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Nature of Truth in The Education of Children, Paradise Lost and Hamlet

To some, truth is something that is absolute and unchanging. To others, truth is volatile and inconstant. In the 16th and 17th century, the foundations of civilization itself had been shaken. Many of the ideas which were thought to be absolutely true had been plunged into the depths of uncertainty. The cosmological, geographical, and religious revolutions called into question the nature of truth itself. It is no wonder, then, that some of the great writers at the time included within their works a treatise on the ways in which truth is constructed. Because of the major ideological revolutions that shaped their world, Milton, Montaigne, and Shakespeare all used characters and theatrical devices to create their own ideas on the construction of truth.

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As a result of Milton’s failed political aspirations, he believes that individuals do not construct truth, or decide for themselves what the truth is; instead, individuals receive the truth directly or indirectly from God. Conversely, deception comes from Satan. In Paradise Lost, Milton sets up this idea by forcing good to result only from obedience to God’s will and evil to result whenever God is disobeyed. Dr. Evans’ argument that Milton’s ultimate point in all this is to express a moral position that is very extreme, that no quality or action can be innately good or evil, is firmly rooted in this model. What determines the morality of anything we do is in whose service we do it. Since Raphael was sent from God, his warning is true and divine. Since Satan disobeyed God, his ideas are all false lies. Part of Milton’s ideology may have come from his own life experiences. After the restorat…

…FCS, 2000.

Brentano, Franz, The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong, trans. Cecil Hague (London: Constable, 1902).

Fish, Stanley Eugene. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1967.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Roy Flannagan. New York: Macmillan, 1993.

Patrides, C.A. Milton and The Christian Tradition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966)

Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays of Montaigne. Trans. DonaldM. Frame. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1958.

Moore, G. E., Review of The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong by Fritz Brentano, International Journal of Ethics, vol. 14 (1903), pp. 123-8.

—–, ‘Nature of Truth’, Mind, vol. 16 ns, no. 62 (April 1907), pp. 229-35.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1600? Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.

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