Friday, April 30, 2004

Schmitt Lecture: "There is Nothing He Cannot Ask: Milton, Liberalism, and Terrorism"

On April 29, Stanley Fish, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, delivered the fifth semi-annual Schmitt Lecture. The talk, entitled "There is Nothing He Cannot Ask: Milton, Liberalism, and Terrorism," discussed the comparison between Samson of John Milton s play, Samson Agonistes, and the terrorists involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001. In Milton s view, Fish claims, the criterion for moral judgment is the intention of the agent, and therefore any act is justified if the agent believes that he is acting in obedience to God. One difficulty with this view, however, is that internalizing the standard for moral action constitutes a rejection of any external signs that might indicate God's will for the agent. Fish was careful to clarify that he found this conclusion through his critical reading of Milton's
works, but he himself does not espouse this view, despite the claims of his critics.

The lecture and subsequent dinner party were well attended by the Schmitt fellows (graduate students in the colleges of science and engineering), along with a number of students from other disciplines, professors and members of the local community. We were also honored by the presence of several members of the Schmitt Board, as it is in honor of the Schmitt Foundation that the Center hosts the lecture series in the interest of engaging the moral, political and religious aspects of science and technology.

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