Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Devil's Advocate

Yesterday's question was: "Who's playing the Devil's advocate here?"

Milton in Areopagitica, argues against a "cloistered virtue." Similarly, Eve in Paradise Lost argues against a "Vertue unassaid" (untested virtue). But Adam, also in Paradise Lost, uses heavy irony to argue against subjecting oneself to a "glorious trial."

If Adam is right, for Eve does fall, then aren't Eve and Milton arguing the Devil's case?

Not quite. Just because Eve fails and falls does not mean that she was wrong in principle. Milton agrees with Eve that one cannot remain cloistered in order to avoid the evil that lurks outside the 'nunnery' (Milton's anti-Catholicism showing through). Evil lurks inside even the garden, so temptation -- and therefore testing -- will come anyway. Both Eve and Milton believe that virtue is praiseworthy only if tested, and it can only be tested if one is free. And we know from elsewhere in Paradise Lost (Book 3.102-106) that God the Father speaks in favor of freedom, even arguing that he has given mankind free will to choose between good and evil:

Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere
Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,
Where onely what they needs must do, appeard,
Not what they would? what praise could they receive?

Milton's God approves of the freedom to be tested because only in that way could human beings develop praiseworthy virtue, precisely the view of Eve and Milton.

If so, if Eve and Milton are in agreement with God, then isn't Adam arguing the Devil's case?

No, because Adam, in spite of his argument that Eve should not needlessly seek out trial by testing, does believe in freedom and does freely allow her to strike off on her own in the garden despite the lurking danger (Book 9.351, 372):

But God left free the Will . . . .
Go; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more;

Therefore, even cautious Adam would agree with Milton on the political issue of free speech as argued for in Areopagitica.

Thus, God, Adam, Eve, and Milton are all for free choice.

Of course, the Devil is for it, too.


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