Boethius’ Consolation, Freedom and Divine Foreknowledge

May 14, 2007

[This is the final segment in the Boethius series as the problem of divine foreknowledge takes us through the end of the Consolation. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.]

In prose III of book V Boethius proposes the problem of divine foreknowledge as a subject for further philosophical discussion. How is it that God can have infallible foreknowledge about contingent future events because knowledge requires necessity? If God necessarily knows that Socrates will do X at some future time, then it seems that Socrates cannot fail to do X, and therefore that he does not have free will and X is not contingent. But it is ridiculous to deny the freedom of the will in Boethius’s opinion, since then there would be no vices nor virtues, and even vices would be understood to come about through God’s action, nor would there be any point in praying (401).

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The Hardboiled Optimism of Philosophy (Boethius)

May 7, 2007

In sections V, VI and VII of Book IV of the Consolation, Philosophy propounds a remarkably optimistic view. “Whatever you see happen here contrary to your expectation, is indeed right order in fact, though in your opinion it is perverse confusion” (367). Furthermore, since God providentially and infallibly directs all events “for the purpose either of rewarding or correcting the bad, every kind [of fortune] is good, since it is agreed to be just or useful” (375).

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Boethius’ Consolation, Book IV, Prose IV

May 1, 2007

In prose IV of the fourth book, Boethius’ philosophical therapy now begins to address his own situation more and more closely. The Consolation began with Boethius complaining that the wicked flourish and the virtuous perish. Philosophy has already proven to Boethius’s satisfaction that the good are happy and the wicked wretched. Boethius is not entirely satisfied. Even if vicious are unhappy in their viciousness, it seems unjust for them to escape punishment for their wrongdoing.

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Boethius Consolation Book IV, Chapters 1 and 2.

aprilis 23, 2007

Book IV of the Consolation begins the discussion of God’s providence and the problem of evil. Boethius has asked why, if God is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and good, do evils happen to the virtuous and the vicious escape unpunished (313-315)? Philosophy’s counterargument will attempt to show that this is not actually the case, but rather the virtuous are always rewarded and the vicious always punished, even within this life—there is no discussion of final judgment, heaven or hell in the first two chapters.

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Boethius, Book III, Prose XII

aprilis 16, 2007

Having proven that all things seek the good and that God is the good, the conversation turns in book III, prose XII to the theme of God’s governance over the world, preparing us for the discussion of providence and the existence of evil in later books.

Philosophy argues for three attributes of God’s governance. First, God’s governance is good, insofar as God has been shown to be the good himself. Second, God’s governance is voluntary. According to Philosophy, all things “are ruled voluntarily” by God’s governance insofar as they seek their own good, which is ultimately God himself (301). Therefore, nothing “while remaining true to its own nature would try to go against God” (303). Third, God’s governance is irresistible.

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Boethius’ Consolation Part VI, Whether All Things Seek the Good?

March 26, 2007

The end of Prose X of Book III contains the most thorough presentation thus far of Boethius’s claim that all things seek the good, which is to say that all things really seek God. But a contemporary reader might have some worries at this point because there are at least two serious objections to Boethius’s point.

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Boethius’s Consolation Part IV, Whether Perfect Happiness Exists?

March 19, 2007

That all things seek the good is a key component of the Philosophy’s therapy for Boethius. There are partial goods one can attain, riches, fame, power and so forth, but this are all transitory and are as liable to make one unhappy as happy. The good itself should bring perfect, self-sufficient happiness to the one who possesses it. But does this kind of perfect happiness actually exist?

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