Boethius

The Consolation of Philosophy

Such unerring movements are not the outcome of chance. God superintends his creation. If you know the beginning of things then you know their goal. Man is not only a mortal creature endowed with reason. The cause of your sickness is that you have forgotten your own identity which has made you confused so you become upset at your situation, also because you are unaware of the goal of creation, and that you have forgotten the reins that control the world you believe fotune is due to chance. For it is the nature of the human mind, once it has false beliefs that a cloud of emotional disturbance distorts the true vision previously held. The interpretation which you have put on your loss of Fortune has corrupted your mental faculties. Fortune fawns her friendship with those she intends to cheat until she unexpectedly abandons them, but if you recall what she is, her ways and her worth, you will relaize you never had or lost anything of worht in your association with her. Every sudden chnage of circumstance causes some mental turmoil. Rhetoric can be used only when it does not abandon our precepts. You think that Fortune has changed toward you, but her nature is always the same. She fawned on you and made sport of you with the enticements of a bogus happiness. If you approve of her ways don't complain, if her treachery appals you, despise her and cast her off. The source of your grief should be the source of your composure since she has abandoned you and others cannot feel sure she won't abandon them. Fortune has taken nothing from you that was yours, in fact, she asks for your debt of gratitude for your having enjoyed possessions that were not your own.

-When people are unhappy, awareness of their misery runs deeper, so once the words cease to echo in our ears, the grief implanted in our hearts outweighs them.

Can you deny your many blessings? If the enjoyment of human affairs brings any measure of content, can the recollection of that day be blotted out by the weight of oppresive ills, however great? And you know life is finite, so what difference does it make if Fortune abandons you by your dying or her making off? The harrowing days you now experience are, like the good days that you have forgotten, passing away.

-The great success of my career is what roasts me even more for the unhappiest aspect of my fortune is to have known happiness.

-Your suffering is the penalty for your mistaken beliefs, you cannot rightly blame the course of events for that. You still have some of the greatest blessings that you would give your life for, your step-father and adoring wife. Does any individual enjoy such blessedness that he does not find fault with some respect of his condition. Human welfare is a cause for worry, for it never wholly prospers and never remains constant. One man has wealth, but is ashamed of his origins. One has noble birth but is ashamed of his poverty. One man is noble and rich but laments he is a bachelor, another is happily married but childless, another has children but their failings distress him, every situation and person faces drawbacks. How many people would think they were in Heaven to have a fraction of the fortune you still have. Nothing is wretched unless you account it so, and those who bear with tranquility are blessed. So what is clear is how wretched is the happiness which mortal possessions bring, for those who are content with life do not possess it forever, and it does not satisfy in its entirety those who live in distress. So why do you mortal men puruse hapiness outside yourselves when it lies within? Is there anything more precious to you than yourself? Well, then as long as you are in command of yourself you will possess what you never wish to lose. And if happniess is the hightest good of a rational nature, and if what can be taken away from you cannot be the hightest (for what cannot be taken away is highest, then the fluidity of Fortune cannot win happiness. A man either knows his transitory happiness can change or he doesn't. If he doesn't know how can he be happy in ignorance, if he does know his anxiety will prevent his happiness. And if he thinks he can disregard the prospect of losing it then it must be a trifling good if the loss could be so easily borne. You know that the minds of men are not mortal, which is instilled by numerous proofs. Assuming that such transitory happiness can confer well-being, then when a man dies that type of happiness ends and he must then be plunged into misery, but many have had well being in death and in pain and torute, so how could that transitory happiness that ceases and does not make us wretched then induce well-being. What is there in Fortune's gifts which you could possess or which is by its nature valuable. Avarice breeds hatred, generosity brings fair fame, and none of us can retain what is passed to another so money only becomes valuable when given to others, ceasing to be possessed. In the act of spending money they impoverish the one relinquishing them and must be divided up to be given out to multiple people, so how restrictive is money. Or is it the sparkle of jewels that attracts men? This sparkle belongs to the jewel no tht eman. Can anything justifiably appear beautiful to a rational nature endowed with life if it lacks movement and physical frame of a living creature. Jewels are on the lowest level of beauty, as work of the Creator, but they rank below human excellence, and don't deserve admiration. What about the beauty of your estates? Do any of the sights belong to you? Do you presume to boast of the lustre of any such elements? Is your beauty enhanced by spring blossoms? What about a fine wardrobe? If your clothes are eye catching what will win my admiration is the quality of the cloth or the skill of the tailor. If your servants have corrupt manners they will be a burden on your house, if they are honest it is they who are honest. So if all these things manifest no beauty worth acquiring why grieve at losing them, or be glad at keeping them. If they are beautiful how is that relevant to you? You could have appreciated them just as much if you did not own them. Their value is found in themselves, not in your owning them. I imagine you are trying to dispel want by acquiring abundance, but you acheive the opposite because in order to protect your abundance of wealth you need a number of aids. Those who measure riches according to natural need rather than superfluous show are short of very little. Do men have no resources within them that they seek out their goods in external things. A living being, whom the gift of reason makes divine, believes that his glory lies solely in lifeless goods. Other creatures are content with what they have, but you who are superior to all earthly things have subordinated your dignity to the lowliest objects. If the goods that men acquire are believed to be more valuable than themselves then you rank yourselves amont the tawdriest things. Man's nature excels all other things if it is aware of itself, lack of self-knowledge is natural in other living things, but in man it is a moral blemish. Nothing that harms its possessor can be good, but when one acquires riches they cease to feel safe, for there are thouroughly evil men who want all the riches in the world. Your ancestors tried to away with the position of consul because of the arrogance of some consuls (as they did with the king too), rarely a man of integrity became consul, so high position does not confer honor on the virtues, but virtue confers high honors on high positions. What is this power you seek? Imagine if you saw a colony of mice with one mouse ruling over them that would make you laugh. How can a person exercise rights over any other except his own body and actions? You can exercise no dominion over a free mind. You cannot disturb the serenity of a mind at one with itself by the influence of reason. When the tyrant thought that by torture he would force a free man to betray his associates in the conspiracy (Anaxarchus of Abera or Zeno of Elea), the free man bit through his tongue and spit it in the face of the tyrant, by this he made a virtue out of the tortures which the tyrant believed were instruments of cruelty. Also anything that one can inflict on another he can have inflicted on him. So if a man cannot ensure avoiding having such inflicted on him does he really wield any power? If there was some intrinsic good in these positions they would never fall into evil hands, for contraries don't associate with one another, nature refuses the fusion of opposites. The same goes for the gifts of fortune, which evil men acquire as well. Riches cannot snuff out insatiable greed. Power cannot impart self-control to the man is bound by wicked desires. High positions give to scoundrels betrays and flaunts their unworthiness, it doesn't make them worthy. This is because men like to attach alien titles to things that differ from them. The names are readily rebutted by the things themselves. In relation to the size of the universe the area that men rule is insignificant, so why are you intent on publicizing your reputations and glorifying your names. One thing that naturally entices outstanding minds that have not put finishing touches on their virtues is desire for glory and reputation in service to the state. So are you aware how small an influence your domain is you have in relation to the universe. What splendor can your name possess in such petty limits. Records are lost and famous men pass into oblivion. How small is your amount of fame in relation to eternity? Your sole criteria of right behavior is poular whim and gossip. The story of the man acting like a philosopher (pg 36) Now either there is life after death or not, if not then glory is meaningless, if there is then the soul makes for Heaven and shuns earthly things. Death lumps together lowly and high-born. Do bare names impart knowledge of the dead? Adverse fortune is honest and therefore better than good fortune which entices with false goods. Adverse fortune instructs and makes us realize the frailty of happiness, and yanks us back to embrace true goods and to discover who one's true friends are. Philosophy thinks that happiness is the highest good and gathers all other goods under its umbrella, otherwise if ther were desirable things outside it it would not be the highest good, all mortals strive to attain it by different paths, for this longing is naturally implanted in human minds, but error diverts them towards false goods. Some believe that the highest good lies in going short of nothing so they strive for abundant riches, some think it is to command respect, some greatest power, some pleasure, and sometimes these things interlock, for ex. some aspire to riches for the power, pleasure, and fame it brings. The most sacred category of good is friendship, and is in the province of virtue rather than fortune. Epicurus concluded that pleasure was the highest good because all those other things bring delight to the mind. Men seek these things because their memory is clouded and they don't recognize the path home. Philosophy says that happiness knows no trouble or melancholy, this is clear because even in the most insignificant things men seek to enjoy and own what they love. She thinks all these people are seeking to choose, the good as their goal. All things in nature seek the paths that are theirs that they started at. Humans have a hazy dream like notion of your beginning and your gaze is on that true end of happiness, a natural tendency guides you toward it while errors draw you away from it. She confesses that some men acquire happiness by acquiring the earthly "goods", but if they don't realize their promise it is certainly false. Boethius admits that when he was rich he was not free from worry because he longed for other things, so wealth cannot make you free from want and self sufficient, and by its very nature can always be lost, so a man needs external protection to keep it safe, but a man wouldn't need this protection if he had no money. How then does wealth banish want? Rich men can go hungry and thristy and feel the cold, and can only be assuaged by money not dispelled, for these needs will never be wholly satisfied. Nature demands very little but greed is never satisfied. Public offices sometimes bestows honor and respect but it also highlites the depravity of the individual, and we can make the judgement of an incumbent that he is not worthy of office but you cannot say that of a man who is wise, so it is seen that office cannot impart such worth, instead bad men pollute the office, and any respect of office is lost in distant lands and the influence of particular offices change through time. What kind of power does a king have if they cannot banish anxieties and fears. The friend who became your friend because of worldy success will be your enemy in times of misfortune. Glory is often something given to the unworthy, and if it is base on merit how could it add to the wise man's self awareness, because he measures his worth not by gossip but by truth of self-knowledge.

If getting your name celebrated seems desirable in itself, then it follows that failure to acheive this is ignoble, but people of neighboring lands or at least distant lands will treat the name as a non-entity, so Philosophy considers mass popularity not to be worthy of mention, for it does not proceed from ripe judgement and never remains consistent. Noble birth is empty because the real praise goes to the parents or ancestors, that which belongs to another does not make you illustrious. If there is any good attached to noble birht it is the obligation not to fall away from the excellence of their forbears. All men are born of noble birth because we were all created by God. Pursuit of bodily pleasures leads to anxiety and over indulgence brings remorse. So will you seek to amass money? Then you will rob its owner. Would you like to be a luminary? Then you will beg on your knees in order to excel others in status. What about power? Then you will lose every peace of mind. What about pleasure? Everyone scorns those who are a slave to the tawdry body. What about physical attributes? How transient and fragile this is, can you surpass the elephant in strenght, the tiger in speed? Contemplate the extent and the stability of the heavens and at last cease to admire worthless things. What you handsome is not your appearance but the weak eyes of those who gaze at you (story of Lynceus). How great is the body if it can be reduced to nothing by the onset of tertian fever? What is simple and undivided in nature is split by human error, diverting it from true and perfect to false and imperfect. Something that lacks nothing has power doesn't it? Because if something lacks strength then in that extent it needs the support of something else. So sufficiency adn power are by nature one and the same. Aren't such things worthy of respect? Then let us consider reverence sufficiency and power to be a unity then.

Philosophy asks if this idea would stand out with the finest fame, he answers that its nature would ensure its renown. She asks if something lacks nothing outside of itself would it not be supremely happy? He answers he has no idea how unhappiness could infiltrate itself into that. So she says all these things are different terms must not differ in substance. So man's wrong headedness breaks it up into parts, but none exist independently. And man cannot find happiness by seeking these things independently and will still fail in seeking happiness in those things we mentioned before. In order to find the source of true happiness we must look to the father of all things. There is lots of stuff on God in the poem on pg 56. She argues that because we know what is imperfect that logically implies that we know that perfection exists. The universe does not take its rise from something curtailed and incomplete but from something fully developed and it disintegrates in this sterile world of ours. Since nothing better than God can be imagined, who can doubt that if something has no better that it is good? If God is the source of all things then he must be in possession of the perfect good since all perfect things take precedence over things less complete, so to prevent an infinite regression we must accept that the highest God is totally full of the highest and perfect good, so true happiness is found in the perfect good which is found in God. She makes a similar argument to the ontological argument, since God is agreed by all to be the most outstanding thing (it is sacrilegous otherwise), the origin of all things is in its own substance the highest good. And so God is happiness itself. There cannot be two highest goods different from each other, and neither can be perfect because they both lack the other. If something is not perfect it is not the highest, so highest goods cannot be different from one another, so the highest God is also the highest happiness.

If men become happy by acquiring happiness, and happiness is itself divinity, then men become happy by acquiring divinity. Men must become gods to acquire divinity. Hence every happy person is God. God is one but nothing prevents a number from sharing in that divinity. Happiness is the highest good. Those aforementioned qualities are associated with the good, so the good is the sum and cause of all that should be sought, for we cannot seek after what not at least appears to be good. The right conclusion is that goodness is the sum of all things worth pursuing, and the reason why they are sought when men desire something what they desire most is that which motivates their action, since all things are sought to obtain the good, they really desire the good itself, and we agreed that happiness is the reason for desiring all other things. So the substance of both are the same, and God and true happiness were shown to be one and the same so God's substance is in the good itself. So things separate from each other begin to be good once they become one and the same. Everything that is good is so because it shares in the good. Things in the course of nature that do not differ in outcome are the same substance, so the one and the good must be the same. Everything that exists continues to remain in being as long as it is a unity, and it perishes and breaks up when it ceases to be one, like a body is only a body if it is a unity. Everything, living and inanimate objects, in its natural behaviour struggles to maintain its safety and to avoid death and destruction. All this is repeated not from decisions of the soul but nature's basic instincts. Love of self is natural instinct which Providence has given to everything with the greatest incentive to survive. And because things are destroyed when their unity is destroyed. So everything naturally seeks unity.

And that the unity is identical with the good was demonstrated, so all things seek the good and so the end of all things is the good. Boethius's poem says that the bodies weight causes forgetfulness of the truth, but looking within and learning helps us to recall that knowledge, otherwise, how could one answer true when challenged. He says to philosophy her reminder brought the knowledge back that his body and grief had made him forget. The controls which govern the universe are reaffirmed as God since the universe is composed of varying and opposing parts, an individual had to unite them and then continue to keep them together with their orderly progressions. God does not need anything to govern the universe because if he was short of anything he wouldn't be fully sufficient. God therefore orders all things through himself, which is the good. All things naturally seek the good so they will accede to the will of God, otherwise, if they were unwilling they would be unhappy, so nothing naturally opposes God, or could succeed at opposing God. God is all powerful so he can do anything, but he cannot commit evil, therefore evil is a nothing. Good summary on pg 68. Good and Evil are opposites so that if we can show the power of the good, the weakness of evil will also be shown, or vice versa. Human action entirely depends on will and capability, so it follows that if someone wills to acquire something but fails to get it, it is beyond their ability. All men, good and bad alike, strive with identical effort to attain the good, and men become good by attaining the good, so good men obtain what they go after, bad men don't, so good men are capable while bad men aren't, and those that can acheive are strong and that can't acheive are weak. Those who are able to use their natural faculties are stronger than one who can't.

Good men seek the good by natural exercise of the virtues. Bad men seek the good through desires not the natural faculty of attaining the good. The person regarded as the accomplished hiker is he who could reach the point where further progress is impossible, similarly we give full power to him who attains the goal of the desired ends beyond which nothing lies. She lists some reasons why a bad man might stray from the path pg 75. If they abandon the good willfully and with full knowledge then they cease to exist, for all existing things have in common their quest for the good, and its existence is bound up in its nature which seeks the good. The power of evil men stems from their weakness because they are unable to do good things, only evil, and evil is nothing. Nothing is more powerful than the highest good (showed this earlier) good cannot do evil, evil cannot do everything like good can. Power is desirable, all desirable things are related to the good, therefore, evil is not power. Plato said only the wise can implement their desires and wicked men follow their inclinations but cannot fulfill their longings. They believe they will acheive the good through the things that give them pleasure. In all activities the purpose for which each deed is performed can be regarded as the reward, but all good men have the good and it is in him, so he cannot be deprived of it less he ceases to be good, and since the good itself is happiness all good men are happy because they are good, and they become gods. And evil men must have their corresponding opposite in them of punishment, any wicked man can look at himself and see that he is punished. Everything that exists is a unity, unity is the good, everything that exists is good. So anything that departs from the good no longer exists. The wicked then, have lost their human nature. Goodness alone can raise a person above the rank of human, wickedness then gives the wicked subhuman status.

Wicked men turn into beasts. Evil men are not permitted to destroy good men, but if the discretion which people think is granted them were removed the wicked would be relieved to a great extent the punishment they merit. Evil men must be unhappier when their aspirations are fulfilled. Because if it is wretched to desire to do evil things it is even more wretched to be able to do so, so those who have the desire, the power, and the actual performance of evil deeds have a threefold misfortune. But they will lose this power quicker than they can imagine, since the mind is immortal everything in life happens quickly. Death is the only thing that puts an end to their wickedness and unhappiness. The wicked are happier when punished, for justice is good and an element of good bestowed on someone's misery makes them happier. Regular men aren't persuaded by these arguments because their eyes are accustomed to darkness and they cannot look at the light of clear truth, they don't look at the order of nature but at their own emotions and they imagine that freedom to commit crimes is a blessing. Shape your mind to better things and you do not need a judge for you have set yourself among the more outstanding features of creation. Turn your affections to the worse and you have relegated yourself to baser things. But the common herd does not gaze at the stars above, so why join those who we have shown are beasts. Wicked men deserve punishment. Wicked men are unhappy. Those who deserve punishment are wretched, so the perpetrator is wretched, not the victim. We should pity the perpetrator and treat them as sick men who will be cleansed by punishment and if the perpetrator had a glimpse of the virtue he had renounced he would welcome punishment.

There is no place for hatred in the minds of the wise. If vice is a mental illness we should treat it like a physical illness and not hate the person but pity them for having a condition more dreadful than any sickness. Boethius asks her since God is supposedly in control, and he sees the injustice in the world, what apparent difference is there between this and the random process of chance. She answers that people regard events as chaotic if they are unaware of the planned order of the world, of the final end, or that all things happen as they should because a good ruler orders the world. She says this is the greatest challenge of all, it is virtually inexhaustible. The problems it raises deals in the nature of Providence, the chain of fate, the suddeness of chance events. God's knowledge and predestination and freedom of the will. Everything and their natures derive their cause and order from the unchanging steadfastness of the divine mind. He decides the complex plan (called Providence) of the course of events, but men have called it fate when it dealt with our world. Providence is divine reason itself. Fate is the order imposed on things that change, through which providence interlinks each. Providence embraces all things. Fate organizes separate movement of individual things, and allocates them according to shape, place, and time. Providence is the unity. Fate is when the unity is separated up. Providence is like the unified idea of a craftsman, fate are the various stages that it is put together. Lots of descriptions of fate and Providence on pages 88 and 89. Lots of theodicy, reasons for the injust prospering and just suffering on pages 90 and 91. Essentially God gives each what he knows their mind needs to encourage them on the right path. The injust are sometimes given prosperity to keep them from further crimes. Some evil men will try and do good so they won't lose their prosperity. Sometimes Providence will cause a wrong doer to choose to do right because they are wronged by another wrong doer in power and they hate them, and don't want to be like them.

If something forsakes the order assigned to it, it slips into an alternative pattern, different but a due order, so that nothing is left to chance. But it is not right for man to grasp or explain all the workings of God's creation. It is enough to know God orders everything and guides them to good. Every fortune pleasant or harsh is good for they are either to reward or exercise the good or to punish or correct the wicked, so they are all either just or useful. The wise man should view conflict with fortune as good to lend substance to his wisdom, and virtue is so called because it relies on its strength not to be overcome by adversity. It lies in your own hands to fashion for yourself the kind of future which you prefer; all fortune which seems harsh is punishment unless it corrects you. He likens this to Hercules attaining Heaven as his prize for his labors. Chance as the outcome of a random movement which interlocks with no causes, does not exist. God defines and confines everything with due order. Nothing comes forth from nothing and something emerging that is uncaused would be something arising from nothing. She quotes Aristotle on this, pg. 98. Chance is therefore an unexpected outcome of a conjunction of causes in actions carried out for some purpose. The coincidence is caused by the order of Providence. There is freedom of the will for no rational being could exist without it. Those things that by their nature use reason possess the ability to discern everything, so it can distinguish what to avoid and what to desire, and they possess the ability to will or not to will but this freedom is not equal in all. The more earthly one is the less free they are, the more divine the more free. The lowest form of slavery is found in those humans who give into vices and abrogate reason. And God arranges predestined things according to the merits of each.

Boethius brings up the problem of divine forknowledge and freewill. I think she responds by saying that just like there is no necessity of things that we know that are presently occuring, there is no necessity of things of foreknowledge, pg 105. I think she adds that knowledge is obtained from complex understanding above and beyond the simple sensational experience of the world. That there is a ranking of means of knowledge: perception, imagination, reason, understanding. The first is a method of all living things, Reason is only found in humans. Understanding is only found in the divine. Things aren't known through their own nature but through the nature of those that apprehend it. So as far as we can lets examine the nature of God. It is the common view that God is eternal, which is the perfect possession of life without end, that which is eternal grasps and possesses the entire fulness of life without end, past and future appears to it in the present. Whatever lives in time cannot grasp the entire duration of its life, it does not apprehend the morrow and has relinquished its yesterday. Even if something in time has no begining and no end, like matter, it is not eternal for it does not grasp the extent of its life. God is prior to the created world by his nature not by length of time. He is unchanging life in the present, and since temporal things cannot acheive that unchanging life they degenerate into change, and it appears to emulate what it can't fulfill because its present subsides into future and past but it still cannot possess its full life. So it binds itself to the present, which resembles the eternal present, it appears to eternally endure but it doesn't. So because it cannot continue at rest it embarks on a changing boundless journey through time. So God's knowledge transcends all movement in time. Then he says the things that I've said. Compares God's view of time to looking at the world from the highest vantage point, and that this vantage point does not envolve necessity. But God is still compared with time as if he is living in it "So when God knows something about to take place..."

There are two kinds of necessity. One is simple, for example, all men are mortal; the other conditional, for example, a man must be walking if you are to know he is walking. This latter is shaped not by a things nature but by the condition appended to it. If providence sees something in the present, it exists, but its nature includes no such necessity. So our free choices are necessary from God's observation of them, but in themselves they do not forfeit the freedom of their nature. You are free and cannot evade foreknowledge by constantly changing your mind just like you cannot escape the gaze of a person's eye who is watching you even though you vary your actions.

[What is the deal with saying that God is simple?] So God's rewards and punishments are just, so you should behave honorably.

Back To Top



Back to Collected Wisdom

Home Page

2009