Fw: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 13 02:59:51 EST 2009


Professor Skulsky wrote:
 
"I am afraid I misunderstood Jeffery Hodges' post."

That was perhaps because -- as I see now -- I was unclear in posing a complex question, to wit, "Did Milton draw on Middle Knowledge theology, and did it inform his depiction of the Father in PL?"
 
Thanks for the helpful explication of the passage in PL. Part of my reason for wondering about Milton's familiarity with Middle Knowledge derives from a couple of passages in Milton's works:
 

"But of our Priests and Doctors how many have bin corrupted by studying the comments of Jesuits and Surbonists, and how fast they could transfuse that corruption into the people, our experience is both late and sad. It is not forgot since the acute and distinct Arminius was perverted meerly by the perusing of a namelesse discours writt'n at Delft, which at first he took in hand to confute." (Areopagitica)
 
"The Jesuits, and that sect among us which is nam'd of Arminius, are wont to charge us of making God the author of sinne in two degrees especially, not to speak of his permissions. 1. Because we hold that he hath decreed some to damnation, and consequently to sinne, say they: Next, because those means which are of saving knowledge to others, he makes to them an occasion of greater sinne. Yet considering the perfection wherin man was created, and might have stood, no decree necessitating his free will, but subsequent though not in time yet in order to causes which were in his owne power, they might, methinks be perswaded to absolve both God and us." (Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Book 2, Chapter 3)
 
I find both passages somewhat obscure but perhaps indicative of familiarity with Middle Knowledge. Milton seems dismissive of the Jesuits and Arminians here, but my understanding of Paradise Lost is that it looks largely Arminian in its emphasis upon prevenient grace offered to all postlapsarian human beings.
 
Since Arminius seems to have used the Jesuit's system of Middle Knowledge to attempt a reconciliation of God's foreknowledge and man's free will, I had wondered if Milton also drew on that.
 
Professor Skulsky argues that Middle Knowledge does not solve this problem because "the counterfactual truths of Molina's scientia media rule out libertarian free will of the kind that Milton favors. It may appear that God can FOREknow a future free act only if he knows it via its present CAUSES, in which case the future act is CAUSED and not free; but Milton's God knows all facts (past, present or future) directly -- that is, via themselves; he is not limited to reasoning about facts from evidence, like a finite being forecasting the kindling of the match from seeing it scraped against the side of the matchbook."
 
This is an interesting critique, and perhaps was the sort of critique that explains why Molina introduced what he called God's "supercomprehension" -- a rather mysterious means of foreknowing that I've never quite grasped, myself.
 
But if Professor Skulsky is correct, then Milton's God doesn't 'foreknow' anything. How, then, are we to understand these lines: "If I foreknew [their fault], / Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault, / Which had no less prov'd certain unforeknown." Does the "if" imply that God's knowledge is not precisely foreknowledge?

Anyway, thanks for the discussion. Perhaps people can better see where I was coming from in my ambiguous query.
 
Jeffery Hodges
 

--- On Mon, 1/12/09, Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at email.smith.edu> wrote:
From: Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at email.smith.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Monday, January 12, 2009, 10:49 PM

I am afraid I misunderstood Jeffery Hodges' post. Here is a response to
his question, for what it's worth.
God denies that Adam's decision to disobey will be "disposed"
(i.e.,
determined) EITHER by God's decree OR by his "high foreknowledge"
(PL
3.114-16). He goes on immediately to emphasize the point, as follows:
"If I foreknew [their fault], / Foreknowledge had no influence on their
fault, / Which had no less prov'd certain unforeknown." In other
words,
Milton simply denies that God's knowledge causes the objects of
knowledge, or even that God's knowledge is necessary to the existence of
its objects. If it is a fact that Adam will freely decide to fall, then
the decision will "prove certain" even if (per absurdum) there is no
such thing as foreknowledge (where "prove certain" means "turn
out to be
the actual fact of the matter," NOT "turn out to be metaphysically
necessary"). Neither Arminius nor Molina is at play here — only
Boethius.
In particular, there is no appeal to scientia media in these lines, and
indeed I think it can be shown that the counterfactual truths of
Molina's scientia media rule out libertarian free will of the kind that
Milton favors.
It may appear that God can FOREknow a future free act only if he knows
it via its present CAUSES, in which case the future act is CAUSED and
not free; but Milton's God knows all facts (past, present or future)
directly — that is, via themselves; he is not limited to reasoning
about facts from evidence, like a finite being forecasting the kindling
of the match from seeing it scraped against the side of the matchbook.

 
 
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