[Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation

David Ainsworth dainsworth at bama.ua.edu
Thu Sep 10 13:49:41 EDT 2009


And I think Marlene hits on what can potentially be a philosophical 
cul-de-sac.  If "good" is defined in reference to God, then the issue of 
God's "goodness" cannot be raised, as Harold points out, except as the 
appeal that a being representing itself as God may be lying.

But how may that lie be verified?  If indeed, one can refute a "God" by 
demonstrating that "God's" actions are NOT good, then surely one must 
appeal to a definition of goodness independent of "God."  The real God, 
perhaps, still defines goodness, but if the real God is not known, can 
goodness nevertheless be derived independently?

An alternate formulation would be to suppose that goodness exists in 
reference to but independently from an all-good God.  In that case, God 
might be capable of choosing evil and would qualify as God only if 
he/she/it never makes an evil choice.  Alternately, God lacks the 
ability to choose an evil choice, which would seem to institute a 
limitation on God's will.  But in this formulation, God is always 
potentially one choice away from being not good (and thus, not God), 
unless we presume that God will never make that choice.

I find it easy to float away from Milton himself in such discussions. 
I'd argue that De Doctrina Christiana goes to some lengths to establish 
that God, prior to creation/creating, made some immutable decrees which 
bind on God as well as creation.  That suggests to me, not that Milton 
is generating a purely negative theology of God, but that he sees the 
limitations which God voluntarily sets as being in some way 
definitional.  In other words, God is that being which made these 
decrees and will not break them despite being capable of doing so.

Personally, I read the God of Paradise Lost as a being frustrated by the 
choices his creations make, determined to grant them choices anyway and 
bound by the conditions and consequences he set down to act in an 
entirely determined fashion.  In other words, God-before-time makes all 
his choices; God-within-time behaves consequentially to those choices.

But I think the epic also holds out the possibility (the hope?) that a 
God-who-is-God can be partially confirmed through behavior and through 
consistencies and consequences, while a deceiver like Satan will reveal 
himself through inconsistency and contradiction.  That the 
Judeo-Christian system of belief, like all such systems, itself contains 
inconsistency and contradiction is but one of the problems Milton can't 
hope to solve himself.

David

Marlene Edelstein wrote:
> It all depends on how you define 'good'. Surely we've all seen enough in 
> this world to convince us that goodness is not synonymous with 
> unquestioning obedience. Eve's sin, if sin it be, is, I think, that she 
> begins to lose faith in the transparency of God's intentions. 
> Preshadowing the history of faith in the modern age, once she starts 
> applying her reasoning powers she also starts to doubt the versions of 
> reality she heard in the nursery, so to speak. What had seemed simple 
> becomes a shifting pattern of possibilities. If Eve overheard the 
> amazing symphony of male bonding performed by her husband and his guest 
> a reaction which might seem natural is a feeling of exclusion and 
> consequently a heightened sense of self - again, psychological 
> development prefiguring modern existential phenomena.
>          I don't think Milton was a card-carrying Gnostic, but the force 
> of his wish to believe that God is Creator, loving parent and Redeemer 
> combined is just one strand in the enduring meaningfulness of this 
> kaleidoscopic poem. He had to struggle with the Bible, in which God 
> comes over as irascible, vain, manipulable and sometimes cruel as well 
> as sublime and generous - perhaps these are some of the chains 
> inhibiting his freedom when he wrote of God and angels.
>    
>                       Marlene
> 
> believe everything, believe nothing
> 
> --- On *Thu, 10/9/09, Horace Jeffery Hodges /<jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>/* 
> wrote:
> 
> 
>     From: Horace Jeffery Hodges <jefferyhodges at yahoo.com>
>     Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation
>     To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>     Date: Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 6:22 AM
> 
>     Working from memory, I think that my formulation "Satan brings Eve
>     to the point of wondering if God is the true God" was a more concise
>     restatement of an earlier statement in a prior post: "Is the God who
>     placed the tree of knowledge in the garden the /true/ God?"
>      
>      
>     Or something like that.
>      
>      
>     Anyway, in terms of the way that you've gone on to express the issue
>     of God's having withheld the knowledge of good and evil, I'd reply
>     that what Milton's God withheld was not the intellectual knowledge
>     of evil as distinct from good but the experiential knowledge of
>     having committed evil and being no longer good.
>      
>      
>     Or so I argue in a paper published a couple of years ago.
>      
>      
>     Jeffery Hodges
>      
> 
>     --- On *Wed, 9/9/09, Harold Skulsky /<hskulsky at smith.edu>/* wrote:
> 
> 
>         From: Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at smith.edu>
>         Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation
>         To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>         Date: Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 10:53 PM
> 
>         "Satan brings Eve to the point of wondering if God is the true God."
> 
> 
>         I'm not clear on what Eve is supposed to be wondering when she
>         asks herself: "Is God the true God?"  If the subject of this
>         sentence SUCCESSFULLY refers to some determinate thing in the
>         world - call the determinate thing Fred - then to supply a "No"
>         answer is to deny that Fred is Fred, and that is a flat
>         contradiction. If the subject of the sentence FAILS to refer,
>         then the sentence doesn't even rise to contradiction (necessary
>         falsity) because it is nonsensical, and hence neither true nor
>         false (it is like "Flapdoodle is not the real Flapdoodle" - if
>         we assume that "Flapdoodle" fails to refer).
> 
>         Maybe what saves the day for the logic and meaningfulness of
>         "God is not the true God" is a special sense of "God" in the
>         phrase "the true God." That is, maybe this second occurrence in
>         the sentence of the  PROPER NAME "God" is being used to
>         abbreviate a DESCRIPTION, such as "the Creator." If so, we still
>         need to know whether or not the being that Satan and Eve are
>         calling "God" is the Creator. But then we have to have a way of
>         picking out which being is the subject of these denials; that
>         is, which being is the one Satan and Eve are calling "God"?
> 
>         Suggestion: the being Satan and Eve are calling God is none
>         other than the being who issued the fruit-prohibition ("the
>         Prohibitor" for short). So the charge on the table (Satan's) is
>         that the Prohibitor is not the Creator - is not the benign and
>         infinitely fruitful Creator shown in PL 3 defending his
>         prohibition and his creation of human nature, and shown on the
>         job (via the Son) in PL 7. But by showing these things PL is
>         saying that the Prohibitor is the Creator, no matter what Satan
>         says to the contrary. (Indeed, in PL 5 Satan denies that anybody
>         is the Creator.) PL is the story of Satan lying about God.
> 
>         Can this conclusion be avoided?
> 
>         Yes. The description abbreviated by the second occurrence of
>         "God" in "God is not the real God" need not be "the Creator." It
>         can be another familiar monotheistic formula in the
>         Judeochristian tradition: "the being that is all-powerful,
>         all-wise, and all good."
> 
>         Suggestion: what Satan means by "God is not the real God" is
>         that authorship of the fruit-prohibition is incompatible with
>         being all-good - nobody can prohibit this fruit and be good at
>         all, much less all-good. I think this is clearly what Satan is
>         arguing: that knowledge of good and evil is a good that cannot
>         be justly withheld from anybody capable of enjoying it,
>         including A&E. Here, it is not immediately clear that Satan is
>         wrong, much less lying -  in the absence of a plausibly
>         deflationary definition of "knowledge" in this context, or in
>         the absence of a reason for supposing that it is sometimes just
>         to deny a good to somebody capable of enjoying it.
> 
>         I leave the latter task as an  exercise.
> 
> 
> 
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