Final Essay

1315 words - 6 pages

This paper supports a grounded reading of John Milton's treatise opposing licensing and censorship in Areopagitica and Stanley Fish's "Driving from the Letter: Truth and Indeterminacy in the Areopagitica," maintaining its status as a foundational document on freedom of the press while acknowledging the contradictions and complexities of Milton's argument. Milton is not only a great author and scholar, but a brilliant political orator who, in a subtle attempt to compliment the members of Parliament, expresses a faith that England's leaders would never accept a policy that would demonstrate their country's inferiority to the enlightened ancient societies of Athens and Rome. Milton defends this purpose, holding that to bring forth complaints before the Parliament is a matter of civil liberty and loyalty, because constructive criticism is better than false flattery. Not only does Milton defend the very idea of writing a treastise such as Areopagitica, but he seems to make an attempt to demonstrate how Greek and Roman learning can reside within the boundaries of Christian morality. He concludes his introduction by encouraging Parliament to obey "the voice of reason" and to be "willing to repeal any Act" for the sake of truth and upright judgment. While Areopagitica had no impact in its day (Parliament ignored it), it is widely regarded as one of history's most eloquent and influential philosophical defenses of free speech and expression, and influenced the arguments of many advocates for the abolition of censorship in later years. This was a personal issue for Milton, who had suffered censorship in his attempts to publish tracts in defense of divorce. Though he attempted to create an image as a gentleman poet, Milton held radical opinions that challenged societal norms and was even considered a heretic by some of his opposition. Areopagitica displays a prime example of the nature of Milton's genius: heavily inflected with biblical and classical knowledge, but too unorthodox for mainstream acceptance.

Milton outlines Areopagitica with three main points: (a) “the inventors of it to be those whom ye will be loth to own”, (b) “what is to be thought in general of reading, whatever sort the books be, and most importantly” and (c) “that it will be primely to the dicouragement of all learning and the stop of truth, not only be disexercising and blunting our abilities in what we know already, but by hindering and cropping this discovery that might be yet further made both in religious and civil wisdom” (Milton 720). Milton repeatedly contradicts himself in Areopagitica, first, because it locates value and truth in a physical object, and second, because the reverence it recommends toward that object is identical with worship. Milton presents himself as what he would describe as a “papist idolator of relics,” as he seems to encourage idolatry, or place importance in the book rather than human reason, which is not Milton's religion (Humanism). Fish points out...

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