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Milton on the Essence of Man in Paradise Lost

give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according conscience, above all liberties (Milton, Areopagitica)

Miltons acclaimed and prominent intention in Paradise Lost was to create for man a translation of Gods willa resolution to justify the ways of god to man (I.26). Whether or not Milton succeeded in this endeavor is debatable and not what my paper intends to discuss. What I would like to explore instead seems to be a product of this particular mission to attest gods waysreally, his justifications for man. In PL we can identify philosophies he applies in defining man to man, exhibiting above all his appetite for reason and natural desire for freedom. I would like to investigate various paradoxes that present and discuss important rhetorical debates that offer what I believe to be Miltons philosophy about man, his freedom and his free will. Using Areopagitica as an authority and reference in search of defining those terms, I argue that PL demonstrates Miltons humanistic devotion and commitment to man, whose essence is freedom (Belsey 8). First, I would like to draw attention to Miltons choice in The Book of Genesis, the small section in the bible that answers Mans biggest questionthe question of existence. Here is where he finds not only a canvas for his masterpiece, but a place to

Rioseco 2 manifest his ultimate contribution to mankindan immortal piece his own divinely inspired enlightenment. Milton takes it upon himself to address this question applying mans own formula of reason and debate. He seeks to reassure man his questions and doubts through an extensive assessment and definition of freedom. I begin with Reason. In Areopagitica, Milton states, Many there be that complain of divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing. Here we have the first inseparable termsreason and choiceboth essential prerequisite terms needed to sketch Miltons assessment of the freedom and free will as designed by God. If he had not created man to be free,
what praise could they receive? What pleasure I from such obedience paid, When Will and Reason (Reason also is choice) Useless and vain, of freedom both despoild, Made passive both, had servd necessitie (III.110 )

Without the ability to reason, choice is impossible. Choice then serves as evidence and confirmation of our individual ethical and moral principlesour virtue. Without choice, he had bin else a meer artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions and unable to choose actions that could define his virtue (Areopagitica). Virtue then cannot exist without choice and choice cannot exist without reason. There is however the exception that Stanley Fish discusses in Surprised by Sinthe exception of Gods sole command concerning the forbidden fruit. Fish explains that "in this

Rioseco 3 instance alone, reason is not her law" but a command beyond reason (p.254). There is also a choice then in abandoning reason. What is interesting now to consider is that in PL choice exists for Adam and Eve without their knowledge of good and evil. Reason then, is separate from knowledge and installed within man during creationa natural judgment of truth that can be compared to what is later referred to as the Spirit within (XII. 523). However, juxtapose to the creation of reason is the prohibition of knowledge. Adam and Eve paradoxically only know of evil, but not what it is. This is the loophole Satans recognizes and uses to deliver his most convincing argument to EveOf good, how just? of evil, if what is evil/ Be real, why not known, since easier shunnd?(IX 698). Milton addresses this concept in Areopagitica, acknowledging the existence of good and evil to be dependent on each other for definition: Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil. More importantly does he suppose that Adams doom in knowing good and evil was in knowing good by evil. Man is left with these complicated, inseparable binaries to define and apply on his own an incessant labor to cull out and sort asunder. With the freedom of choice, there is also the burden of choice. Ayn Rand, a talented author and leading developer of objectivism said [every man] has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice. However inclined we may feel to act virtuously in performing and deciding our actions, we still must always choose to perform an action in order to act virtuously. I move next to free will. As mentioned earlier, Miltons God gave man reason, as he also insisted that all his creatures, including Satan were to preserve the right to

Rioseco 4 exercise their own free will. This paradox begins with the simple fact that God foresees the future, thus the developing the great ambiguity that surrounds his predestination and the freewill of his creations. In Book 5 Raphael is sent to inform Man of what threat was is come. As this information is considered a warning, it also ironically plays a key role in setting of the motions of Mankinds fall. First, it is important to note that within the messengers warning, there is a specific attention and emphasis drawn to their free willthey have complete freedom to do as they choose and need no more power than they already have to succeed: "Happiness in his power left free to will Left to his own free Will, his Will though free, Yet mutable; whence warne him to beware He swerve not too secure: tell him withal(V.235-38). When considering Gods foreknowledge of mankinds failure, Raphaels message becomes a bit heavier in intention. Gods warning was never to modify mans behavior or choice, but simply to make him aware that he had one, empowering and affirming the idea of free will. How else would mans guilt be possible, if not without the existence of responsibility? This brings me now to consider the differences between providence and predestination, an essential distinction which can clarify some of the ambiguity that surrounds the free will of Miltons God. Providencethe foreseeing care and guidance of Godcan only influence the future, whereas predestinationthe state of being predestinedwould set fate in stone. With this in mind, Raphaels warning can be seen to be more of an influence that initiates a sequence of events. This new learned knowledge of harm is ironically Eves strongest defense in winning her debate with

Rioseco 5 Adam in Book 9. Adams initial problem parting with Eve is directed by his first worry that was introduced and instilled through Raphaels warning: Not diffident of thee do I dissuade/Thy absence from my sight, but to avoid/Th' attempt itself, intended by our Foe (IX. 293-5). This is also Eves first rejection from Adam, leading to their first debate. A debate in Paradise? A tiny piece of information (or warning) is all that is needed, regardless if its terms of evil and harm are fully understood, to elevate sophistication amongst their dialogue exchange. This clearly illustrates in itself the affects of knowledge. The foundation of Eves strongest retort is in the simple question she asks Adam: How are we happie, still in fear of harm?(326). Eve also re-evaluates their position in Paradise as a condition, one in which they now dwell (322). Gods providence leads to a recognized shift in paradises condition, one that now inhabits and acknowledges the possibilities of harm. This new condition is what Eve brings to Adams attention assigning the blame (and credit) to the unknown enemy, thus, already empowering him by doing so: In narrow circuit strait'nd by a Foe (323). This releases the idea that while Paradise was created by God, it can be invaded and limited by another force. With new and implied intelligences such as this, mans doubts in God begin, leading to stray from his sole command and turn to reason as Eve does when she accepts the serpents logical argument. Terms such as the ones Ive discussedreason, choice, free will, virtueare all dependent on one another in deciphering Miltons philosophies and justifications of Man. By reading Areopagitica as a close reference to PL, one can apply its conscious and direct opinions to the many surfaces of PL. Miltons edition of the Book of Genesis provides for Man through paradox what he seeks to know about his own ways and

Rioseco 6 existence. While Areopagitica directly explains and preaches, PL keeps within it the ambiguities that it tries to explain, leaving the reader to decipher for themselves the terms used so that he may mold for himself a conscious meaning.


Rioseco 7 Bradford, Richard. The Complete Critical Guide to John Milton. London: Routledge, 2001.

Lewalski, Barbara K. "Paradise Lost and Milton's Politics." Milton Studies 38 (2000): 141-68.

McColgan, Kristin Pruitt. "'The Master Work': Creation and Education in Paradise Lost." Milton Quarterly 26 (1992): 29-36.

Milton, John. Areopagitica. Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1975.