Human Nature in Republican Tradition and Paradise Lost

William Walker
University of New South Wales

Walker, William. "Human Nature in Republican Tradition and Paradise Lost". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004) 6.1-44 <URL:>.

  1. Many critics and historians have recently come to agree that Milton’s late poetry and prose are, among other things, expressions of his “republicanism.”  Though this term is used to mean different things, its meaning in this context is commonly taken to include a commitment to a way of thinking about politics that is displayed by figures in what, in light of the work of historians of political thought such as J. G. A. Pocock, Blair Worden, and Quentin Skinner, we now think of as the republican tradition of political thought.  That is to say that the case for Milton’s republicanism commonly includes the proposition that, to one extent or another, Milton’s thinking about politics conforms in important ways with the thinking of one or more figures in a tradition of thought running from Aristotle, through ancient Romans such as Sallust, Cicero, Livy, and Seneca, and up through Renaissance Italians such as Bruni and Machiavelli.[1]

  2. Though scholars of republican political thought seldom see it as a philosophy of human nature, many recognise that an understanding of human nature serves as a crucial premise of arguments concerning forms of government, liberty, history, and virtue which are more commonly thought of as the essentials of this tradition. J. G. A. Pocock, for example, emphasises that republican tradition is grounded in a vision of man as “the zoon politikon whose nature was to rule, to act, to make decisions” and who thus found his fulfilment in citizenship (Pocock 335, 402).  Quentin Skinner claims that the negative theory of civil liberty he sees at the heart of republican tradition is grounded in a rejection of Aristotle’s understanding of  human nature as something that has specific ends or purposes (1990).  Machiavelli’s restatement of this theory of liberty is, moreover, grounded in  “his generally pessimistic view of human nature, his view that it is wisest to regard our tendency to act corruptly as ineliminable” (“Machiavelli on virtù” 177).  Taking issue with Skinner, Paul Rahe argues that “the classical republican argument, articulated by Aristotle and Cicero on the basis of their observation of Greek and Roman practice, was grounded in the conviction that the distinctive human feature is man’s capacity for moral and political rationality.” On the basis of this claim, he goes on to insist that Machiavelli must be differentiated from the classical republicans, both Greek and Roman, on grounds that he rejects this understanding of what man is (292, 305).  Though there is considerable disagreement amongst historians of political thought over what the republican view of human nature is, there is thus strong agreement that a view on this issue is a major premise in republican argumentation about politics.

  3. One thing a comprehensive argument for the view that Milton is aligned with the tradition of republican political thought would have to do, then, is to identify the republican understanding/s of human nature, and then show that Milton’s portrayal of human nature conforms with it/them.  The case for Milton’s republicanism as it currently stands does not do this.  That it could not reasonably do so becomes clear if we compare how three of the major figures in republican tradition–a Greek, a Roman, and an Italian--envision human nature with how Milton does this in his major poem, Paradise Lost (1667).  Over the course of this comparison, it will also become clear that because Milton differs from the republicans on this issue, he also differs from them on other major issues.  On the basis of these observations, we will be able to see that the current account of Milton’s republicanism (at least when it comes to his epic) is simplistic, and thereby work towards a more refined account of how this poet is related to republicanism understood as a tradition of political thought.


  4. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle understands human nature to be a “composite nature” made up of body and soul, where the soul has an irrational and a rational element (1177b28, 1178a19).  The irrational element consists of a “nutritive” or “vegetative” element and an “appetitive” element, and the rational element consists of a “scientific” (or as some translations have it, “theoretical” or “speculative”) element and a “calculative” or “practical” element (NE 1102a26-1103a).  By virtue of the scientific element, “we contemplate the kind of things whose originative causes are invariable,” while by virtue of the calculative element “we contemplate variable  things” (NE 1139a6-9; the distinction is drawn again in Politics 1333a17-25).  There are two main kinds of virtues of the soul which are defined in terms of the standing of its various elements and how they are related to each other:  the virtues of character (which Aristotle sometimes also calls the moral or practical virtues) and the virtues of intellect.  The moral virtues are those virtues Aristotle emphasises in his discussion of the virtues of citizenship: courage, justice, pride, temperance, and liberality.  He understands these moral virtues as virtues of the appetitive, desiring part of the soul which, though part of the irrational part of the soul and though sometimes resisting and opposing rational principle, yet shares in rational principle “insofar as it listens to and obeys it” (NE 1102b30-32).  Aristotle describes these moral virtues as “states of character,” where a state of character (hexis) is that “in virtue of which we stand well or badly with reference to” passions such as fear and anger, where to stand badly in reference to a passion is to feel it too weakly or too strongly, and where to stand well with reference to a passion is to "feel it moderately" (NE 1105b19-29).                                                                                                 
  5. Though we are adapted by nature to receive these states of character which constitute the moral virtues, though we have a potential or capacity (dynamis) for them, we do not possess or come to possess them by nature; we acquire them mainly by way of the repeated performance of those particular actions to which the moral virtues would dispose us (NE 1103a14-25).  Thus, “the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well.  For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts” (NE 1103a32-1103b2).  Since the repeated performance of actions of a particular kind is habitual action or produces a habit within us, “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit” (NE 1103a14-1103b-26).  Once we have these moral virtues, not only are we disposed to act in accordance with them–to act temperately, liberally, courageously, justly--but we also desire to do so and take pleasure in doing so (NE 1104b3-14).   But however strongly disposed we may feel by virtue of our virtues to perform a particular action, they never simply cause us to perform that action, and we still must always choose to perform an action in order to act virtuously.  This choosing or choice (prohairesis) that for Aristotle is an essential element of morally virtuous action is, as Nederman puts it, “the outcome of desire and intellect acting together in order to achieve an end” (“Political Animal” 291).  So crucial a capacity is this for Aristotle that he at one point identifies man with it: “choice is either desiderative reason or ratiocinative desire, and such an origin of action is a man” (NE 1139b 3-5; also NE 1112b32). 

  6. In the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle also identifies what, for human nature, constitutes “the chief good,” that for the sake of which men act.  He calls it “happiness” (eudaimonia), and explains what this is by identifying “the function (ergon) of man” on the basis of his perception of “what is peculiar to man” (NE 1097b23-34). Observing that whereas man shares with plants and animals the life of nutrition, growth, and perception, only he has “the element that has a rational principle,” Aristotle infers that the function of man is “an activity of soul which follows or implies” this principle (NE 1097b33-1098a9).  Given that i) this is the function of man, ii) the function of a good man is to perform this function well and, iii) those actions are well performed when performed in accordance with a particular excellence or virtue, Aristotle feels he can reasonably provide a more comprehensive definition of happiness or human good: “human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most complete” (NE 1097b-1098a).  Since he has identified the particular activity of soul which is to be well performed (i.e. performed in accordance with the virtues that are proper to the soul) as one that follows or implies the rational principle, Aristotle is here claiming that the good life consists in the excellent exercise of rational principle.[2]

  7. It is because “the activity of the practical virtues... [which] is exhibited in political or military affairs” (NE 1177b6-7) is in accordance with part of the rational principle in us that it can count as a fulfilment of the function or work of mankind and qualify as a happy life.  But the political life may also qualify as the means by which the human animal may fulfill specific innate and natural impulses, and reach its full development or end (telos).  For, in an extraordinarily controversial passage at the opening of the Politics, Aristotle also defines man as a “political animal” (zoon politikon) that forms political societies in order to satisfy “the bare needs of life” but that continues to exist in them “for the sake of the good life” (P 1252b27-1253a4).  In so doing, he seems to mean, as Keyt argues, “that nature endows man with a latent capacity for civic virtue (politike arete) and an impulse to live in a polis,” and that man needs to exist within political societies in order to fulfill this impulse and achieve happiness.[3]

  8. As we have seen, however, the rational principle is bipartite: besides the calculative or practical reason which, having the virtue of practical wisdom, enters into good deliberation and choice of those actions which are in accordance with the moral virtues, there is scientific reason. The particular virtues proper to scientific reason, those states of scientific reason which permit it to function well, are philosophical wisdom (sophia), intuitive knowledge, and scientific knowledge.  The objects of scientific reason, those things about which one contemplates, are necessary, eternal, invariable things, such as the gods and the heavenly bodies.  For Aristotle, not only is scientific reason, as a faculty or element, better than and superior to calculative reason, but its virtues are superior to those of calculative reason (NE 1143b33-34), and its objects are superior to those of calculative reason.  It would seem to follow that the activity of scientific reason--contemplation (theoria)[4]--is superior to that of calculative reason (which includes deliberation) and that contemplation would be closer to the life of happiness than political activity.  And, in the final book of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle does indeed argue that contemplation is “superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of virtue” (i.e. the political life which is the exercise of moral, practical virtue) and is, indeed, “perfect happiness” (NE 1177b29-30; 1177a17-18; 1178b8). 

  9. However, nowhere in the Politics does Aristotle so explicitly and comprehensively subordinate the life of the citizen and statesman (lived in accordance with the moral virtues) to the life of the philosopher (lived in accordance with the moral virtues and the virtues of both scientific and speculative reason) as he does in the celebrated passage in Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics.  Indeed, the explicit discussion of the relation between the two lives at the opening of Book VII of the Politics is inconclusive.  Moreover, in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle still claims that “man is born for citizenship” (NE 1097b12) and that “man is a political creature and one whose nature is to live with others” (NE 1169b18-19).  In Books VIII and IX, he emphasises that these others must include friends, for “the supremely happy man will need [virtuous] friends” (NE 1170a1-3).  And even in Book X, there is some question as to the appropriateness and feasibility of the life of contemplation for humans: while it may be proper for the gods, the life of contemplation is “too high for man” and “our nature is not self-sufficient for the purpose of contemplation” (NE 1177b26; 1178b33-35).

  10. As he presents what he refers to as “our philosophy of human nature” (NE 1181b15) over the course of the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle is thus ambivalent, if not simply inconsistent, on precisely how the contemplative life and the political life are related to each other, human nature, and happiness, and this is one reason why there has been such extensive controversy over his treatment of this issue.  But it is at least clear that, while sometimes wanting to grant some kind of priority to the contemplative life, Aristotle sees both the political life and the contemplative life as forms of human action that are in accordance with the best part of man’s composite nature--reason.  As such, both qualify as fulfilments of the function man has by nature and as forms of the happy life, though the political life will perhaps be happy only “in a secondary degree” (NE 1178a8).


  11. In his major philosophical writings, Cicero, too, presents an account of human nature which serves as the foundation for many of his propositions about human fulfilment and the political life.  In The Laws, for example, he deduces “the nature of justice” from his account of “the nature of man” according to which only man shares the capacity to reason with the gods, and only he is therefore a member of that “single community shared by gods and men” which is subject to the law of nature (1.23).  Because Cicero understands all humans to be endowed with reason which allows them to recognise and obey this natural law which is the criterion of justice for both gods and men, he feels that we all have a particular purpose in life: “we are born for justice” (Laws 1.28).  By this he means that “we have been made by nature to share justice amongst ourselves and to impart it to one another,” and that “we are born to join a fellowship of citizens” (Laws 1.33; 1.62).  Though, as Nederman observes, Cicero sometimes speaks of this capacity to form and join in fellowships as something that is rather passive which requires “an external stimulus,” such as a wise orator, “to awaken and invigorate it” (Medieval Aristotelianism 9), Cicero also indicates that human nature has an inborn desire and impulse to exercise reason and to behave in a way which is consistent with it and natural law: in the opening of the remaining pages of The Republic, for example, he claims that “nature has given to mankind such a compulsion to do good, and such a desire to defend the well-being of the community, that this force prevails over all the temptations of pleasure and ease” (Rep 1.1).  “We are led by a powerful urge,” he writes as he continues to recommend the political life, “to increase the wealth of the human race; we are keen to make men’s lives safer and richer by our policies and efforts; we are spurred on by nature herself to fulfill this purpose” (Rep 1.3).  In addition to this, men have a “sense of shame–that dread, as it were, of justified rebuke which nature has imparted to man” (Rep 5.6; see also Of Duties 1.126-27). Cicero thus postulates the purpose or end of human nature on the basis of his observation of both a capacity to reason which is peculiar to humans, and a powerful inborn desire and urge in man to exercise that capacity through the formation of communities and the administration of justice within them.  Finally, Cicero also makes clear in these works that at the heart of this political activity are forms of speech and eloquence (Laws 1.62; Of Duties 1.50; 1.107; 3.23)[5]

  12. Given that mankind is born for justice, where this means being born with powerful urges to exercise reason through speech in order to administer justice within a human community, it follows that mankind can fulfill itself and live the good life only by being a member of and participating in some kind of community.  Since “all are held together by a natural goodwill and kindliness and also by a fellowship in justice” (Laws 1.35), since every human is really a “citizen of the whole world as though it were a single city” (Laws 1.61), it might seem that humans do not really need to be members of any more limited political communities, such as man-made states, in order to fulfill themselves.  But Cicero claims that participation in this universal community of all rational agents which is under the law of nature is insufficient to satisfy the human socio-political instinct.  As he says in The Republic, human beings also have an “innate desire” to form communities bound by legal consent and community of interest (1.39).  In order to fulfill themselves, men must therefore participate in smaller communities bound by laws of their own making, but where these laws still conform with the law of nature which is the natural criterion of all justice.  As Scipio puts it later in the dialogue,  “the good life is impossible without a good state; and there is no greater blessing than a well-ordered state” (Rep 5.7; see also 4.3).   And it is because this is the case that Cicero also commonly claims that of all forms of community, our country should have the first place in our affections (Rep 2.5; Duties 1.57).

  13. Creating and administering a  state is not only the means of fulfilling our natural impulses and achieving the good life, but also the means of pleasing the gods and achieving eternal happiness in the after-life.  Early in The Republic, Cicero claims that there is no “occupation which brings human excellence closer to divine power than founding new states and preserving those already founded” (Rep 1.12).  In so doing, he differs sharply from Aristotle who in the final book of the Nicomachean Ethics identifies contemplation as that activity which brings humans closest to the gods (NE 1177b26-1178b31).  Scipio’s adoptive grandfather, Scipio Africanus the elder, further distances the work from Aristotle when he appears to Scipio in a dream and informs him that “for everyone who has saved and served his country and helped it to grow, a sure place is set aside in heaven where he may enjoy a life of eternal bliss” (Rep 6.13; also 6.16).  Doing what it was born to do, then, the human animal not only fulfills its nature and achieves the good life, but also assures its soul of eternal bliss once it has “escaped from the fetters of the body as though from prison” (Rep 6.14).  On the other hand, those who fail to act politically deny their nature, fail to fulfill themselves, and suffer various forms of punishment (Rep 3.33; 6.29).   
  14. Cicero thus does not share the vision of man, occasionally affirmed by Aristotle, as an animal that achieves perfect happiness only in contemplation.  Because Cicero ranks the political life above the contemplative life, Cicero, as Nederman observes, is more emphatic concerning the importance of the exercise of speech in the form of eloquence than Aristotle is (Medieval Aristotelianism).  While Aristotle explicitly asserts the importance of speech to the life of the statesman (P 1253a7-17), there would appear to be little place for it in the contemplative life.  And he seems to be more skeptical than Cicero is concerning the power of “arguments” to make people virtuous (NE 1179b-1180a).  There is, in addition, nothing in Aristotle’s ethical and political writings approximating Cicero’s view that one of the reasons living the life of the statesman and citizen is valuable and important is that it is a means of achieving bliss in the afterlife.

  15. These important differences should not, however, prevent us from seeing how the Greek and the Roman agree on basic issues.  Both assert that the human animal has a composite nature (of body and soul), though Cicero’s dualistic interpretation of it differs from Aristotle’s.  Both see reason as a crucial element of the soul, an element which sets it apart from the animals.   Both assert that humans, by virtue of their nature, have special abilities to reason and to speak, and inborn urges to exercise those abilities within socio-political communities.  Both define the end or purpose of human nature in terms of the exercise and development of these inborn abilities and urges, and both understand human flourishing and perfection in terms of the achievement of this end.  Both think of human virtue basically in terms of the rule of reason over passion and appetite, and both see virtue understood in this way as a precondition of human fulfilment.  Though both see human nature as being moved by an impulse to live as members of a political society, they tend not to see the virtue that is required to do this well as being natural, but as something that must be instilled and sustained through education and civil law.  Both think of statesmanship as, if not the, than at least a principal way humans may exercise their reason, live the life of virtue, and fulfil the purposes they have by nature.[6]  


  16. Though in the preface to the Discourses Machiavelli confesses to be “filled with astonishment and grief” by the fact that “the highly virtuous actions” performed by the ancients are now shunned and that “of the virtue of bygone days there remains no trace,” he nevertheless commonly asserts that humanity has remained the same over time, as has the general order of things in which it exists (98).  Near the end of the work, for example, he agrees with those prudent men who claim that “men have, and always have had, the same passions, whence it necessarily comes about that the same effects are produced” (517; see also 98-99, 142, 207, 266).  The indication here that Machiavelli is inclined to think of the unchanging human agent mainly in terms of passion and desire is confirmed throughout the work by explicit descriptions of how man by nature desires (200, 216, 268), and descriptions of both men and women being driven and motived by the passions of love, fear, and envy (97, 463, 485, 487), and the desires to rule (which he sometimes calls “ambition”) and to seek vengeance (116, 395, 404, 425, 427, 441, 524-25).  On occasion he explicitly equates these passions and desires with “the force of nature” which cannot be resisted (430-31; 464).        

  17. Machiavelli sometimes associates these passions and desires which are inherent to human nature with vice and corruption and immoral, blameworthy, wicked, and dishonourable conduct.  Thus, he refers to men who, “less virtuous” than Themistocles, “let themselves be swayed by their desires and their passions” (377), and urges  all legislators “to be all the more ready to restrain human appetites and to deprive them of all hope of doing wrong with impunity” (217).  And on a number of occasions he strongly urges that those unchanging passions and desires which constitute human nature lead to a kind of “mental blindness” which prevent men from seeing things as they are and following courses of action which would allow them to achieve their goals (404, 410, 427, 429, 524-25).  That Machiavelli understands human nature in terms of passion and desire and often associates them with evil and failure, has lead Rahe and others to find an Augustinian strain in his writing (302).  And Machiavelli does indeed claim that “in constituting and legislating for a commonwealth it needs be taken for granted that all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers” (112).  But he also claims and implies that the passions and desires which he sees as defining human nature are in fact the products of various aspects of the human condition and that they may thus change and take on different configurations in different people.  Thus, the affair of the Decemviri shows how easily men are corrupted and “in nature become transformed, however good they may be and however well taught” (217).  Though “nature” has made the French ardent at the beginning of a fight and weak at the end, “it does not follow from this that the nature which makes them ardent at the start could not be so regulated by rules as to keep them ardent right up to the end” (503).  The envy which is supposedly inherent to man’s nature in fact “may be got rid of” (485).  And though there may be a nature common to all, yet different men may have different “natures,” as the difference between Manlius Torquatus and Valerius Corvinus  makes clear (467-68). 

  18. More importantly, perhaps following an Aristotelian metaphorical locution (P 1318b9; 1326a1-5), Machiavelli on several occasions refers to the populace of a particular political society as “matter” and “material” which, depending upon how it is treated and worked upon, is “good” and “virtuous” or “bad” and “corrupt” (154, 159, 246, 428-29).  This way of speaking about people is confirmed by the way Machiavelli continually distinguishes between the early days of the Roman republic “when men were good,” and the later days when “men have become bad” (160-61).  It is further confirmed by his claim that “anyone seeking to establish a republic at the present time would find it easier to do so among uncultured men of the mountains than among dwellers in cities where civilization is corrupt; just as a sculptor will more easily carve a beautiful statue from rough marble than from marble already spoiled by a bungling workman” (141).  Drawing such an analogy, Machiavelli suggests that he does not think there is anything wrong with man; the problem is with what educators and statesmen usually make of him.

  19. Indeed, Machiavelli explicitly takes issue with those who, postulating an inherently wicked human nature, proceed to explain events in terms of it and thereby evade taking responsibility for their own part in them.  Thus he chastises those who account for the extraordinarily wicked conduct of the people of the Romagna before Pope Alexander VI got rid of the lords who ruled it by way of wicked human nature: “it was the wickedness of the princes that gave rise to this, not the wicked nature of man” (483).  While Machiavelli does not here say that man is not wicked, he does reject the postulate of natural human depravity as an explanation of what happened here, and insists that “it was the prince who was responsible” for the “evils” in the Romagna (483).  This kind of argument, which is also in The Prince and which likely owes something to the opening of the The War with Jugurtha where Sallust condemns those who blame human nature for their own failings (1.1-4), becomes quite pronounced in the final sections of the Discourses, where Machiavelli emphasises that the “nature” of individuals, soldiers, families, and peoples is a product of  education,  rules, customs, institutions, and ways of life.  Because the passions and desires that constitute the “nature” of men are not in fact inherent to them but are products of how they are educated, trained, brought up, and ruled, because human nature is highly imitative and malleable, Machiavelli strongly asserts, those princes and republics whose soldiers and citizens have a corrupt nature have only themselves to blame.

  20. Finally, though Machiavelli occasionally associates the passions and desires with vice and contrasts them with some kind of mental vision, reason, conceived as an independent element of human nature which vies with passion and appetite for authority over the soul and which, having won the battle, makes it virtuous, makes no appearance in the The Prince or the Discourses.  And the passions and desires, not to mention the beasts with which man shares them, have much more positive associations with drive, energy, greatness, and even virtue in Machiavelli than they do in the ancients--Cicero criticises those who take after the lion and the fox, while Machiavelli praises them, though Machiavelli still draws a distinction between their natures.[7]  This of course means that Machiavelli also abandons the Aristotelian and Ciceronian view that, in large part by virtue of the rational principle which distinguishes man from the beasts and allows him to reason and speak eloquently, mankind reaches its full development and fulfills itself only through active engagement in political life and/or contemplation.  As Rahe, puts it, Machiavelli’s “republicanism is, in fact, grounded upon the conviction that all talk of natural human ends is nonsense” (293).  Humans may thus not know the fulfilment of natural ends, but only of the desires and passions which happen to form within them, and though Machiavelli regards some of these desires and passions as being base, he is far from thinking man naturally depraved for being a creature that is possessed and driven by them.

  21. Machiavelli thus does not share Augustine’s overwhelming sense of the depravity of human nature, but is pessimistic about what men usually become as a result of the conditions under which they live–it is not an untouched block of marble, but one that has been botched that is difficult to turn into a beautiful statue.  One must take for granted that all men are wicked, that is, not because that is what they are from the start, or because that is what they are powerfully disposed to become, but because that is what they almost always have become as a result of their upbringing (though he also concedes that, like all things of this world, man is inclined to deterioration over time).  Emphasizing that the same passions and desires have animated mankind over millenia, and that the particular configuration of those passions and desires is usually a mode of vice or corruption, Machiavelli also asserts that the essential, unchanging being of humanity is a rather amoral, malleable, imitative life-form which, by virtue of a way of life, becomes a structure of passion and desire which may be a good or a bad “nature.”


  22. Unlike all of the authors we have been considering, Milton in Paradise Lost (and elsewhere) thinks of mankind as the product of a deliberate act of creation performed by a beneficent and omnipotent deity, an act that is recounted, mainly on the basis of Genesis, in some detail by Raphael in Book VII and Adam in Book VIII.  These accounts, and the numerous other references to God’s act of creating man and the world over the course of the poem, make clear that God did not simply make man, but that he made him to do certain things, and for a particular way of life.  This is suggested early in the poem by the Son when, speaking to God, he presumes that God will not abolish the entire “Creation” (which includes mankind) and unmake for Satan “what for thy glory thou hast made” (III, 163-64).  That God makes man in particular for and to is confirmed by Raphael in Book VII where he prefaces his account of God’s creation of man with the observation that mankind was to be the “Master work” which
    With Sanctity of Reason, might erect
    His Stature, and upright with Front serene
    Govern the rest, self-knowing, and from thence
    Magnanimous to correspond with Heav’n,
    But grateful to acknowledge whence his good   
    Descends, thither with heart and voice and eyes
    Directed in Devotion, to adore
    And worship God Supreme who made him chief
    Of all his works. (VII, 507-16)
    Raphael here indicates that God does not just happen to endow man with reason, but that he does so so that he can do things God wishes him to do, such as govern the animals, and acknowledge, adore, and worship God (see also XI, 339).  That God does indeed create man to do things such as adore and glorify him, but also to produce other humans who do this as well, is confirmed by the angels immediately after the creation when they observe that God created man in his image “to dwell [on earth] / And worship him,” and to “multiply a race of worshippers / Holy and just” (VII, 627-31).  As Uriel explains to the disguised Satan earlier in the poem, God made man to serve him, indeed, “to serve him better” than the fallen angels did (III, 679).  And as the narrator, describing Adam and Eve in paradise, explains,
    For contemplation hee and valor [was] form’d,
    For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace,
    Hee for God only, shee for God in him. (IV, 297-99)                                             
    In Book IX, responding to Eve’s suggestion that they work alone, Adam observes that “not to irksome toil, but to delight / He made us, and delight to Reason joined” (IX, 242-43).  After the fall, the Son confirms several of these claims: Eve was “Adorn’d...  And lovely to attract” Adam’s love, but not his subjection; she was made “for” Adam, whose “part / And person” was to bear rule (X, 149-56).  Finally, in his terrible lament after the fall, Adam must face the fact that he failed to do what he knows God made him to do: “God made thee of choice his own, and of his own / To serve him, thy reward was of his grace” (X, 766-67).

  23. These assertions that God made man for and to have two major meanings, the first of which is that God made him with the will and intention that he do certain things and exist for the sake of certain things.  One of the deepest assumptions of the poem and the unfallen characters in it is that because God made man in this way, human nature has an end or purpose: it is to do the things God wills it to do, to live in the way God intended it to live when he created it and as he continues to sustain it over time.  From one perspective, it may appear that this purpose is manifold, since, in making and sustaining human nature, God wills and intends that it do all kinds of things: besides worshipping, acknowledging, extolling, praising, thanking, and adoring him, mankind is to multiply; to govern their appetites; to subdue and possess the earth and all its creatures; to do the work of body and mind God appoints for it (IV, 618); to be happy and blissful (IV, 726); to love each other (conjugal love is “not the lowest end of human life” (IX, 241); to use and admire the world God framed for him (IV, 691-92); to eat freely of all fruits of paradise (VIII, 322); and to abstain from the tree of knowledge (to “persevere” in not eating of its fruit, as Raphael puts it).  In addition, the poem makes clear that God has distinct purposes in mind for Adam  and Eve: Adam is to contemplate and govern Eve, who is to obey and solace Adam, take care of domestic good, cultivate her grace and softness, and bear children.  From another perspective, however, there is really only one purpose or end of human nature, since all of these activities are the same in the sense that they are all activities willed by God.  As the narrator elliptically puts it summing up the creation, God is the “Author and end of all things” (VII, 591).  Adam confirms this, and partly explains what it means for this to be the case when, thanking Raphael for revealing to him the war in heaven and forewarning him, he claims to receive God’s admonishment “with solemn purpose to observe / Immutably his sovran will, the end / Of what we are” (VII, 78-79).  God being the end of man, man’s end or purpose is to do his will.

  24. It would have been possible for God to have made human nature in such a way that it was constrained to do or not to do what he made it to do.  But God did not do this, and the poem is most emphatic on this point.  God made human nature in such a way that it was capable of both performing the “voluntary service he [God] requires” (V, 529) and not performing it.  For as God himself observes,
    I form’d them free, and free they must remain,
    Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change 

    Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree

    Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain’d

    Their freedom. (III, 124-28)
    Raphael later confirms this crucial point: God “ordain’d thy will / By nature free, not over-rul’d by Fate / Inextricable, or strict necessity” (V, 526-28).  Having ordained that human nature be free in the sense of not being subject to the force of fate and necessity, it is free in this sense, and it is not constrained in any way that would prevent it from voluntarily and happily performing the service God requires.  But being free to serve God, man is also free not to serve him (III, 103-111). 

  25. In these passages, Raphael and God make clear that the freedom of unfallen human nature is a freedom from external forces such as fate, necessity, and God himself, but they and several other characters indicate that human nature is free from the force of other elements as well: it is free, or capable of being free, from the force of appetite and passion which do, however, have the potential to “overrule,” “govern,” and “enthral” him.  God makes this clear when he observes that, as a result of the fall, man’s “lapsed powers” are “forfeit and enthrall’d / By sin to foul exorbitant desires” (III, 176-77 ) with the result that he is in a “sinful state” (III, 186).  Raphael of course attempts to prevent this from happening by telling Adam to “govern well thy appetite” (VII, 546), and warning him to “take heed lest Passion sway / Thy Judgment to do aught, which else free Will / Would not admit” (VIII, 635-37).  Adam explains to Eve that being free from appetite and passion in this way is a matter of making sure that reason, rather than appetite and passion, governs the will: “God left free the Will, for what obeys / Reason, is free, and Reason he made right“ (IX, 351-52).  After the fall, we learn that prelapsarian human nature was indeed free in the sense that the will was ruled by reason and understanding, rather than “sensual appetite” (IX, 1123-31; also XII, 83-85).  Unfallen human nature, then, is free in the sense that it is free from forces that are external to it (such as necessity and fate) and forces that are internal to it (such as passion and appetite) to fulfil his purpose, which is to serve God out of the proper care for him.  Man is capable of the voluntary service which is his end because God made human nature free.[8]

  26. It would also have been possible for God, being omnipotent, to have made human nature and its world in such a way that, though free to do what God intended him to do, it could only do so with great difficulty or even pain.  This might seem an idle speculation, but there is one point at which Adam himself feels that this is in fact so: to continue to obey God in the face of Eve’s disobedience, Adam feels he must endure great pain.  Indeed, he feels that “the link of Nature” and “the Bond of Nature” (IX, 914, 956) draw him not to persist in  obedience, but to share in Eve’s disobedience.  But though this episode may show that there may arise situations in which fulfilling his purpose may involve pain and loss, such situations seldom arise.  They seldom arise because God makes man for and to not just in the sense that he makes him with the intention and will that he do certain things, but in the sense that he makes him in such a way that, at least in most situations, he can efficiently perform with ease and even delight the things God wills him to do.  This is the point Adam makes when, concerning the act of persevering in not eating of the forbidden tree, he observes, “Let us not think hard / One easy prohibition, who enjoy / Free leave so large to all things else” (IV, 432).  He and Eve proceed to observe how easy and delightful it is for them to do all the other things--such as working, loving, mating, worshipping, praying, conversing–they rightly feel God intends them to do.  As even Satan must confess to himself, that for which God made the angels--“his service”--is not “hard” (IV, 45).  Human nature is thus not only free to fulfill or not to fulfill its purpose, but it is made in such a way that, should it choose to do so, it can do so well, easily and in a way which is delightful and beneficial to it.

  27. Human nature is, moreover, disposed in and of itself and independently of experience to fulfill its end, though Adam and Eve also display what, in relation to their end, are some wayward dispositions.  Eve, for example, displays an inclination towards narcissism which Adam opposes by seizing her hand and reasonably pleading with her (IV, 465-91; VIII, 510).  Adam, on the other hand, as he confesses to Raphael, is somewhat disposed to overvalue Eve, to give himself over to the passions and desires she produces in him, to submit to her (VIII, 521-559).  Though, as Raphael claims, “Nature... hath done her part” (VIII, 561), Adam seems to display some natural disposition to uxoriousness and even idolatry.  But it is hardly the case that Adam drags Eve kicking and screaming to the nuptial bower, or that they drag themselves out of their rose-petal bed each day to rule the pesky animal kingdom.  On the contrary, Adam and Eve commonly display an alacrity in relation to their ends, they harbor many strong dispositions and instincts which, though not causing them to fulfill their end, clearly incline them to move in that direction and render moving in that direction pleasant to them.  If virtue is thought of in terms of dispositions or qualities of character which incline one to fulfill one’s end, we can say that unfallen human nature is by nature virtuous.

  28. Human nature, then, has an end in the sense of a purpose, and this end derives primarily from the fact that God made and sustains it with a particular will and intention.  This end  is freely to serve God out of care for him, and human nature is free to achieve or not to achieve this end.  But God made it in such a way that it is virtuous, disposed and inclined in and of itself to achieve its end, and should it choose to do so, it can easily do so well and with delight.  In addition, since acting freely is, according to Adam, God, Raphael, and Michael, a matter of exercising the will in accordance with reason (rather than passion and appetite), and since the end of man is an ongoing act of freely chosen service, man’s fulfilment of his nature is grounded in the exercise of reason.  That is to say that man cannot achieve his end of properly serving God unless his reason dictates to his will.  The moment reason ceases to dictate to the will, the moment the will is directed by nothing (if that is possible), or anything but reason, it loses its freedom, and having lost its freedom, it is incapable of choosing to serve God and freely serving him.   All of this follows from the fact that, as God puts it in a rather Aristotelian-sounding formulation, “reason is but choosing,” or, as Michael puts it, “true Liberty...  always with right Reason dwells / Twinn’d, and from her hath no dividual being” (XII, 83-85).  It is thus not the case, as Stanley Fish has argued, that Milton understands man to achieve his end of serving God on the basis of faith, where faith is belief or will that are entirely independent of reason.[9]  Were man to serve God out of faith as opposed to reason, his service would not be free, and if it were not free, it would not count as service.

  29. According to Milton, the consequences of achieving this end are first of all, continued happiness for himself and his progeny.  That is to say that what the poem refers to as “happiness” is not, as it is for Aristotle, “that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else” (NE 1097a35-36), but only a consequence or even reward of man’s achieving his end, which is to serve God voluntarily and in the spirit of gratitude and love of him.  Thus, as Adam tells Raphael, God informed him that the “bitter consequence” of not observing his will would be the loss of “this happy State,” and Raphael informs him that he owes his continued happiness to himself, to his “obedience” (V, 521-22).  A further consequence of man’s achieving his end is immortality and innocence for himself and his progeny.  And though man is granted dominion over the animals, the angels indicate that this rule, too, is really the result, the “reward,” of man’s dwelling on earth and worshipping God (VII, 628).  There are several indications that further things would have followed upon man’s continued fulfilment of his end.  First, God has promised them that, if they obey him, they shall give birth to an innocent and immortal progeny who, besides worshipping God, will help them do the work in the garden, work which on their own Adam and Eve cannot adequately perform.  Second, after informing Adam and Eve that they must leave paradise, Michael speculates that had he stood, Adam might have remained there, his “Capital Seat,” and known the pleasure of receiving all generations who would have come “to celebrate / And reverence thee their great Progenitor” (XI, 342-46).  It also seems that, standing, Adam and Eve would have found their nature gradually to have become the purely spiritual and superior nature of angels (V, 495-510).  Indeed, commenting on Raphael’s account of how this may occur, Adam observes that “in contemplation of created things / By steps we may ascend to God” (V, 511-512). Moreover, “under long obedience tri’d,” Adam and Eve and their unfallen progeny might eventually “open to themselves at length the way” to heaven, “And Earth be chang’d to Heav’n, and Heav’n to Earth, / One Kingdom, Joy and Union without end” (VII, 157-61). The consequences of failing to achieve his end are made clear in the final books of the poem.

  30. For the purposes of assessing Milton’s relationship with classical republicanism, it is important to note that in defining the end of human nature and the consequences of its fulfilment in this way, Milton grants virtually no importance to the life of citizenship and statesmanship which is so central to the ends of human nature as Aristotle and Cicero understand them.  There is, first of all, no indication in the poem that God made man for political society in the sense that he made him with the intention and will that, once there were sufficient numbers of humans, they would exercise civic virtue in a Greek polis, a Roman republic, an Italian city-state, or an early-modern European nation-state.  Certainly, God grants man dominion over the earth and wills that he subdue and rule over it, and he grants Adam authority and rule over Eve.  Unfallen mankind, moreover, may be said to exist within a hierarchical cosmic order subject to a law, similar to that imagined by Cicero.  But none of this means that Adam and Eve are subjects or citizens existing within what either the ancients or Milton would have thought of as a political society.  The society of Adam and Eve is essentially a domestic, familial society, an oikos rather than a polis, and all indications are that, as long as they had stood, it would have remained as such, regardless of how many children they had.  Adam’s generations would have returned to paradise to revere not their lord, king, consuls, nobles, senators, ephors, guardians, tribunes, ministers, podesta, or rulers, but their father, their “progenitor,” and while for seventeenth-century patriarchalists such as Robert Filmer fathers were lords by virtue of being fathers, Milton shows no inclination to think so either in his epic or elsewhere.  The implication is that the life of the citizen and statesman is not the life God intended man to live, not when there were two living in blissful solitude, not when there would have been enough humans to take care of all the work in the garden, not when there would have been a human race “to fill the Earth” (IV, 733).  And though it might be argued that Adam and Eve are made in such a way that they are capable of performing the tasks of citizens and statesmen well as the ancients understood them, there is no indication that they have been endowed with an impulse or desire to live and exercise civic virtue within political society.  Neither is there any indication that Adam and Eve and their race need a political society in order to fulfill and perfect themselves, as Aristotle and Cicero say humans do.  Indeed, once Adam and Eve are married, they exist in “blissful solitude,” as though, excepting the fact that they can not quite keep the garden in order, their domestic society has the self-sufficiency which Aristotle ascribes only to states.  Because Adam and Eve neither have any natural impulse to form nor need a political society, neither they, nor God, nor the angels see a future in politics for prelapsarian man.

  31. Adam, however, is formed for “contemplation,” and it is difficult here, and in many other passages where Milton uses terms which were standardly used to translate key terms in Aristotle, not to feel an allusion to the Greek philosopher Milton so commonly cites in his political prose.  But in Paradise Lost, Milton rarely uses terms standardly used to translate key terms in pagan republican texts to mean what the pagans used those key terms to mean, and his usage of “contemplation” is no exception.  First of all, the contemplation that is proper for man is in no way incompatible, as it would be for Aristotle, with the “work of body” that is also appointed by God for him.  In addition, Raphael gently rebukes Adam for wondering about the heavenly bodies and “Ent’ring on studious thoughts abstruse” (VIII, 40).  Informing him that “Heav’n is for thee too high,” Raphael instructs him to be “lowly wise” and to “think only what concerns thee and thy being.”  In so doing, Raphael seems to direct Adam away from the Aristotelian conception of contemplation as an exercise of speculative rather than practical reason which is grounded in the intellectual virtue of philosophical rather than practical wisdom, and which aims at knowing and understanding, among other things, the heavenly bodies.  Learning his lesson, Adam understands that “the prime Wisdom” is “not to know at large of things remote / From use, obscure and subtle, but to know / That which before us lies in daily life” (VIII, 191-94).  Having learned this, Adam may well contemplate with ease and delight in the way God intended him to, but as a mode of consideration which will not be directed to “things remote from use,” his contemplation will be different in important ways from the activity of Aristotle’s philosopher.


  32. Whereas all of the republicans think of human nature as having remained essentially the same over the course of its entire existence, Milton sees it as having existed in two radically different states which are separated from each other by an act performed by the first two human beings.  As a chosen, voluntary violation of God’s will, as a violation of what God made man for, that act is in God’s eye a “revolt” (III, 117),  “Treason” (III, 207), a “crime” (III, 215, 290) for which a “penalty” or “ransom” must be paid in order for justice to be served.  Demanding that justice be served, that is, God wills that man pay for his crime.  God indicates at the opening of Book III that he will accept two kinds of payment: proclaiming “Die he or Justice must” (III, 210), he indicates that he shall deem justice to have been served by the immediate and total annihilation of mankind.  But he adds that he would also deem the death of a just and loving mortal as adequate “satisfaction, death for death” (III, 212).  Observing this second possibility, the Son presents himself as “a sacrifice / Glad to be offer’d,” one who, out of filial obedience and love for man, will satisfy God’s justice by paying “the deadly forfeiture, and ransom set” (III, 220).  This, however, does not let man off the hook–justice will die unless he, too, pays a penalty.  For as the Son observes to God in Book X, in sacrificing himself for love of man, the Son can only “mitigate” and not “reverse” the doom of man, which is “Death” (X, 76; XI, 40-41).  Man, too, must die, not in the sense that he and his progeny be permanently wiped from the face of the earth, but in the sense that every individual human perish after many days.  This death, moreover, will terminate an existence which is to be one of misery, pain, and sorrow: expressing God’s will by way of his judgment and sentence on fallen mankind, the Son observes that until they “to dust return,” Adam and Eve will live, work, and multiply in “sorrow” (X, 193-208).  As God puts it in his official decree to the angels, now that man has fallen, he wills that he leave the garden, “to Till / The Ground whence he was taken, fitter soil” (XI, 97-98; my emphasis).  Willing, as always, that justice live, God thus wills that man’s existence be one of “woe” (XI, 60) terminated by death.  Adam understands: “dust,” he says to Eve, is now their “final rest and native home” (X, 1084-85).  The end of fallen human nature (what God wills for it) in this world is now the end of human nature (its dissolution and death).

  33. This end differs in two important ways from the end of unfallen man.  First, it is not so much a form of choosing and acting as it is a form of suffering and enduring.  Certainly, man is to work and to multiply.  But willing that man experience sorrow and die, God wills not that man freely, voluntarily do or perform in some way, but essentially that he be subject to various forces and processes.  Second, this end is imposed upon him, regardless of what he wishes, thinks, chooses, or wills.  Whereas before the fall man is free to fulfill or not to fulfill his end as determined by God’s will, after the fall he is not.  For after the fall, human nature is forced, both by what it is in and of itself and by various agents such as the Son and Michael, to experience and do at least part of what God wills for it:  Michael and paradise force Adam and Eve from paradise; having been expelled, Adam and Eve, at least as long as they choose to live, have no choice but to till the soil in a harsh clime; they cannot avoid suffering in the new world; they can do nothing to evade their own dissolution.  “Justice shall not return as bounty scorned” (X, 54), God asserts in one of the hardest lines of the poem, because man is not free to scorn God’s justice as he was free to scorn his bounty. 

  34. Just as unfallen human nature is well suited to do that which God wills for it, so fallen nature is as well.  But whereas unfallen human nature is well suited in this respect because God framed it in a particular way, unfallen nature is well-suited for the existence God wills it to have because of what it becomes as a result of its having committed “the mortal sin original” (IX, 1003).  That is to say that whereas God intervenes through his angels to reframe the natural world in such a way as to make it a suitable environment for sweat and sorrow (X, 648-714), he does not intervene immediately after the fall to recreate man in such a way that he will be suited for the new life of sorrow ending in dust God now has in mind for him.  Rather, human nature becomes this kind of thing on its own as a result of what it does.  Thus, in Book IX, having disobeyed, Adam and Eve burn in lust, gratify that lust, sleep, and awaken to find themselves entirely changed.  That the narrator does not identify God as being in any way involved in this process is only to be expected since, as God himself earlier insists, “they enthrall themselves” (III, 125).  Immediately after the fall, however, a crucial dimension of human nature is up for grabs, and God must act in order to prevent man from doing something which would result in his having a nature unsuited to his new ends, and which would prevent justice from being done:            
    Lest therefore his now bolder hand   
    Reach also of the Tree of Life, and eat,
    And live for ever, dream at least to live
    For ever, to remove him I decree.  (XI, 93-96)
    Though God later says that it was he who “provided Death” (XI, 61), he here indicates that the act of committing the crime on its own is sufficient to cause human nature to change from being immortal to being mortal.  But in order to keep it that way, God decrees that man be banished from paradise and so denied the opportunity to make itself immortal once again by eating of the Tree of Life.  
  35. The reason that this fallen human nature is suited for paying the penalty for its crime as God wills is that it is “manifold in sin,” (X, 16), “corrupt,” and “depraved.”  For by virtue of being corrupt, sinful, and depraved, human nature is subject to processes of decay leading to death.  “Dissolution” is, as God observes, “wrought by Sin, that first / Distemper’d all things, and of incorrupt / Corrupted” (XI, 55-57 ).  Sin makes the point when she instructs Death to feast on the plants and animals “Till I in Man residing through the Race, / His thoughts, his looks, words, actions all infect, / And season him thy last and sweetest prey” (X, 607-609).  Manifold in sin, seasoned and infected by it, that is, man is now something which left to itself in its world decays until it dies–his life has become “a slow-pac’t evil, / A long day’s dying,” as Adam observes (X, 963-64).  But besides qualifying him for the death God intends for him, what Michael calls man’s “natural pravity” (XII, 288) also qualifies him well for the misery, pain, sorrow, and sweat which God wills him to experience before that end.  First of all, this natural pravity is repellent to the ideal environment of paradise: even had God not evicted him from paradise, the “pure immortal Elements” there would in accordance with “the Law of Nature” have forced him out, since they “eject him tainted now, and purge him off / As a distemper” (IX, 52-53).[10]  The only environment which is now suitable for corrupted mankind is the corrupt, harsh natural environment which is brought about by his own sin and God’s decree.  In addition,  the very processes of dissolution that lead to death will in many cases be a source of terrible pain and suffering, as Michael demonstrates in Book XI.  It is, moreover, clear from Book IX onwards that simply existing in a “sinful state” (III, 186) is painful to humans: though they both feel intoxicated immediately after eating, and take “thir fill of Love and Love’s disport,” Adam and Eve awaken to find that they are “destitute and bare / Of all thir virtue” (IX, 1062-63).  Having lost honor, innocence, faith, purity, confidence, and righteousness, they are overwhelmed by the sense of shame and feel “confounded” and “abasht” (IX, 1054-1066).  They have in addition, as we have already seen, lost their peace of mind, for they are now subject to terrible passions (IX, 1122-1131).  Despoiled of all their good, the first fallen humans are, in short, “miserable” (IX, 1139), which is precisely what God, demanding that they be justly punished for their crime against him, wants them to be.

  36. Being manifold in sin further suits and qualifies fallen human nature to fulfill its end because it amounts to a loss of inner freedom.  For being in a sinful state, or being “distempered” as the narrator and God also put it (IX, 1131, 887; XI, 65; XII, 50), means that passion and appetite have displaced reason as governor of the will, and, as we have seen, the poem asserts that any agent whose will is dictated by passion and desire rather than reason is not free.  Observing at the end of Book IX that as a result of the fall the will is subject to sensual appetite rather than reason, the narrator confirms God’s earlier claim that man enthrals himself, and that man’s “lapsed powers” are “forfeit and enthrall’d / By sin to foul exorbitant desires” (III, 125, 176-77 ).  In disobeying God, Michael informs Adam, “themselves they vilifi’d / to serve ungovern’d appetite” (XI, 516-17).  That servitude, he later indicates, is not a punctual action, but a permanent condition:

    Since thy original lapse, true Liberty 
    Is lost, which always with right Reason dwells
    Twinn’d, and from her hath no dividual being;
    Reason in man obscur’d, or not obey’d,
    Immediately inordinate desires
    And upstart Passions catch the Government
    From Reason, and to servitude reduce
    Man till then free. (XII, 83-90)

    Having lost inner freedom, man is now incapable of not just freely serving God as he was created to do, but, strictly speaking, of freely doing anything, since you can only voluntarily do something if you act in accordance with reason, and fallen man is incapable of doing that.  Were the end of fallen man a form of voluntary service, fallen man would thus by nature in an essential sense be unsuited for his end.  But because the end of fallen man is essentially no longer a matter of choosing and doing (which require reason and freedom) but of suffering and enduring, his being in a state of bondage is entirely compatible with the fulfilment of his end.  Indeed, this loss of freedom constitutes a further dimension of the very fulfilment of this end, for simply existing in a state of bondage, simply existing in a state in which one is no longer in control of one’s passions and desires but is continually “tossed” by them, as Adam and Eve are in the final books (IX, 1126; X, 718), is in itself sickening.  Those critics such as Lewalski who like to see the poem teaching us “to live as free moral agents and as virtuous citizens who value and deserve personal and political liberty” (Life 13), fail to acknowledge  these ways in which the poem insists not only that human nature enters a state of bondage as result of the fall, but also that this bondage is consistent with and indeed part of the fulfilment of its end as determined by God.  

  37. The “Eternal purpose” for fallen man, however, is also determined by the will that “Man shall not quite be lost, but sav’d who will” (III, 172-75).  Though out of wrath and justice God wills that man suffer and die, that is, he also out of mercy wills that he (at least some humans) be redeemed and saved.  By this he means, as he, the Son, and the angels make clear over the course of the poem, that after having achieved their end of misery and death, some will return with the Son to Heaven where, ultimately, "God shall be All in All" (III, 341).  God thus wills what Michael calls a “happy end” for postlapsarian man (XII, 605).  Now, because human nature is depraved, it is totally unsuited and incapable to achieve this dimension of its end.  That is to say that in respect of this dimension of its end, there is a profound disjunction between what man by nature is and his end, where his end is defined in terms of what God wills for him. To put it another way, if by a “natural” end one means that to which a thing is inclined to be or become by virtue of its own internal capacities and instincts, then part of man’s end (his happy end) is in relation to him unnatural.  In order to achieve the happy end, then, human nature requires the intervention of an agency that is external to itself and that counteracts its own predominant inclinations and dispositions.  That agency is God:  man will be saved, God asserts in Book III, "not of will in him, but grace in me / Freely voutsaf’t" (III, 74-75).  God will uphold man so “that he may know how frail / His fall’n condition is, and to me owe / All his deliv’rance, and to none but me” (III, 180-82; see also III, 287-89).  This emphasis on supernatural agency in bringing man to his happy end which is, in relation to what he is, unnatural also features throughout the final books (XI, 359-60; XII, 394-95).  Thus, the end of fallen human nature (i.e. that which God wills for it) is essentially bipartite and each part is fulfilled in fundamentally different ways: human nature as we know it, simply by virtue of being its own depraved and enslaved self and existing in the corrupt world of nature, suffices to achieve misery and death which are its end in this world; God and the Son bring it, in spite of itself, to the happy end, which is its end in the afterlife.       
  38. If, however, human nature could do nothing on its own before it died except suffer, if it was entirely deprived of the ability to choose and act in accordance with that choice, then God could not justly hold him responsible for his existence and make the happy end a reward for it.  This, however, God clearly intends to do at the “dread Tribunal” presided over by the Son at the end of time (III, 326-333; XI, 709-710; XII, 458-65).  That is to say that the hard teaching on fallen nature presented by some passages in the poem conflicts with God’s will to punish and reward individual humans on the basis of how they live.  It is partly in order to address this aspect of the theology of the poem that Milton qualifies the vision of fallen human nature as something that can do nothing but till and suffer as it dies.  He does so, first, by observing that God acts upon fallen man in such as way as to make it capable once again of choosing and acting freely: even though man’s powers are “enthrall’d by sin to foul exorbitant desires,” God claims that  “once more I will renew” them.  (III, 175).  He will, moreover, “clear thir senses dark, / What may suffice, and soft’n stony hearts / To pray, repent, and bring obedience due” as well as “place within them as a guide / My Umpire Conscience” (III, 188-95). Here again we have a “to” locution: God acts on fallen human nature so that, or with the intention that, it may freely do certain things such as pray, repent, and obey.  This is confirmed at the conclusion of Book X and the opening of Book XI where we see how God’s grace “had remov’d / The stony” from the hearts of Adam and Eve, “and made new flesh / Regenerate grow instead” (XI, 3-5).  In addition, in the final book, Michael informs Adam of how he shall be delivered from the Law, which serves only to “evince thir natural pravity” (XII, 287-88), to a “better Cov’nant,” the covenant of grace (XII, 302).   After the first coming, the Son will send a Comforter to man “who shall dwell / His Spirit within them” and “the Law of Faith...  upon their hearts shall write” (XII, 486-87). Commenting on these passages, Grossman observes that “when the Spirit writes on the heart, man can be released from the self-enthralment incurred by Adam’s fall and once again perform his moral part” (17-18; 64-65).  This is perhaps too strong since, as the remainder of Book XII makes clear, human nature is far from being restored to its unfallen state by virtue of the covenant of grace, but it does appear to be restored from sin to a state in which it has and may exercise some degree of freedom.  Though it is still only as a result of how God and the Son act upon it, fallen human nature, all of these passages suggest, ends up being capable of some degree of voluntary action, of something that would count as “obedience,” of something that could justly be punished or rewarded. 

  39. There are further indications that there is a realm of freedom within the constraints established by man’s fallen nature and a justice which man is not free to scorn.  In Book IV, for example, the narrator speaks as though the “wedded Love” enjoyed by Adam and Eve in paradise continued to exist after the fall to drive out the lust in which Adam and Eve burn immediately after the fall and to ground love between fathers, sons, and brothers (IV, 746-57).  Similarly, in Book XI, Michael comments on those who suffer and die of disease as those who “pervert pure Nature’s healthful rules / To loathsome sickness” (XI, 523-24), as though the realm of fallen nature is pure, and as though even fallen mankind, as part of the natural realm, may be capable of obeying those rules.  This point is perhaps confirmed in Book XII when Michael criticises Nimrod for dispossessing “Concord and Law of Nature from the Earth” (XII, 28-29).  That human nature may retain some of its prelapsarian freedom and even disposition is further indicated by Michael when he corrects Adam who, in the face of the pleasures enjoyed by the sons of Seth and daughters of Cain, observes, “Here Nature seems fulfill’d in all her ends” (XI, 602): “Judge not what is best / By pleasure,” Michael instructs, “though to Nature seeming meet, / Created, as thou art, to nobler end / Holy and pure, conformity divine” (XI, 603-606).  It seems that even though pleasure may seem meet to fallen human nature, this nature nevertheless has an essentially religious purpose and therefore fulfills itself by living a life that conforms with the holy and the divine.  Finally, in his discussion of the loss of inward liberty which supposedly follows from Adam’s original lapse, Michael leaves open the possibility of both inner and outer freedom: if reason is not “obscured” but simply “not obey’d,” it would seem that man is free to obey reason; if man “permits / Within himself unworthy Powers to reign / Over free Reason,” it would seem that he could revoke that permission and thereby regain his inner freedom.

  40. Insofar as the poem asserts that reason is not entirely displaced by passion and appetite as ruler of the will of fallen man, it grants it a degree of freedom, and insofar as it grants it a degree of  freedom, it grants it the possibility of virtuous action--virtue is still reason, Michael informs Adam (XII, 98)–where virtuous action consists in voluntarily doing those things which God wills him to do.  God’s will for the fallen human nature that is to a limited extent free as it suffers and dies may be divided into two main parts, the first of which concerns how he is to respond to the grace God may offer him: though he is not free to scorn justice, man is still free to “neglect and scorn” the grace God offers him (III, 199) or to pray for and accept it if granted.[11]   This is in part by virtue of God’s giving man the law with purpose to resign him “to free / Acceptance of large Grace” (XII, 304-305).  God wills, that is, that man (if only those he has elected above the rest) freely accept his grace; that he repent; that he pray to, appease, and obey him.  Even if he is not fully capable of performing these actions well, as long as he endeavours to do them “with sincere intent,” he will be doing something that pleases God and mollifies his wrath (III, 192).  The second main aspect of God’s will for fallen man who enjoys limited freedom concerns his response to his punishment, the life of misery and death which he is not free to forego.  Though man will suffer and die, he is free to do so in a variety of ways, and much of the instruction provided by Michael in the final books is aimed at describing the proper way (XI, 551-52; XII, 561-573; 575-87).  Exercising his limited freedom in these ways, some fallen men may do as God wills fallen man to do and justly be rewarded with the happy end after their death.  Those who do not exercise their freedom in this way will not, however, fail to achieve their end.  It is just that, in light of their response to their punishment and his grace, God wills that they be punished again by suffering in hell forever.

  41. As much of the recent commentary on the poem, and the final books in particular, has emphasised, the particular ways in which God wills fallen man to exercise whatever freedom remains to him may include what Aristotle and Cicero would think of as political activity.  And over the course of the final books, fallen mankind does display some impulse to form various forms of political society.  But there are no indications that, by founding and governing states, human nature may fulfil itself, or that it may reach its fullest development, or that it will be rewarded in the afterlife.  Indeed, the cases of Enoch and Noah suggest that renouncing and abandoning one’s political community may in some cases be the only means of avoiding God’s wrath and being rewarded.  The fact, at least, that one renounces one’s own political society and life within it does not mean one cannot achieve one’s end, as it does for Aristotle and Cicero.  More importantly, though that dimension of man’s end in this world which is answerable to his choice may include political activity, the life of the armed citizen and eloquent statesman can hardly be said to be its core.  At the core of the life in this world that is open to our freedom is the Christian life, where the Christian life is grounded not in civic virtue and patriotism but in Christian virtue, and where it is lived not after the example of Cicero, but of the Son.  To the extent that the freedom of prelapsarian man survives the fall–and Milton is ambivalent about this--so does his end, which is not to found and hold office in republics, but to serve God out of the care to please him.  Humans are to lead “lives Religious,” as the Sons of God did before they chose to “yield up all thir virtue” (XI, 623).


  42. There is no short, simple answer to the crucial question of how Milton’s vision of human nature in Paradise Lost is related to the republicans’ vision of human nature.  This is because there are major inconsistencies within the works of major republican figures, important  differences between these figures, and major complications concerning this issue in Paradise Lost.  But, attempting to take into account some of these difficulties, we can say that Milton follows the classical republicans (but not Machiavelli) in thinking of the human agent (both pre and postlapsarian versions) as a composite that includes a rational element and an appetitive, passionate element.  In addition, he is generally inclined to share the classical republicans’ basic understanding of both virtue and inner freedom in terms of the rational element’s rule over the appetitive, passionate element.  Milton departs from the republicans, however, in many important ways.  Though on some occasions (such as his discussion of religious toleration in Book XII) he resorts to a dualistic vocabulary to discuss this composite human nature, on others he explicitly asserts a monistic ontology which is at odds with the dualistic interpretation of man’s composite human nature that prevails in Cicero and other republican historians such as Sallust.  In addition, Milton’s  vision of human nature as part of God’s creation stands in stark contrast to the vision or assumption of the naturalistic origins of man in the republicans (though they sometimes see him as a product of a personified Nature).  Understanding human nature as God’s work, Milton sees it as having an end or purpose in the sense that it was made and is sustained by a deity that wills and intends things for it.  None of the republicans we have considered, with the possible exception of Cicero, sees human nature as having an end in this sense–those republicans who see it as having an end or purpose define this end in terms of the exercise of faculties unique to human nature, and the full development and perfection of capacities and instincts that are internal to it.  Milton thus ascribes to human nature a kind of end or purpose which the republicans seldom ascribe to it.

  43. Though he sees it as having an end of this kind, however, Milton also sees it as having  an end of the kind attributed to it by the classical republicans:  he sees it as having innate instincts and dispositions to do and become certain things.  But Milton also differs profoundly from the republicans concerning the content of the end of human nature conceived in this way:  whereas the classical republicans understand human nature as we know it in various degrees to have a capacity for and to be disposed to exercising reason as a citizen (and as a philosopher in the case of Aristotle), Milton understands it to be primarily disposed in and of itself to corruption, suffering, and dying, though he also grants it a residual capacity for virtuous action.  This is not to say that the republicans do not see human nature as being prone to decay and death–they do, but they do not see decay, depraved behavior, and death as something to which human nature is actively, inherently, and ineradicably disposed as Milton does in this poem.  In addition, the life of divine service as Milton understands it might include activities such as founding states and administering justice in them, but it need not, and it would seldom include those military activities which are central to citizenship as both the ancients and Machiavelli understand it.  Milton’s understanding of a particular kind of religious life as part of the end of fallen man is also at odds with the basic understanding of religion as something that should be serviceable to good citizenship and the state which is expressed by Aristotle, Cicero, and Machiavelli.  Milton’s understanding of that to which human nature is disposed in and of itself as not just suffering, but as punishment for a crime, as the satisfaction of justice, is also alien to the sensibility of those republicans we have considered here.  And whereas for Milton the consequences of achieving these natural ends include eternal bliss in heaven, the consequences of achieving the ends of human nature for the republicans (again with the possible exception of Cicero) are confined entirely to this world.  One reason Milton differs from the republicans in these way is that he understands human nature as we know it (i.e. fallen human nature) to be guilty and infected by sin as a result of an act that it committed in the distant past, an act which for the republicans never occurred.  Such an inherently depraved nature that disposes us to commit more sin is foreign to Aristotle’s prevailing view that we are by nature neither virtuous nor wicked but naturally adapted to receive moral virtue which we may cultivate and perfect by way of habit.  It is also alien to both the “natural goodwill and kindliness” Cicero sometimes sees in man and the raw, malleable human “material” which Machiavelli, following an Aristotelian usage, felt could be made into a good or bad nature by different forms of education and upbringing. 

  44. Though we have focussed on descriptions of human nature in Milton and the republicans, it has become clear that because Milton differs from the republicans on this issue, he differs from them on other issues, positions on which are more commonly taken to be at the heart of republican tradition.  Thinking of human nature the way he does, for example, Milton obviously thinks about history and virtue in a way which is profoundly at odds with republican thinking on these subjects.  In light of these differences, the reading of Paradise Lost as a poem that affirms or is even consistent with the basic political principles of Aristotle, Cicero, and Machiavelli is untenable.  This is not, however, to say, that the case for the poem’s participation in and extension of the tradition of republican political thought is without merit.  For in many cases, traditions of thought and writing are extended and perpetuated by authors who are hostile towards elements of those traditions.  This is why, for example, those scholars who observe that Machiavelli radically departs from the classical republicans on several major issues nevertheless continue to see him as a central figure of republican tradition.  This is why those critics who observe Milton’s hostility towards pagan epic nevertheless see him as participating in the tradition of western epic poetry.  As the current scholarship on the issue indicates, there is a case to be made for Milton’s response to and participation in republican tradition, but this case needs to take into account the ways in which he not only differs from, but openly repudiates major aspects of it.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources                             



[1] See, for example, Worden, Zagorin, Lindenbaum, Dzelzainis, Lejosne, Himy, Armitage, Mueller, Norbrook, Lewalski, Skinner (“Slavery”).  Note that in light of his recognition that the English, including Milton, did not repudiate monarchy and recommend republics, Skinner has recently used the term “neo-Roman” rather than “republican” to refer to Milton’s reaffirmation of the views of ancient Romans. 

[2] For confirmation of this point, see Kraut 60, 237.

[3] On “the innate desire [orexis] for living together,” see also Kullman 102-103.  For a way of resolving some of the problems identified by Keyt, see Nederman (“Political Animal”).

[4] See Miller 6; Kraut 15-16, 65.

[5] For confirmation of some of the points made here, see Wood 70-89.  Schofield observes that Cicero on natural justice follows the Stoics, but adds that in works such as On Moral Ends and Of Duties, he complements his account of the natural inclination to be just as one that is grounded in reason with an account of this inclination as one that moves out of the natural impulse of parents to love their offspring, an impulse that mankind shares with the animals.

[6]For confirmation of these points, and further argumentation against Skinner who tends to separate Aristotle from classical Roman and republican tradition, see Brunt, Rahe, and Scott (England’s Troubles 290-97).

[7] See Skinner, “Republican virtues” 144-45; Hulliung who emphasises that Machiavelli felt it was “the bestial in the Romans” that made them great (xi); Scott, “Classical Republicanism” 56-57.  See also Machiavelli, The Prince 56-57.

[8] These passages indicate that man is free essentially by virtue of having and exercising properly reason, not by virtue of being made of a special matter that is “animate, self-active, and free,” as Stephen Fallon claims (Milton 81).  If Fallon were right, everything, by virtue of being made up of this matter, would be free, a postulate which the poem explicitly denies.

[9] See Fish, How Milton Works 501, 506, 554.  Fish is here reaffirming the position he takes in Surprised by Sin 241-285.

[10] See Rogers who, citing earlier critics, forcefully makes this point, 147-161.

[11]For a discussion of how man’s freedom to accept or reject grace aligns him with Arminianism, see Hill 268-78; Fallon “‘Elect.’”

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