Areopagitica "Opinion In Good Men Is But Knowledge In The Making"

John Milton

"Opinion In Good Men Is But Knowledge In The Making"

Context: One of the royal prerogatives most offensive to the Puritans was the licensing of the press, a power which in effect permitted the Bishops of the Church of England to control the publications of their theological opposition, the Puritans. When the Puritans gained control of England through the civil wars, however, one of the first proposals considered by Parliament was a law to regulate the press and to require that all books and pamphlets be submitted for examination and licensing prior to publication. Although Milton had long been one of the most effective and articulate spokesmen for the Puritan party, he believed strongly in freedom of speech and conscience. The Areopagitica, which takes the form of a classical oration, is his defense of a free press and represents a position he took in defiance of his Puritan compatriots. Milton first points out that none of the great classical civilizations had practised such repressive measures. He then argues that the Catholic Church was the inventor of censorship. To the argument that books promote schism Milton replies that no good man can be corrupted by a bad book and that no bad man can be improved by control of his reading material. Indeed, he continues, difference of opinion is necessary to the discovery of truth:

. . . Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. Under these fantastic terrors of sect and schism, we wrong the earnest and zealous thirst after knowledge and understanding, which God hath stirred up in this city. What some lament of, we rather should rejoice at, should rather praise this pious forwardness among men, to reassume the ill-deputed care of their religion into their own hands again. A little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity might win all these diligences to join and unite into one general and brotherly search after truth; could we but forego this prelatical tradition of crowding free consciences and Christian liberties into canons and precepts of men. . . .