Esperanza Saucedo on Milton's Areopagitica

Published by admin_main on Sat 30 Oct, 2010

What are Milton's main arguments for freedom of press in Areopagitica?

In Areopagitica, written in 1644, Milton presents a passionate defense of intellectual liberty; he supports the liberal conception of speech, press, and thought.

This was written in the context of the English Civil War that began in 1642 and continued through 1651 with a few brief interruptions. He argues that only liberty and removal of censorship can advance reformation and bring about freedom of speech in all its forms. According to the introduction on page 1816, during Milton's time, the Press Ordinance of June 14, 1643 demanded that before publication, all works be submitted to official censors and registered to their author and publisher. He saw this notion of censorship as an unreasonable state control tactic to direct thought.

To strengthen and better illustrate this argument, he provides multiple biblical and classical references. For example, on page 1818, he wrote that Adam was but a "mere artificial Adam "until God gave him reason and "gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing." Milton, who was an author of the time, argued that such notion of extreme censorship was outdated and men and women should be allowed to fully develop their minds by participating and learning about opposing ideas instead of only reading material the government allowed them to. He wrote, "Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. The basic claim he makes is that people cannot know what is good and true unless they are allowed to test it against what is not good or true. For that, they need a lively press and the ability to peruse it and participate in debate without hindrance.

Additionally, on page 1823, Milton instructs us to let Truth and falsehood "grapple" as if they were warriors in battle. Of course Truth will triumph because it is so strong. "She needs no policies nor stratagems nor licensing to make her victorious. He says that Truth should not be censored because when she is bound, "she speaks not true." Although, he says that Truth may have more shapes than one and he presents Truth as something that has been scattered to the four winds on page 1820. In this section, Milton gives the example of the Egyptian Typhon and how he dealt with "the good Osiris." Typhon "took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces and scattered them to the four winds." Milton further describes how "the sad friends of Truth