The Consolation of Philosophy (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

The Consolation of Philosophy (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

While in prison awaiting a brutal execution, Boethius produced arguably the most famous work of early medieval philosophy and literature, the celebrated Consolation of Philosophy. In alternating sections of prose and poetry, Boethius describes the circumstances of his rapid fall from the upper echelons of society and power. In a conversation with lady Philosophy, Boethius discusses the perennial questions of human existence: the possibility of human happiness, the problem of evil, the vicissitudes of fortune in living well, the question of whether there is order in the universe, and the possibility of human freedom. The Consolation of Philosophy has survived as a brilliant work of Latin literature, and early English translations done by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I are still extant.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780760769799
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/22/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 172,844
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (ca. AD 475-525) was born in Rome to an eminent aristocratic family whose members included two Roman emperors. When his father died, Boethius was adopted by the powerful, cultured, and noble family of Symmachus. He gradually ascended to political power, with the political pinnacle occurring with his appointment as Magister Officiorum or "Master of Offices." Shortly after his appointment, Boethius was tried and found guilty in absentia for treason. He was put to death, not before, however, having finished the work for which he is most famous.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

While in prison awaiting a brutal execution at the hands of the Gothic king Theodoric, the Roman philosopher and statesman Boethius produced arguably the most famous work of early medieval philosophy and literature, the celebrated The Consolation of Philosophy. In alternating sections of prose and poetry, Boethius describes the circumstances of his rapid fall from the upper echelons of society and power. Part autobiography, part philosophy, and part literature, The Consolation of Philosophy presents a dramatic narrative in which the character Boethius discusses his plight with lady Philosophy. As his teacher, Philosophy leads him to a discussion of the perennial questions of human existence, and their conversation covers such topics as the possibility of human happiness, the problem of evil, the vicissitudes of fortune in living well, the question of whether there is order in the universe, and the possibility of human freedom. While it is unknown how the author Boethius managed to have his manuscript safely smuggled from prison before his untimely death, The Consolation of Philosophy has survived as a brilliant work of Latin literature, and early English translations done by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I are still extant. This classic has earned high marks from readers throughout the ages, and Dante in his famous poem honors Boethius by placing him next to the great contemplatives Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Greatin the Paradiso.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (ca. 475-525 AD) was born in Rome to an eminent aristocratic family whose members included two Roman emperors. When his father died early in Boethius’ childhood, Boethius was adopted by the powerful, cultured, and noble family of Symmachus. Symmachus was a descendent of the great defender of classical paganism by the same name who famously, yet unsuccessfully, debated with St. Ambrose over the restoration of the Altar of Victory at the senate house in Rome. Boethius would later marry the younger Symmachus’ daughter, Rusticiana, and they would have two sons who, like their father and the younger Symmachus, would eventually become Roman consuls. In the household of Symmachus, Boethius was educated in Latin literature and Greek thinking and benefited from the best schooling of his day. He gradually ascended to political power, with the political pinnacle occurring with his appointment as Magister Officiorum or “Master of Offices” for Theodoric around 522, establishing Boethius as the overseer of the major affairs at court in Ravenna. He was not only a man of book learning and political power, but he also had his hand at designing a sundial and water clock for a Burgundian king at the request of Theodoric. Shortly after his appointment, however, his political troubles began. He was accused of engaging in treasonous activities, though these charges are considered to be fabrications in the apologetic portions of The Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius was tried and found guilty in absentia and then was mercilessly tortured and bludgeoned to death, not before, however, having finished the work for which he is most famous.

Although Boethius is indeed best known for The Consolation of Philosophy, this late work was by no means his only scholarly output. The diverse subject matter of his earlier works indicates well the depth and breadth of his learning; in addition to philosophical commentaries on some logical writings of Aristotle, Cicero, and Porphyry, he also produced books on mathematics, music, logic, astronomy, and theology. Arguably the most educated man of his age, and certainly one of the few men of his time to be master of both the ancient Greek and classical Latin languages, Boethius would come to be regarded as “last of the Romans, first of the scholastics,” because his works are rooted in the best of classical Latin and also prefigure developments that would only be made explicit in later medieval writers. Two of Boethius’ theological treatises, On the Trinity and On the Hebdomads, would be enormously influential in the western Latin theology of the later Middle Ages, even eliciting detailed commentaries by the thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. Although Boethius’ premature death prevented the completion of his self-proclaimed projects of both translating the entire corpus of Plato’s and Aristotle’s works from Greek into Latin and showing that Plato and Aristotle were in agreement on the fundamentals of philosophy, nearly all of his writings (and The Consolation of Philosophy is no exception) show him to be a masterful appropriator, preserver, and transmitter of Greek Aristotelian, Platonic, and Neoplatonic themes to the Latin world. Boethius is credited with having coined the term quadrivium (literally, “four ways”) to cover the four arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, and in doing so helped to fashion the way liberal arts would be studied and organized in the later Middle Ages. Indeed, his definition of person as an “individual substance of a rational nature” would be canonical throughout the Middle Ages and would serve as a starting point for discussions of divine as well as human personhood. Above these other works, however, The Consolation of Philosophy was one of the most widely-read and widely-available works in medieval Europe starting in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, and its popularity would continue in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The Consolation of Philosophy is divided into five books, and each book is further divided into alternating sections of prose and poetry. Thus, the work structurally blends genres in a way that hearkens back to the tradition of Menippean satire. The title of the work itself presents a double entendre, since it simultaneously describes the setting of the work and indicates the scope of its subject matter. First, the title describes the setting, where the character of Philosophy offers her consolation to a grieving Boethius, who, depicted as imprisoned at the end of his life, grieves over his lost fortunes and sullied reputation. She appears in the role of a philosophical doctor, tending to the weakness of a patient, ready to dispense philosophical cures between poetic preparations. Boethius the author thus stands in a venerable tradition first initiated by Plato in his dialogue Gorgias, in which philosophy is presented as cure for sicknesses of the soul. Secondly, the title captures the issue that every careful reader of the work must deal with, namely, whether philosophy does, in fact, console. At issue is the question of whether philosophical activity affords a genuine remedy to the ills of human existence. The prospect of a purely philosophical consolation, distinct from competing claims, say, in revealed theology, has been a puzzle for commentators who reflect on the fact that Boethius is the author of the influential theological treatises mentioned above. In earlier times, Boethius was revered as a saint, and he was commonly considered a martyr for some centuries, though there have been more recent attempts to discredit this version of his demise. Yet the question remains why the historical Boethius, known for theological subtleties and author of a work called On the Catholic Faith, would turn strictly to philosophy in a time of need. There is little, if anything, that is particularly Christian in The Consolation of Philosophy; rather, the work seems to limit itself to the best of Greek and Latin secular thought. It is not difficult to agree with the estimation found in Samuel Johnson’s often-quoted remark that Boethius in his last work seems magis philosophus quam Christianus or “to a greater extent philosopher than Christian.”

The first book of The Consolation of Philosophy is largely autobiographical. In the setting of the work, Philosophy appears to the imprisoned character Boethius and finds him weeping and vainly trying to compose verses. Boethius complains that he has lived a life devoted to philosophy, and in his capacity as a public servant he has always championed the causes of justice and the common good. It is nothing less than monstrous, Boethius contends, that despite his righteousness in the sight of God such evil would be allowed to befall him. He wonders how God and evil can co-exist. Perhaps God merely orders the heavens, and lets the good man suffer down in the sublunary sphere. By broaching these issues, Boethius establishes himself firmly within the tradition of a strictly natural or philosophical theology, as opposed to revealed theology. These discussions raise the question of whether human reason, apart from religious faith or revelation, is able to provide answers to these inquiries. Philosophy is quick to rebuke Boethius, alleging that he has failed to remember many of her doctrines, not the least of which includes teachings about what he is, the end or goal of all things, and his native country. Regarding the last item, it seems that Philosophy is not reminding Boethius of his Roman citizenship, but referring to a philosophical citizenship in an intellectual community spanning the ages, perhaps comparable to citizenship in the famous city “in speech” described in Plato’s Republic or even the Civitas Dei of Augustine.

The second book of the Consolation contains Boethius’ celebrated discussion of the role of fortune in happiness. Philosophy diagnoses the cause of his spiritual sickness as a longing for his previously possessed good fortune. She resurrects the ancient Herodotean image of fortune as a turning wheel, where those who rise with fortune’s graces are bound to fall in turn. The discussion turns to an analysis of the alleged necessity of external goods (e.g., friends, wealth, money, honors) for happiness. The author Boethius seems heavily indebted to the philosophical tradition in this part of the work, for one can detect the traces of arguments found in Plato’s dialogues and the sayings of Epictetus when Philosophy champions the irrelevance of external goods to human happiness. If happiness exists, it cannot be extrinsically bestowed, but must be found in oneself as an internal good. External goods cannot truly be one’s own, for what is truly one’s own is presumably what can never be taken away. If Boethius’ wealth, honors, and good reputation were really his own, he never would have lost them. The author Boethius thus stands in concert with a Socratic and Stoic tradition that attempts to extricate fortune from an account of human flourishing or happiness.

The third book of the Consolation is the most Aristotelian part of the work. The argument of the book often hearkens back to the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle in its systematic presentation of wealth, high offices, power, glory, and pleasure as incapable of securing happiness. Surely wealth can never make one self-sufficient. High offices are merely bestowed by ignorant mobs. Power and kingdoms seem to bring misery to their possessors, as the famous tale of the sword of Damocles makes clear. Surely glory and reputation pale in comparison with self-knowledge. If happiness is physical pleasure, then beasts should be called happy as well. Boethius’ account, however, is not merely a via negativa, in which possible candidates for happiness are systematically rejected on the basis of argument. A positive account follows, which includes a piece of argumentation that in many ways prefigures ontological-style arguments made famous later in the history of philosophy with thinkers like the eleventh and early twelfth century bishop and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury and the seventeenth-century founder of modern philosophy, René Descartes. Lady Philosophy describes God as that which nothing better can be conceived, and as good, God must be the highest good. Using purely rational arguments and never appealing to faith or revelation, Philosophy argues for the uniqueness or singularity of God, and ultimately identifies happiness with God. If happiness exists, it must be identifiable with acquiring divinity by participation. It should be noted, however, that these “theological” discussions between the character Boethius and Philosophy which broach the subject of God and human participation in divinity appear far removed from a religious discussion of the divine, but parallel the discussions of divinity found in Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, God is not described toward the end of the book with attributes such as being loving or caring, but rather is described as the principle by which things remain in existence and have motion. At no point in the work does the argumentation stray from a purely philosophical, or natural, theology.

In its presentation of the classical doctrine of evil as a privation, the penultimate book of the Consolation further explores the theme of metaphysical participation set forth in the previous book. Evil is not something positive; rather, evil designates that something that should be present is lacking or missing. As a counterpart to the argument in the previous book that happiness is the participation of the good human being in divinity, the present book argues that moral evil causes an agent to lose being. Wicked human beings preserve the outward appearance of a human body, but in the quality of their minds they are, essentially, beasts. Rather than adopting the Platonic philosophical myth of reincarnation, where evil human beings are said to be reborn in the next life as the animal that best represents the vice of which they were guilty, Boethius modifies the teaching with a metaphysical account that understands moral evil to be a loss of being, and hence, a loss of nature. Moral failures lead one to move down the chain or hierarchy of being. The lazy man retains the outward appearance of being human, but mentally is only an ass. The lust-filled man keeps his human shape, but mentally is a filthy sow. The deceiving man’s outward appearance is that of a man, though his soul is that of a fox. Loss of virtue is equated with a loss of being, and with a loss of being comes a descent to a lower nature. The doctrine of philosophical deification present in the third book is paralleled with the doctrine of the loss of nature present in the fourth book. These doctrines would become appropriated later among Italian Renaissance philosophers, most notably in the celebrated Oratio of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

The final book of the Consolation contains the densest piece of philosophical argumentation in the work. Boethius tackles the age-old question of the compatibility of human free will in the presence of divine foreknowledge. Boethius wonders why God’s knowledge of all things in the past, present, and future does not necessitate the actions of human beings in the present. There would seem to be a need to protect human freedom and choice in the face of the omniscience of God. The solution provided by Philosophy involves a subtle analysis of God’s eternal present, which is shown in significant ways to be different from the human temporal present. The argument of the book is the locus classicus of the philosophical problem of protecting human freedom in the context of divine prescience.

Boethius’s greatest work, The Consolation of Philosophy, survives both as a classic in the canon of great literature and as a major text in the history of Western philosophy. After nearly a millennium and a half its doctrines continue to command attention, and interest in the provocative questions it asks in the midst of the beauty and artistry of its poetry and prose shows no sign of waning.

Michael V. Dougherty is an assistant professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio. His research interests include medieval and renaissance philosophy.

Introduction

Introduction

 

While in prison awaiting a brutal execution at the hands of the Gothic king Theodoric, the Roman philosopher and statesman Boethius produced arguably the most famous work of early medieval philosophy and literature, the celebrated The Consolation of Philosophy. In alternating sections of prose and poetry, Boethius describes the circumstances of his rapid fall from the upper echelons of society and power. Part autobiography, part philosophy, and part literature, The Consolation of Philosophy presents a dramatic narrative in which the character Boethius discusses his plight with lady Philosophy. As his teacher, Philosophy leads him to a discussion of the perennial questions of human existence, and their conversation covers such topics as the possibility of human happiness, the problem of evil, the vicissitudes of fortune in living well, the question of whether there is order in the universe, and the possibility of human freedom. While it is unknown how the author Boethius managed to have his manuscript safely smuggled from prison before his untimely death, The Consolation of Philosophy has survived as a brilliant work of Latin literature, and early English translations done by King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I are still extant. This classic has earned high marks from readers throughout the ages, and Dante in his famous poem honors Boethius by placing him next to the great contemplatives Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Greatin the Paradiso.

           

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (ca. 475-525 AD) was born in Rome to an eminent aristocraticfamily whose members included two Roman emperors. When his father died early in Boethius’ childhood, Boethius was adopted by the powerful, cultured, and noble family of Symmachus. Symmachus was a descendent of the great defender of classical paganism by the same name who famously, yet unsuccessfully, debated with St. Ambrose over the restoration of the Altar of Victory at the senate house in Rome. Boethius would later marry the younger Symmachus’ daughter, Rusticiana, and they would have two sons who, like their father and the younger Symmachus, would eventually become Roman consuls. In the household of Symmachus, Boethius was educated in Latin literature and Greek thinking and benefited from the best schooling of his day. He gradually ascended to political power, with the political pinnacle occurring with his appointment as Magister Officiorum or “Master of Offices” for Theodoric around 522, establishing Boethius as the overseer of the major affairs at court in Ravenna. He was not only a man of book learning and political power, but he also had his hand at designing a sundial and water clock for a Burgundian king at the request of Theodoric. Shortly after his appointment, however, his political troubles began. He was accused of engaging in treasonous activities, though these charges are considered to be fabrications in the apologetic portions of The Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius was tried and found guilty in absentia and then was mercilessly tortured and bludgeoned to death, not before, however, having finished the work for which he is most famous.

 

Although Boethius is indeed best known for The Consolation of Philosophy, this late work was by no means his only scholarly output. The diverse subject matter of his earlier works indicates well the depth and breadth of his learning; in addition to philosophical commentaries on some logical writings of Aristotle, Cicero, and Porphyry, he also produced books on mathematics, music, logic, astronomy, and theology. Arguably the most educated man of his age, and certainly one of the few men of his time to be master of both the ancient Greek and classical Latin languages, Boethius would come to be regarded as “last of the Romans, first of the scholastics,” because his works are rooted in the best of classical Latin and also prefigure developments that would only be made explicit in later medieval writers. Two of Boethius’ theological treatises, On the Trinity and On the Hebdomads, would be enormously influential in the western Latin theology of the later Middle Ages, even eliciting detailed commentaries by the thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. Although Boethius’ premature death prevented the completion of his self-proclaimed projects of both translating the entire corpus of Plato’s and Aristotle’s works from Greek into Latin and showing that Plato and Aristotle were in agreement on the fundamentals of philosophy, nearly all of his writings (and The Consolation of Philosophy is no exception) show him to be a masterful appropriator, preserver, and transmitter of Greek Aristotelian, Platonic, and Neoplatonic themes to the Latin world. Boethius is credited with having coined the term quadrivium (literally, “four ways”) to cover the four arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, and in doing so helped to fashion the way liberal arts would be studied and organized in the later Middle Ages. Indeed, his definition of person as an “individual substance of a rational nature” would be canonical throughout the Middle Ages and would serve as a starting point for discussions of divine as well as human personhood. Above these other works, however, The Consolation of Philosophy was one of the most widely-read and widely-available works in medieval Europe starting in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, and its popularity would continue in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.

           

The Consolation of Philosophy is divided into five books, and each book is further divided into alternating sections of prose and poetry. Thus, the work structurally blends genres in a way that hearkens back to the tradition of Menippean satire. The title of the work itself presents a double entendre, since it simultaneously describes the setting of the work and indicates the scope of its subject matter. First, the title describes the setting, where the character of Philosophy offers her consolation to a grieving Boethius, who, depicted as imprisoned at the end of his life, grieves over his lost fortunes and sullied reputation. She appears in the role of a philosophical doctor, tending to the weakness of a patient, ready to dispense philosophical cures between poetic preparations. Boethius the author thus stands in a venerable tradition first initiated by Plato in his dialogue Gorgias, in which philosophy is presented as cure for sicknesses of the soul. Secondly, the title captures the issue that every careful reader of the work must deal with, namely, whether philosophy does, in fact, console. At issue is the question of whether philosophical activity affords a genuine remedy to the ills of human existence. The prospect of a purely philosophical consolation, distinct from competing claims, say, in revealed theology, has been a puzzle for commentators who reflect on the fact that Boethius is the author of the influential theological treatises mentioned above. In earlier times, Boethius was revered as a saint, and he was commonly considered a martyr for some centuries, though there have been more recent attempts to discredit this version of his demise. Yet the question remains why the historical Boethius, known for theological subtleties and author of a work called On the Catholic Faith, would turn strictly to philosophy in a time of need. There is little, if anything, that is particularly Christian in The Consolation of Philosophy; rather, the work seems to limit itself to the best of Greek and Latin secular thought. It is not difficult to agree with the estimation found in Samuel Johnson’s often-quoted remark that Boethius in his last work seems magis philosophus quam Christianus or “to a greater extent philosopher than Christian.”

           

The first book of The Consolation of Philosophy is largely autobiographical. In the setting of the work, Philosophy appears to the imprisoned character Boethius and finds him weeping and vainly trying to compose verses. Boethius complains that he has lived a life devoted to philosophy, and in his capacity as a public servant he has always championed the causes of justice and the common good. It is nothing less than monstrous, Boethius contends, that despite his righteousness in the sight of God such evil would be allowed to befall him. He wonders how God and evil can co-exist. Perhaps God merely orders the heavens, and lets the good man suffer down in the sublunary sphere. By broaching these issues, Boethius establishes himself firmly within the tradition of a strictly natural or philosophical theology, as opposed to revealed theology. These discussions raise the question of whether human reason, apart from religious faith or revelation, is able to provide answers to these inquiries. Philosophy is quick to rebuke Boethius, alleging that he has failed to remember many of her doctrines, not the least of which includes teachings about what he is, the end or goal of all things, and his native country. Regarding the last item, it seems that Philosophy is not reminding Boethius of his Roman citizenship, but referring to a philosophical citizenship in an intellectual community spanning the ages, perhaps comparable to citizenship in the famous city “in speech” described in Plato’s Republic or even the Civitas Dei of Augustine.

           

The second book of the Consolation contains Boethius’ celebrated discussion of the role of fortune in happiness. Philosophy diagnoses the cause of his spiritual sickness as a longing for his previously possessed good fortune. She resurrects the ancient Herodotean image of fortune as a turning wheel, where those who rise with fortune’s graces are bound to fall in turn. The discussion turns to an analysis of the alleged necessity of external goods (e.g., friends, wealth, money, honors) for happiness. The author Boethius seems heavily indebted to the philosophical tradition in this part of the work, for one can detect the traces of arguments found in Plato’s dialogues and the sayings of Epictetus when Philosophy champions the irrelevance of external goods to human happiness. If happiness exists, it cannot be extrinsically bestowed, but must be found in oneself as an internal good. External goods cannot truly be one’s own, for what is truly one’s own is presumably what can never be taken away. If Boethius’ wealth, honors, and good reputation were really his own, he never would have lost them. The author Boethius thus stands in concert with a Socratic and Stoic tradition that attempts to extricate fortune from an account of human flourishing or happiness.

 

The third book of the Consolation is the most Aristotelian part of the work. The argument of the book often hearkens back to the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle in its systematic presentation of wealth, high offices, power, glory, and pleasure as incapable of securing happiness. Surely wealth can never make one self-sufficient. High offices are merely bestowed by ignorant mobs. Power and kingdoms seem to bring misery to their possessors, as the famous tale of the sword of Damocles makes clear. Surely glory and reputation pale in comparison with self-knowledge. If happiness is physical pleasure, then beasts should be called happy as well. Boethius’ account, however, is not merely a via negativa, in which possible candidates for happiness are systematically rejected on the basis of argument. A positive account follows, which includes a piece of argumentation that in many ways prefigures ontological-style arguments made famous later in the history of philosophy with thinkers like the eleventh and early twelfth century bishop and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury and the seventeenth-century founder of modern philosophy, René Descartes. Lady Philosophy describes God as that which nothing better can be conceived, and as good, God must be the highest good. Using purely rational arguments and never appealing to faith or revelation, Philosophy argues for the uniqueness or singularity of God, and ultimately identifies happiness with God. If happiness exists, it must be identifiable with acquiring divinity by participation. It should be noted, however, that these “theological” discussions between the character Boethius and Philosophy which broach the subject of God and human participation in divinity appear far removed from a religious discussion of the divine, but parallel the discussions of divinity found in Plato and Aristotle. Indeed, God is not described toward the end of the book with attributes such as being loving or caring, but rather is described as the principle by which things remain in existence and have motion. At no point in the work does the argumentation stray from a purely philosophical, or natural, theology.

 

In its presentation of the classical doctrine of evil as a privation, the penultimate book of the Consolation further explores the theme of metaphysical participation set forth in the previous book. Evil is not something positive; rather, evil designates that something that should be present is lacking or missing. As a counterpart to the argument in the previous book that happiness is the participation of the good human being in divinity, the present book argues that moral evil causes an agent to lose being. Wicked human beings preserve the outward appearance of a human body, but in the quality of their minds they are, essentially, beasts. Rather than adopting the Platonic philosophical myth of reincarnation, where evil human beings are said to be reborn in the next life as the animal that best represents the vice of which they were guilty, Boethius modifies the teaching with a metaphysical account that understands moral evil to be a loss of being, and hence, a loss of nature. Moral failures lead one to move down the chain or hierarchy of being. The lazy man retains the outward appearance of being human, but mentally is only an ass. The lust-filled man keeps his human shape, but mentally is a filthy sow. The deceiving man’s outward appearance is that of a man, though his soul is that of a fox. Loss of virtue is equated with a loss of being, and with a loss of being comes a descent to a lower nature. The doctrine of philosophical deification present in the third book is paralleled with the doctrine of the loss of nature present in the fourth book. These doctrines would become appropriated later among Italian Renaissance philosophers, most notably in the celebrated Oratio of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

 

The final book of the Consolation contains the densest piece of philosophical argumentation in the work. Boethius tackles the age-old question of the compatibility of human free will in the presence of divine foreknowledge. Boethius wonders why God’s knowledge of all things in the past, present, and future does not necessitate the actions of human beings in the present. There would seem to be a need to protect human freedom and choice in the face of the omniscience of God. The solution provided by Philosophy involves a subtle analysis of God’s eternal present, which is shown in significant ways to be different from the human temporal present. The argument of the book is the locus classicus of the philosophical problem of protecting human freedom in the context of divine prescience.

 

Boethius’s greatest work, The Consolation of Philosophy, survives both as a classic in the canon of great literature and as a major text in the history of Western philosophy. After nearly a millennium and a half its doctrines continue to command attention, and interest in the provocative questions it asks in the midst of the beauty and artistry of its poetry and prose shows no sign of waning.

 

Michael V. Dougherty is an assistant professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio. His research interests include medieval and renaissance philosophy.

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Consolation of Philosophy 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
4_ever_a_student_of_life More than 1 year ago
Read it slowly, ready it several times, read it while reflecting on some of things that you have chosen to do. I read this book specifically for chapter 5 to help my understanding of free will. I now have a deeper understanding of free will and how Whatever I chose, I can still be in Gods favor. But like all of Gods work, that chapter 5 has left me with more questions which I need to continue on in my learning, deepening my understanding of God and developing that relationship. Read this and discover your question that will have you wanting to learn more. PS - I didn't like all the poems so skipped over most of them, but then again I am free to do that (LOL).
Guest More than 1 year ago
A stunning work of combined Christian and pagan thought, and a testament to personal courage in the face of physical annihilation, I found this book to be excellent at bringing me out of a deep despair.
baswood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Boethius was the adopted son of Symmachus a highly committed christian and consul at Rome in the late 5th century AD. Boethius in his turn also became consul and the was then appointed by Theodric (King of Italy) to a high ranking position at his court at Ravenna. After a year in post Boethius fell foul of court intrigue and was imprisoned on charges of treason. Whilst in prison and hopeful of reprieve he wrote the Consolation of philosophy. His reprieve never came and he was executed around 525 AD.The Consolation is not a religious tract, it is more a philosophical argument for the existence of God and its aim is to provide comfort to all unfortunate souls who find themselves like Boethius in extreme distress. There are five short books: Book 1: introduces the persona of philosophy and Boethius pours out to her his woes. She promises to provide medicine to cure his moral sickness. Book 2: is a condemnation of the material advantages that Boethius has already enjoyed and looks forward to a time when these will no longer be needed. Book 3: examines the nature of true happiness and the search for true good and puts forward the idea that the perfect good in which lies true happiness is God. Book 4: examines whether God apportions appropriate justice to good and evil men in the world and attempts to explain the apparent irrationality in which the widespread operation of chance seems to be at odds with Gods wise governance. Book 5: asks the question; how can man's free will be reconciled with divine providence. a summary of the arguments then lead the prisoner to spiritual freedom, to shake off the shackles of earthly serfdom and rise to be at one with God.When philosophy first visits Boethius he is surrounded by the muses of poetry, which she drives away calling them "these harlots". A question the reader might ask is whether Boethius would have been better off sticking with the muses of poetry. I think the logical arguments that are easily followed would convince many people that philosophy is the better bet. There are of course gaps in the logic to the modern mind but overall I thought that much of what is said seemed to speak to me down the ages. The one big issue that is not examined satisfactorily is why there is evil in the world If God is omnipotent, A knotty question I know but the consolation seems to shy away from this. I read the Oxford world's classics edition translated and introduced by P G Walsh, which I found to be excellent. Each chapter of text is either introduced or followed by a poem and these are worth the price of the book alone. They either sum up the text or give additional information. I loved them. Walsh provides plenty of background information and his notes are easy to follow and precise. The only advice I would give to readers before starting the book would be to make sure that they are familiar with the basic tenets of Neoplatonism. Walsh has a short chapter on it but to get the most out of the consolation which is based on neoplatonism do a bit of background reading.I will return to this marvellous little book, especially those poems
jclemence on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Consolation of Philosophy is Boethius' attempt to wrap his mind and soul around the problem of theodicy. Specifically, Boethius, a philosopher in the 4th-5th cent. AD, is coming to grips with his own unjust suffering and impending death. As he languishes in a prison cell, he writes Consolation, in which Philosophy herself descends to talk with him specifically about his own plight, as well as the problem of evil generally in this world. Boethius divides his conversation with Philosophy into five books, each of which tackles a specific issue, question, or argument. Book I: Philosophy descends from heaven to meet Boethius in his cell. Boethius airs his complaints to her, culminating his argument by stating, "And now you see the outcome of my innocence--instead of reward for true goodness, punishment for a crime I did not commit." Philosophy lays out the thesis of her response: "Your defenses have been breached and your mind has been infiltrated by the fever of emotional distraction¿You have forgotten your true nature." Book II: Philosophy argues that money, power and fame (collectively called Fortune) are destined to go away, and one's fortune can be reversed at any moment. Therefore, these things cannot bring true happiness--so why worry if they are taken away?Book III: Philosophy sketches out the true cause of happiness. Namely, true happiness can be found in God alone, because only He completely embodies what it means to be happy. The closer one draws to God, the happier one will be.Book IV: Philosophy turns to a discussion of good and evil. Today, we might say she is answering the questions, "Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?" Her answer is that ultimately all things that happen to a good person are good (because they are either reward or discipline), and all things that happen to a bad person are bad (because they are either punishment or correction).Book V: Philosophy wraps up her conversation with Boethius by examining the relationship of free will to God's foreknowledge. She argues that because God sees all things as an eternal present, he necessarily knows the future, though from our vantage point as travelers through time, the choices we make are genuinely free.Like many people out there, last year (2011) was a rough one for my family and me. We went through a lot of trials, and my faith was stretched to the limit. Admittedly, things in my life were not nearly as bad off as they were for Boethius, but nevertheless I found myself making many of the same complaints and observations that he did. For this reason, I really appreciated The Consolation. As the book progressed, I was able to identify with and internalize Philosophy's overarching argument, which is summarized well by Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good for those who love God." While some of Philosophy's logic is suspect (e.g., the idea that evil is nothing, which unfortunately is just a clever equivocation of terms), there are many, many more nuggets of wisdom that still ring true some 1500 years later. I highly recommend this book for anyone who needs reassurance in time of suffering.
P_S_Patrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a dialogue between the female personification of Philosophy, and the author Boethius, in the sixth century A.D. He is in a bit of a fix, and is considering profound philosophical questions. The topics include free will and determinism, the nature of God, human nature, goodness, justice, and they are discussed between the two characters who present arguments and make decisions. There are also numerous verses relating to the topics throughout the book, which act in a way as summaries.The arguments and topics are very much of Platonic and Aristotlean origin, often with a Neoplatonic interpretation. Though the book is religious in purpose, it is a philosophical work that aims to support the tenets of religion without reference to scripture, using only reason. Boethius has a great literary style, which makes this book very nice to read, though the book is just as valuable for how it deals with the big questions. In many aspects it is more satisfying that some of Plato's lesser dialogues, which often reach no conclusion, and in which it is not immediately obvious what we are being taught. Boethius gets to the point, gets the arguments out, and makes decisions. On some things I do not believe he is correct, but a lot of the thought is incisive, and the philosophy on the whole is just as good, if not better, than Augustine's Confessions. These books have a fair amount in common, but are also very different. This book ought to be part of the education of anyone studying philosophy, and happily it has the value of being effortless to read, unlike many other important works.
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Dont work
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