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John MiltonLife, Writing, Reputation$
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Paul Hammond and Blair Worden

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264706

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264706.001.0001

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Milton on Knowing Good from Evil

Milton on Knowing Good from Evil

(p.42) (p.43) 3 Milton on Knowing Good from Evil
John Milton

Christopher Tilmouth

British Academy

Although poetry's morally instructive purpose was a Renaissance commonplace, Milton developed a detailed conception of what it meant. He argued that poems have the power to ‘inbreed in the great people the seeds of virtue and public civility, to allay the perturbation of mind, and set the affections in right tune’. Milton was a moralizing poet who was sensitive to the challenge of knowing oneself and staying true to the proper rational ideas. His epics and poems were pegged on the ethic of rational choosing. This chapter examines the kinds of moral knowledge upon which free choice must hang and the capacity of Milton's Adam and Eve to make rational choices. It examines Milton's theodicy, which argued that possession of rational powers enables people to choose between good and evil. The chapter assesses how experience influences the capacity of man for self-determination and choice according to Milton's theodicy. In it, three of Milton's poems, which sum up his moral imagination, are examined: Paradise Lost, Reason of the Church Government, and Areopagitica.

Keywords:   poetry, moralizing poet, rational choosing, free choice, moral, rational choices, Milton's theodicy, Paradise Lost, Church Government, Areopagitica

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