Monday, September 21, 2015

The Problem of Perceiving Innocence as Virtue

One of the most fascinating arguments Milton makes in protest of licensed censorship is his explanation of how vice and evil is the gateway by which we as humans learn about good and virtuous things. He says, "And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill." The fall of humanity meant that as the offspring of Adam and Eve, we would live with the knowledge of knowing good from evil, the veil of innocence and naivety vanished when Eve partook from the tree of knowledge. But to really perceive what is good, it is necessary to contrast it against bad examples or choices.

Milton gives the example of how The Bible details the blasphemous and evil-doings of bad people as a way to show the righteous path of God.  Undeniably, good and evil must be intertwined together for virtue to even exist, because "the scanning of error" only "confirms the truth," and the only other way to theoretically partake of bad/evil without actually doing so, was through literature that portrayed poor choices and characters. The complexity and power of this argument Milton makes, not only paints censorship as a limit on learning, but also as a hinderance upon virtue. For a long time, the story of Adam and Eve was perceived as a narrative about the loss of innocence and the punishment we all live face because of this, but it had failed to even consider that innocence or total ignorance were not the same thing as virtue. 

By recognizing good by and through the presence of evil, virtue was fostered in a way that was pleasing to humanity and God. Virtue was such a lauded abstract principle that was rarely seen as the twin of vice, neither one could exist without the other. 

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