[Milton-L] Milton and Sin

Alice Crawford Berghof aberghof at uci.edu
Sat Jun 28 17:38:19 EDT 2008

Dear Professor Gillum,
I am certain Professor Skulsky will respond with greater knowledge and 
better judgment than I.  Just a few quick ideas: re your last point 
(5), John Leonard Naming in Paradise 213 and following.  Also, your 
point gets at the difference between knowledge and judgment - I'm 
trying to place your term "motivation" in here somewhere...  What do 
you think of Raphael's line, "as thou thyself perceiv'st" (VIII.566), 
in terms of whether Adam should've been able to perceive things from a 
perspective other than his own?  Would support your reading, I believe. 
  However, do you think it's possible that Adam knows "his decision is 
wrong from God's standpoint and in an absolute sense," as you say, but 
that he has not been provided with adequate judgment?  Perhaps he has 
sufficient knowledge but insufficient judgment to do the right thing.  
What would the right thing have been?  Dying for Eve would have been 
one possibility, acc to John Leonard in his fascinating discussion that 
brings us all the way to this idea: "The thought of bodily resurrection 
for Adam is not absurd" (page 218).

On Jun 28, 2008, at 1:34 PM, Michael Gillum wrote:

> Prof. Skulsky,
> Thanks for the translation and commentary. My understanding of these 
> matters
> is thin.
> 1. In the DDC passage, is the idea of un-straightness cognate with the 
> idea
> that evil is a defect or a falling-short rather than a positive 
> something?
> 2. Regarding the analogy of the carpenter's square, I take it that 
> Milton
> would say a 90-degree angle would be a 90-degree angle regardless of 
> what
> rational being created the universe.
> 3. "This position aligns Milton with Erasmus, Suarez, and some 
> neoplatonists
> against Luther, Calvin, and the orthodox Catholic version of natural 
> law
> theory."  Could you briefly explain how the Thomist version of natural 
> law
> is voluntarist? I had assumed otherwise.
> 4. Adam's many correct understandings show that his reason is attuned 
> to Law
> and runs parallel to some extent with divine reason. When he commits to
> dying with Eve, he knows this decision is wrong from God's standpoint 
> and in
> an absolute sense. Of course, one of the most interesting things about 
> the
> poem is Milton supplying Adam with motivation so powerful that we 
> wonder
> whether he really was created strong enough to stand, since we can't 
> help
> but feel that he made the inevitable and humanly "right" choice (cue 
> Fish).
> Michael
> On 6/28/08 3:07 PM, "Harold Skulsky" <hskulsky at email.smith.edu> wrote:
>>>> Could we have your translation, please?  Michael
>> Miilton: "sola eius [scilicet, actionis] obliquitas sive anomalia a
>> legis norma proprie mala est."
>> Carey: ""it is only its [the action's]  misdirection or deviation from
>> the set course of law which can
>> properly be called evil."
>> Skulsky: "The only thing [in an action] that is literally evil is its
>> un-straightness [obliquitas] or unevenness [anomalia] as measured by 
>> the
>> standard [norma] of law."
>> Comments:  A "norma" is (literally) a carpenter's square. Just as the
>> square is taken as a paradigm of straightness identifying mismatches 
>> as
>> Not Straight, so (according to Milton's implicit analogy) the law is a
>> paradigm of moral Rightness identifying the illegal as Wrong. To
>> describe an action as literally evil, according to Milton, is to
>> describe the action as not in compliance with the law of God.
>> This does not quite end the matter. Clearly the faulty carpenter can
>> protest that, in spite of his envious rivals, it is his square that
>> should be acknowledged as the true measure of straightness, rather 
>> than
>> the square on display at the bureau of weights and measures. In the
>> carpenter case, the matter is settled by official consensus.
>> In the same way the so-called evil agent can protest that, in spite of
>> the complaints of soi-disant moral arbiters, his action is the true
>> paradigm of moral rectitude, rather than the alternative action
>> prescribed by the law. In the moral agent case, the matter is settled 
>> by
>> the fact that the evil agent is legislating for himself whereas the 
>> law
>> being invoked against him is the command of God.
>> But this does not quite end the matter. Let's assume for the sake of
>> argument that God did indeed command the law.The difficulty that 
>> remains
>> is this: A command is neither true nor false. If to be right is no 
>> more
>> and no less than to be commanded by God, then it is just redundancy or
>> sheer nonsense to praise God's commands, as (for example) the Psalmist
>> does repeatedly, by hailing the "rightness" of those commands.
>> Recommending them as being right is just recommending them as being
>> commands.
>> In a number of places, Milton repudiates theological voluntarism —
>> the claim that moral rightness is to be defined as the property of 
>> being
>> willed or commanded by God. For Milton, such a definition defines
>> rightness out of existence as a property of actions, and thereby
>> trivializes moral recommendation as a thinly veiled description of 
>> power
>> relations.
>> This position aligns Milton with Erasmus, Suarez, and some
>> neoplatonists against Luther, Calvin, and the orthodox Catholic 
>> version
>> of natural law theory. Since Milton's position is also inconsistent 
>> with
>> both the naturalism and the noncognitivism that divide the loyalties 
>> of
>> a majority of modern writers on so called meta-ethics, perhaps Milton
>> should be thought of as the tragic proponent of a doomed, and now
>> roundly discredited, form of humanism. Or, on the other hand, perhaps
>> not.
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