dream as she dreamt it ‹ it's the DREAM that has the gap, not her
> REPORT. A squeamish or emotionally fragile Eve is a nonstarter at this
> stage in the narrative.
> (4) Possibility Three is defective in various ways, but I will spare
> myself the trouble of pointing them out.
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