Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall

*The passage that I wanted to focus on for this post is found in Book III, lines 93-111. It was a bit longer so I didn't want it to take up too much space.*
          Growing up, my dad was always obsessed with talking to us kids about free will and choice. Every time the littlest allusion was made--be in from TV, books, or elsewhere--he couldn't seem to help himself from going on these long tangents on about how central the idea of free will is and how we probably can't understand exactly how important. Yada yada yada... (I actually grew to love our conversations, and they can still last for hours at a time.)
          Luckily, I was reading Book III of Paradise Lost at my parents house, and when I came across this passage, I yelled for my dad to come listen so I could read it to him.
          It really got me thinking...where would this story have gone if we didn't have free will? What if they had gone along with Satan's plan and taken away the free agency of Man?

          I know we were supposed to do some research for this blog post, and while I was looking (without much luck), I just decided to google "Reason is also choice", the line that first jumped out at me and made me jump out at my father to come and read.
          This lovely article popped up and is actually titled "Reason is also choice:"

"But, says, Milton, "Reason also is Choice" (III.108); "Reason is but choosing." Milton's "also" is very exact. For in Paradise Lost "reason" is not only "Discursive, or Intuitive," as in men contrasted with the angels, as Raphael points out (V.488-90); practical or contemplative, as seen in Eve's character contrasted with Adam's; or exercised in the practice of Temperance or self-restraint (to resist the Tree's provokingly displayed Excess of fruit, IX.648). Reason is also and preeminently bound up with the act of free choice. The main function of "reason as chief" (V.102), as Adam calls it in his description of "mind" in Book V (lines 101ff.) when he is describing the disturbing effects of Fancy operating in Eve's dream, is to arbitrate over sensible images: to sift, choose, and discard."

Mindele Anne Treip. "Reason Is Also Choice" Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 Vol. 31, No. 1, The English Renaissance (Winter, 1991), pp. 147-177.

          To reason, to "sift, choose, and discard" what we will, is something I've never considered to be a part of free will. All sorts of aspects would be influenced, and even if we appeared to have free choice, everything would already be predetermined. We would have the illusions of free choice. What kind of life is that? What kind of glory or praise could we receive for merely doing good things because we have to, and not because we personally choose to be good and choose to follow God?


  1. Interesting thoughts. I have a counter opinion: what is offered to men in Paradise Lost isn't really agency. They can do what God tells them and then end up back with him to praise him, or they can choose not to, and God controls them anyway. In this book, God speaks of predestination—a pretty loaded concept. How does predestination fit into free agency?

  2. "How does predestination fit into free agency?"

    I guess I don't believe it does. Can it?

    1. I think one way in which predestination and agency DO find concord is in those instances where God, in mercy, reaches out to change the path of someone who has strayed from what might be thought of as his 'destiny.' Alma the Younger and Saul/Paul are just a few examples, but I would say that a lot of us would probably say that we had had times in our lives where something--call it God or serendipity--caused us to go in a completely different direction.

  3. Well, I don't think it can, which poses problems. If we believe God knows all things, and in this poem God predestines things, then there is only the illusion of choice. It's something I've struggled with about religion my entire life.

  4. Here's a new twist: to what extent does theorizing choice open or limit it?