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33 pages 1 hour read

John Milton

Areopagitica

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1644

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Themes

Free Will

The concept of free will is central to Milton’s argument. He insists: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be fun for, not without dust and heat” (350). For Milton, untried virtue is not virtue at all. If Parliament takes free will, which he believes is divinely given to humans, English citizens have no choice but to act virtuously. He compares books to food, claiming that “when God did enlarge the universal diet of man’s body, saving ever the rules of Temperance, he then also, as before, left arbitrary the dieting and repasting of our minds, as wherein every mature man might have to exercise his own leading capacity” (349). Without the dietary laws of the Old Testament, men have the option to eat anything they choose, and yet their health depends on making good choices. Similarly, a man can enrich his mind with reading. But unlike food, which has either a positive or negative effect on the body based on its own set nutritional properties, a good and moral person can use a blasphemous text in a way that is positive.

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