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The power of a promise : a speech act and the foundation of freedom in Paradise Lost Wiznura, Robert Nicholas

Abstract

This thesis argues that the central and decisive moment in Milton's Paradise Lost is a constitutive speech act, a promise, made by God to the Son. This promise establishes and defines both obedience and disobedience; disobedience, in turn, defines the parameters of ungodliness. Freedom is possible because of this speech act. Free will was both philosophically and theologically under attack in the seventeenth century. The first three chapters serve to contextualize Milton's work. Chapter 1 explores the thinking of Thomas Hobbes on freedom of the will. Chapter 2 describes some theological positions. Chapter 3 examines Milton's theological attempt to address the role of the will in De Doctrina Christiana, an attempt which balances the omnipotence of God with freedom of the individual. The second section deals with the issue of free will in Paradise Lost. Chapter 4 deals specifically with Eve's enigmatic dream. The dream reveals that Eve's identity is no longer linked to Adam but to the interdiction itself and to freedom. Chapter 5, central to the argument, examines the exaltation of the Son. In a world created ex Deo, all, to this point, has been extension of God. The possibility of disobedience severs the relationship of extension and replaces it with a relationship built upon promise. In the exaltation, God makes such a promise to the Son. The strange thing about this promise is that it does not concern the actions God intends to take but the possible actions of others. Such a promise creates the categories of obedience and disobedience—both of which depend on one's response to the promise. By creating the possibility of disobedience, God severs the extended nature of things and establishes independence. Instead of creating ex nihilo, God creates the potential for "nothing" or the "not God" in order to confer freedom. The last three chapters discuss the consequences of this promise. Chapter 6 examines Milton's physical universe as a concrete actualization of obedience and disobedience. Chapter 7 explores the process of choice through an examination of Satan's and Abdiel's responses to God's command. The final chapter revisits the actual falls of Adam and Eve.

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