Milton and Free Will: An Essay in Criticism and Philosophy
First published in 1987. Milton and Free Will is an incisive, ambitious and comprehensive analysis and defence of the concept of free will, using Milton as an example and exemplar. Written with passion, and out of a lifelong engagement with the poetry of Milton and the philosophical and theological problems it encompasses, the book will illuminate both Milton studies and philosophical debate. The author engages with all the major currents of the free will debate, starting with Aristotle and Aquinas and considering arguments advanced by Hume and Kant as well as those of a number of modern philosophers including Polanyi, Kenny, Parfit, Plantinga, Swinburne, Dennett and Davidson. He pays particular attention to the Marxist formalism of Bakhtin, the Catholic phenomenology of Pope John Paul II and the evolutionism of Monod and Sober. He concludes with a rebuttal of the deconstructionism of Barthes, Derrida and Foucault. He claims that all the major difficulties faced by defenders of free will can be overcome if a notion of willing implicit in the work of Milton is properly understood. Freedom as Milton represented and understood it, he suggests, is a condition of mind arising out of inter-personal awareness and not a property or consequence of practical reasoning. He finds supporting evidence for this view in the writings of Newman and in Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, which he reads as a narrative structurally reversing Milton's representation of the fall of Eve in Paradise Lost. The author systematically analyses and reanalyses key passages in his texts in the light of the many arguments for and against free will, seeking thereby to affirm the validity in principle, and the personal and political importance in practice, of the Christian humanist tradition of which he sees Milton, Newman and the Pope as important (if sometimes misleading) spokesmen.