[Milton-L] Absolute Freedom

Ross Leasure trleasure at gmail.com
Wed Apr 15 15:14:07 EDT 2009


Thanks so much to all of you for your input, especially Dr. Fallon.
I've procured and attempted to peruse (however quickly) the JHI
article.  It's a real triumph of scholarship.  It and others like it
are one of the reasons why I don't know that I'll ever be able
honestly to consider myself as belonging to the ranks of the true
Miltonists.  It's hard for me to imagine that I might attain such
depth of knowlege and clarity of thought.

Permit me nevertheless to inquire, naively to be sure, on one point.
If God is free to act or not, if he is free to create the world and
man or not, in response to the action(s) pursuant to Satan's evil
desire, and we accept that Creation is good as God's will to create is
a priori good, then wouldn't God's potential hypothetical will not to
create by definition then be an evil action--or rather an evil
inaction?  Are there an infinite number of good responses God might
will, or are his options limited, and would one of those limitations
then be that he not do nothing, but must do something?

I feel as if I'm trying to "call" an angelic hoedown on the head of pin.


On Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 2:05 PM, Steve Fallon <sfallon at nd.edu> wrote:
> Ross,
> I've attempted a more elaborate answer to these questions in "'To Act or
> Not': Milton's Conception of Divine Freedom," Journal of the History of
> Ideas 49 (1988): 425-49.  Here's a short version: For Milton, God can do
> only good when he acts, but he can choose to act or not.  This distinguishes
> Milton from, e.g., the Cambridge Platonists, who argued that God necessarily
> performs the good.  The Cambridge Platonist God must create the world, and
> must create the world as soon as he can, because this God cannot omit any
> potential good action.
> A bit more elaboration: The passage just before the first passage you quote
> contains the answer you need.  Milton distinguishes between external or
> compulsory necessity, on the one hand, and internal or natural necessity, on
> the other.  What limits freedom of action, Milton writes (at the top of p.
> 1155) is "any necessity operating externally upon a given cause," which
> "makes it produce a certain effect or limits it from producing other
> effects" (my emphasis).   The perfect freedom of God is a freedom from any
> external influence or compulsory necessity.
> For God to be able to will evil would, in Milton's view (and not in his
> alone), amount not to freedom but contradiction.  Because God's nature is
> good, the free expression of that nature is in willing the good.  If one
> views God's inability to contradict himself as a limitation of his freedom,
> then this God is not absolutely free.  But neither Milton nor the tradition
> generally view this inability as a restriction of freedom.
> There's more in the essay, but this is a start.
> In terms of analogy to human freedom, the absolute freedom of God resembles
> the freedom of one who is confirmed in goodness and no longer bound to sin
> (in the state of non posse peccare) and not the freedom of the one in this
> world, either before or after the fall, who can choose good or evil.
> It's good to hear that you're using the edition. If you (or anyone else)
> find any typos (and there are some), I'd appreciate your dropping me a note.
> All the best,
> Steve Fallon
>
> On Apr 15, 2009, at 1:14 PM, Ross Leasure wrote:
>
> Dear mentors and colleagues,
>
> I write humbly to ask for some guidance (as I plow through excerpts of
> De Doctrina Christiana from the recently published Modern Library
> edition) in preparation for teaching tomorrow's class.  I'm sure I'm
> missing something, my own feeble faculties insufficient to comprehend
> Milton's logic.  My particular difficulty is in wrapping my mind
> around what seems to me a problematic contradition presented briefly
> in the following to passages:
>
> "In God a certain immutable internal necessity to do good, independent
> of all outside influences, can be consistent with absolute freedom of
> action" (c. 3; p. 1155).
>
> "God always acts with absolute freedom, working out his own purpose
> and volition" (c. 5; p. 1174).
>
> If an immutable God, of internal necessity, can only do good, is he
> not limited in his freedom since he cannot will evil?  How can God's
> incapacity to will evil be "consistent with absolute freedom of
> action" in other words?  Or could God will evil, but chooses not to?
> Wouldn't that change the essential nature of Milton's good God?
>
> I'm anticipating that some of my students might ask similar questions,
> and I don't yet have sufficient understanding to untie what seems to
> me a indissoluable logical knot.  I look forward to reading whatever
> correction or redirection will be forthcoming regarding my inquiry.
> Thank you in advance for your assistance and consideration.
>
> --
> T. Ross Leasure
> Dept. of English
> Salisbury University
> Salisbury MD 21801
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-- 
T. Ross Leasure
Dept. of English
Salisbury University
Salisbury MD 21801



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