Areopagitica Book Summary - Areopagitica Book explained in key points

Areopagitica summary

John Milton

Brief summary

Areopagitica is a groundbreaking essay by John Milton that passionately defends freedom of speech and expression. It argues against government censorship, emphasizing the importance of open discourse and the pursuit of truth.

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    Summary of key ideas

    The Aspect of Censorship

    In Areopagitica, John Milton stands against censorship, arguing for the freedom and virtue of unlicensed printing. He starts by tracing the history of censorship, pointing out its roots in ancient Greece and Elizabethan England. Milton contends that censorship is a tool of tyranny, used by unjust rulers to stifle criticism and control thought.

    He then proceeds to highlight its inefficacy, arguing that censorship doesn't eradicate heresy or falsehood, but rather fuels curiosity and inadvertently strengthens the desire to access forbidden material. Milton reinforces this claim by pointing out that some of the banned books in history have been the most influential and widely-read.

    Exploring Truth and Virtue

    Milton extends his argument by introducing his philosophical concept of truth and virtue. He implies that truth is divine and powerful in nature and should remain unhindered by suppressive measures like censorship. He also distinguishes between the innate virtue and imposed virtue, asserting that real virtue lies in choosing the good over the evil through free will, which censorship restricts.

    John Milton knits compelling historical, philosophical, and practical arguments against censorship. He uses allegories and references, especially the myth of Perseus and the creation story from the Bible, to exemplify his standpoints and to argue that truth and virtue can't be imposed but should be freely sought.

    The Concept of Self Censorship

    The author switches focus from external censorship to a form of self-discipline or self-censorship, where he urges authors to hold themselves accountable for their works. He advises that writers should ensure their work is morally responsible and cautions them about the potential consequences of publishing harmful or misguiding content.

    Milton's plea to writers underscores responsibility and foresight as crucial elements of free speech. He maintains that while it's crucial to resist external censorship, it's just as important for individuals to cultivate their virtue and discernment, fostering a society abounding in wisdom, rather than blind following.


    Nearing his conclusion, Milton passionately appeals to the English Parliament, requesting them to abolish licensing and allow the free and responsible circulation of ideas, asserting that censorship hinders learning, dialogue, and the pursuit of truth.

    In summary, Areopagitica by John Milton presents an enduring argument for the freedom of speech and thought against the backdrop of 17th-century English censorship laws. Through eloquent rhetoric and reasoned argument, Milton emphasizes the inseparable connection between free expression and the pursuit of truth and virtue.

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    What is Areopagitica about?

    Areopagitica is a passionate defense of free speech and the freedom of the press. Written by John Milton in 1644, it argues against pre-publication censorship and advocates for the power of reason and debate. The book is a timeless reminder of the importance of intellectual freedom and the right to express one's thoughts and opinions.

    Who should read Areopagitica?

    • Individuals who are passionate about freedom of speech and expression
    • Academics and scholars studying political philosophy and literature
    • People interested in the historical context of censorship and its impact on society

    About the Author

    John Milton was a renowned English writer and poet who lived from 1608 to 1674. His most famous work, Paradise Lost, is an epic poem that explores themes of religion, morality, and the fall of man. Milton's other notable works include Areopagitica, a powerful defense of freedom of speech and the press, and Comus, a masque written for the Earl of Bridgewater. Throughout his career, Milton's brilliance and distinctive voice made him one of the greatest literary figures of his time.

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