In the part of his Biblical Series on Adam and Eve, professor Jordan Peterson (1:56:11) questions:
“The mystery is not why men abandon their children. It’s the reason
why men ever stick with them. That’s the mystery.”
For a lot of teenage children growing up nowadays in broken families, there may be some answer to this question in reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost. To recover from the divorce of his or her parents, the soon to be adult will have to assume some responsibility for his- or herself, acknowledge that he or she is not a victim and make use of his or her capacity to make things better for his- or her children than it was for his- or herself. If this view on individual responsibility is accepted, the requirement of consciously making a lot of choices and therefore the concept of free will should be taken for granted. Not only can the young reader of Paradise Lost console him- or herself with the fact that he or she is not the only one who’s “punished by God”, but the reader can also gain confidence through the, from the work derived, notion of his choices not being insignificant. The main argument of this paper is that, regardless of God’s omnipotence and the numerous appeals to Fate (Lumpkin 67), free will is present in the main characters of Paradise Lost. This is exemplified in Satan’s rebellion against God and Adam’s eating of the apple (Morris 80). This paper will further propose through an argument posed by Smilansky (218) that it was the fact that God made Adam free that made him fall from Eden. It finally presents a counterargument from Gross (1967) about the apparent lack of Adam’s free will in the Fall.
Milton’s Satan has free will. This is explicitly stated In book four of PL. In lines 4.32 – 4.113 Satan’s soliloquy presents his doubts whether or not he should rebel against God, and mentions to himself:
“Hadst thou the same free Will and Power to stand?
Thou hadst: whom has thou then or what to accuse,
But Heav’ns free Love dealt equally to all?” (Milton 1616, 3.66-3.38)
Even though he does not portray it to his allies, Satan fears God. He, in lines 4.71-4.72, acknowledges that he chose freely to fall from Heaven and be placed into Hell, but “rues” the choice that he made. In this he mirrors God’s opinion on the subject that “[God] made him just and right / Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (Milton 3.98-3.99). While Milton’s God and Satan are adversaries, they were made to share Milton’s sense of free will. Satan at length deliberates whether he should try to corrupt God’s Creation. However, in the end Satan chooses to stick to his hateful emotions and continue with the plan he devised in Book Two, namely to corrupt Adam and Eve.
Parallel to Satan, Adam also has free will. This is stated in the monologue of God to his Son in lines 3.124:
“They trespass, Authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose; for so
I formd them free, and free they must remain,
Till they enthral themselves: I else must change
Thir nature…” (3.122-3.126)
God explains to Christ that he has created Man free by nature. As Eve reasons with Adam to make him eat of the apple of which God has forbidden them to eat (Book 9), Adam reasons (and Reason, according to Milton, “also is choice” (3.108)) primarily that they are doomed. Adam then reasons that he can’t live if he’s separated from Eve. Even if God would make him another Eve, the first Eve would always remain in his heart. He appeals to the Link of Nature that draws him to his “Flesh of Flesh / Bone of my Bone” (Milton 9.914-9.915) and eats from the apple, to join Eve in her peril. Waldock, as quoted by Morris (81) comments on this choice as follows: “The poem requires us, not tentatively, not half-heartedly but with the full weight of our minds to believe that Adam did right, and simultaneously requires us with the full weight of our minds to believe that he did wrong. The dilemma is as critical as that, and there is no way of escape”. Whether Adam did right or wrong by exerting his free will, the consequences are dire.
It was the fact that God made Adam and Eve free that made them fall from Eden. Smilansky (218-219) argues if you have a system in which rulers set a set of parameters so to balance that system, the rulers choose to leave some of the parameters unchanged, even if that means that some people will commit crimes under those circumstances. Smilansky poses that the failure in deterrence is also that of the ruler. He states: “Despite knowing that [the criminal] would fall were we not to change things, we nevertheless decided not to” (Smilansky 219). Redirecting this argument to PL, Milton’s God can be seen as the ruler, Adam and Eve as the criminals; free will can be seen as one of the parameters God has instilled in his Creations. Instead of excusing Adam, Lumpkin (68) states that “Milton and the characters on God’s side continuously warn angels and man against trying to shift the responsibility for their misconduct call predestination or Fate”. Even though God has deterred Adam from eating of the apple by use of angelic instruction, Adam’s disobedience to God comes forth from Eve’s reasoning (although based on Satan’s dishonesty) that the snake has not died from eating the apple, which leads to “the confusion that God will not or cannot enforce his commands” (Lumpkin 67). While one could argue that a choice made based on misinformation is not a proper choice, it doesn’t abolish the fact that there was reasoning involved. Maybe God should have etched the warning of the Fall better into the mind of Adam.
Contrary to how Smilansky and Lumpkin reason, Gross (103) asserts that Adam’s choice to eat the apple is not based on free will but on self-love. Since God has made Eve in Adam’s image, Gross’s logic is that Adam can not act independently of Eve, because as far as Adam is concerned, there is no Eve apart from him. Gross (103) judges that he has so identified himself with her that if she is to die, he must die too; that is the “Link of Nature” (Milton 9.914) that so irresistibly draws Adam. While Eve takes Adam’s act as proof of love for her, she is deceived, according to Gross (103-104): when Adam refers to their union as “One Heart, one Soul in both” (Milton 9.967) he is not recognizing their equality, but merely articulating his conception of Eve as his mirror image. Eve thinks that Adam’s love for her is unequalled by his love for God, whereas it is his love of self that is unequalled by his love for God. This argument is contradicted by the main text (Milton 3.124) but is a worthwhile one to propose, because it touches on the semantics of God having made Eve out of Adam, and Adam in image of himself.
conclusion, the notion of free will is very present in Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s presented in Satan,
in Adam, in the way Milton’s God’s creates beings; even Gross (103) has to
confirm the appearance of free will while denying the view that Adam uses this
freedom to Fall with Eve. Milton’s Paradise
Lost is able to instill the love of free will into human beings by posing
that free will comes from God. While Lumpkin, Milton, Morris and Smilansky
might answer Jordan Peterson’s question in the introduction of this paper with
the answer that men stick with their children (and mothers) out of free will,
Gross might answer that a man hang around out of self-love. Whatever the reason
may be, here is to the fathers who stay with their kids through difficult times,
for having a balanced family makes aspiring for higher goals easier.
Gross, Barry Edward. “Free Love and Free Will in Paradise Lost.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 7, no. 1, 1967, pp. 95–106. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/449459.
Lumpkin, Ben Gray. “Fate in ‘Paradise Lost.’” Studies in Philology, vol. 44, no. 1, 1947, pp. 56–68. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4172791.
Milton, John. “Paradise Lost” The John Milton Reading Room,1997www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_1/text.shtml
Morris, John N. “‘Paradise Lost’ Now.” The American Scholar, vol. 33, no. 1, 1963, pp. 65–83. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41209158.
Peterson, Jordan. “Biblical Series IV: Adam and Eve: Self-Consciousness, Evil, and Death” YouTube, 19th of June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifi5KkXig3s&t=7564s
Smilansky, Saul. “Free Will and Moral Responsibility: The Trap, the Appreciation of Agency, and the Bubble.” The Journal of Ethics, vol. 16, no. 2, 2012, pp. 211–239. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41486957.