[Milton-L] potestas ordinata, potestas absoluta, reason, and arbitratry commands

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 12 07:25:06 EDT 2008

Professor Skulsky, I have a question, and I will echo your own words to express it.
I found interesting the distinction that you note between God's ordained power (potestas ordinata) and his absolute power (potestas absoluta).
Milton, you explain, rejects the voluntarism underlying the view that God might have to have established another moral law entirely because morality for Milton is ontologically rock bottom and not a matter of naked will.
In contrast to this, Milton accepts the view that God could have chosen a different physics, for efficient causality reflects the potestas ordinata, not the potestas absoluta, thereby making Milton a voluntarist in this respect.

My question is this: Is the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge arbitrary? Put differently, are there some commands that forbid acts that ordinarily would be morally neutral? Could one say that Milton would never accept that God might forbid the good or enjoin the bad but that Milton might accept that as a test, God might forbid or enjoin something otherwise morally neutral?
That, you will recall, was the distinction that I was attempting to make concerning the opacity of the command not to eat of the tree. The command was opaque to reason, whereas rationality would have guided Adam and Eve correctly on all other points of moral thought, word, and deed.
What is your opinion?
Jeffery Hodges
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