[Milton-L] Relative intelligence

Evan LaBuzetta evanlabuzetta at cantab.net
Tue Apr 8 20:52:19 EDT 2014


Hi all,

A question born of sheer ignorance on my part.

There's a claim that's come up a few times in this discussion of obedience
and the relative culpability of fallen angels vs. fallen humans, and it's
one that I've never questioned before - namely the claim that the angels
(Lucifer especially) are intellectually superior. Earlier today, Michael
Gillum put it, "The angels had a higher order of rationality which would
have made truth and right more obvious to them than to the humans." and
Oydin reposted a comment that "Adam and Eve had been misled and deceived by
an angelic being who was created with much more intelligence."

But what would "more intelligent" mean in this context? What's the quality
of "intelligence"? This is a tricky enough question in real life without
trying to extrapolate onto fictional supernatural characters, but it seems
like in PL intelligence is a matter of assembling proper knowledge and
rationally understanding the relationships between those pieces of
knowledge. I think this is how Adam reasons at, for example, 4.412-421:
"needs must the Power / That made us, and for us this ample World / Be
infinitly good, [we] can performe /Aught whereof hee hath need, hee who
requires / From us no other service then to keep / This one, this easie
charge," At this point Adam has massive gaps in his knowledge, but draws
conclusions based on what he knows.

So if intelligence is based on the interaction between knowledge and
reason, how does this difference in intelligence arise? If it's simply a
matter of being more knowledgable about the created universe, then of
course there's no question about it; the angels are more intelligent in
that sense. And I suppose we can imagine that this superior level of
knowledge gives the angels more material to work with, so to speak, and
could perhaps give an angel an advantage in an argument, if only by virtue
of being able to spin out more complicated chains of reasoning and to
appeal to this advantage in their knowledge base. But this isn't really
intelligence or even reason. I guess where I'm getting stuck is this idea
that "thinking rationally" can be a matter of degrees. What's the angels'
higher-order rationality? What would that even mean?

And the reason I think this matters for the current List discussion is that
if the difference of "intelligence" between the angels and mankind is
really just a matter of the angels being better informed, then that reduces
the difference of moral culpability quite drastically. Oydin is, I think,
right that Adam is "undeceived", but if there's no difference in reasoning
capacity between Eve and Satan, then so, in an important way, is Eve.

If this is a ridiculous question, I apologize, but it seemed like an
intriguing one to me and I'd be very interested to hear what the list
collectively thinks.

Best,
Evan
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