My Interpretation of Boethius Consolation of Philosophy

32 Views 31 Downloads


We happen upon Boethius resting in his jail cell contemplating his life and writing poetry. He’s listening to the cruel hymns of the muses of poetry in his head. Philosophy comes in and interrupts the poetry, and tells it to leave their presence, because it presents no cure for Boethius.

It took me reading chapter 1 two times to fully grasp that the muse Philosophy was just in his head. The book follows a back and forth narrative between Lady Philosophy and Boethius as they contemplate his injustice, sorrow, la raison d’etre, chance, fate, God, etc.

Lady Philosophy, in her flowing robe, with the symbol Pi at the bottom, and a ladder raising to Theta near her neck. A robe torn, by those who do not full comprehend what she presents. The tearing of the robe signifies people picking pieces of the ethical/moral philosophies or pieces of the metaphysical philosophies, but never grasping the full picture. The whole book circles around this theme.

Boethius was placed in jail for defending the senate, because without the senate, he feared the republic would fall. Book I is basically him whining to Lady Philosophy about how he was just, punished wrongly, and how he embodied all the cardinal virtues (justice, courage, temperance, wisdom). Boethius blames the virtues, fortune (chance), and God. Lady Philosophy agrees that he did live a life with all of the virtues. Yet, he never contemplated any of these virtues (never achieving theta). Knowing what to do is only one part of the equation of achieving happiness… the other part is being able to think about why this was the right thing to do. One brush with Fortune has completely crushed Boethius’ world.

All good things pursue an ultimate good. All the good + self-sufficiency (unlimited abundance) + perfect possession (no threat of losing anything). Time is kicking Boethius’ ass. Fortune and time aren’t allowing Boethius to encompass the good.

Boethius realizes that if he values an object as good, he’s valuing objects higher than himself.

Boethius is basically claiming to be a victim of Fortune. He’s pursued the good, but values the goods too much and is taking for granted all the good he’s received. He had shelter, wealth, power, respect, pleasure, family, self-sufficiency, and the list goes on. Fortune rips all of these away with just one swipe. All that satisfaction from the good was just temporary and at any moment can be lost. The good can be useful for freeing your mind to contemplate other things in your life — do you really respect the fact that you have shelter and think about it all the time. No, yet, it is comforting to have shelter, and you’re allowed to think about your relationships in comfort with the shelter protecting you.

Another side effect of obtaining this ‘good’ is the fact that you want to protect it. You build up a defense around your good and don’t want to lose any of it. This defense of your good creates a fallacy in your virtues. The fear that overcomes the individual is much worse than losing the good. So, Boethius blames Fortune for delivering and taking the goods. Fortune backfires with the statement “this is my nature.” She is in the business of loaning the good, and can take it back at anytime. Boethius doesn’t possess the good, and it has to be circulated throughout the world and passed around — to each his own due amount. This leads Boethius to wondering if these goods — wealth, power respect, etc — are actually good? Goods can’t be loaned or changed! Lady Philosophy interrupts and claims these are good, but a resource with a limited supply.

Philosophy asks Boethius, “Do you believe that this life consists of hap-hazard and chance, or do you think it is governed by some rational principle?” Boethius replies, “I could never believe that events of such regularity are due to the hap-hazards of chance. In fact, I know that God the Creator watches over His creation. The day will never come that sees me abandon the truth of this belief.” Book I is really just setting up a ton of contradictions for Philosophy to cure later on down the line. He’s claiming knowledge of God, claiming there is no such thing as fortune/chance, everyone is a puppet of God’s predetermined plan(why atonement/sin?), and if Boethius believes in predetermination, why even care about being in jail?

So, we bust into Book II/III. Riddled with the contradictions of Book I, we expect Lady Philosophy to mend Boethius’ view of God, fortune, and philosophy.

God is the supreme good in Boethius’ view. The omnipotent has all the goods, is self-sufficient, and has no chance of losing anything due to constraints such as time or fortune. God is the collective good, with all independent goods leading to God.

If God is the ultimate good, where does evil come from? Boethius explains that evil does not exist. Boethius also existed in a time of Neoplatonism, where evil was created by another God in Genesis (polytheism in Genesis). God also passes down his ultimate good to all of his creations.

“It is impossible for anything to be by nature better than that from which it is derived. I would therefore conclude with perfect logic that which is the origin of all things is in its own substance supreme good.”

Therefore, humans cannot be better than God, and humans create more humans. This leads to an endless loop. If God creates Adam/Eve with 50% of his good, and Adam/Eve create a child with 50% of their good, doesn’t the good have a diminishing return that makes the good fade into oblivion after a certain amount of generations? (Boethius never mentions this topic, this is just my agnostic speculation). More speculation, if there isn’t a diminishing return on the good, is there a cap? If there is no cap (maximum achievable good), but just a standard line to cross (contemplating good and doing good), wouldn’t that just be boring? I mean the only thing you have left to do with your existence in Boethius’ eyes once you obtained both views of the good is to wait on your ‘release to Heaven.’

Let’s get back on track. So, there’s no evil in Boethius’ world. Why? Because your creator made you with supreme good, and your existence is the good. To do evil, is to do the opposite of existence, and therefore not exist. Read that again. That’s some opiate smoking rhetoric. Anytime you’re doing evil, you’re denying your existence. Seek good, and become good. All people have the desire for good, but become wicked in their seeking of the good.

Boethius is basically saying evil is against the nature of the universe. You’re becoming an animal, less than an animal, when you do evil. You’re opposing the paradigm God has set in place for you when he created you with good.

So, evil doesn’t exist and good is thing we all pursue, what else Boethius? Where is the justice for the wicked? Why aren’t they punished?! Lady Philosophy says they never get to be happy. The wicked are opposing the universe! Without punishment, they become more wicked, and less happy — seeking good in even more wicked ways. Lady Philosophy and Boethius agree that they should pity the wicked, because they’re robbing their own selves of happiness.

Book IV basically tries to draw the bigger picture. Providence, fate, and fortune and their wirings.

Providence is the master plan, divine reason itself. Fate is planned order inherit to change. Fortune is a limited resource of the good being distributed to those who need it most, because not everyone is created equal (situational).

So, you have eternity — a singular period. You have time, this unfolding presence that is partial and imperfect. God and Providence rest in eternity, unification and perfection at its height. Fortune and Fate both are like paths leading to Providence, but F&F rest in time. Fortune helps us be better people, while Fate is God’s intervening to help out. This creates a new series of problems in free will and predetermination. Boethius has basically claimed a middle ground that is hard to attack.

Another way to think of it. Providence is God’s design, the opportunity to be happy. Fortune can be good or bad, but all paths point to Providence. Fate is just based off of who we are.

Everyone has the option to exercise the virtues, they’re the lining of the universe! Fortune leads to Fate leads to Providence.

Choice and free will in the Consolation of Philosophy really are just used to pursue the good or fall from the good. Some bring us closer to our nature (Providence/Supreme Good), while some choices drag us into nonexistence (wicked/evil).

So how is this all concluded? God is watching, so be good. I’m dead serious. The good life is to be pursued. God operates by providence. Fortune and Fate tie humans to Providence. God and happiness correlate. God is at the end of your life. Therefore, God is the telos, the purpose at the end of the line. Without the telos, you would have a meaningless existence and be completely miserable (this view is against everything I believe).

You can’t just decorate your life with virtues, but you must rationalize and contemplate these virtues too. But all of these virtues and this good life, what are they good for? They’re beneficial to your current existence/life. You can’t actually achieve supreme good, its only in Providence. You can never be truly happy. Yet, the virtues and the good life lead to a semblance of happiness. God has superior knowledge — intelligence, humans have inferior knowledge — a partial intelligence that can lead us to true knowledge.

So is Boethius pleased? He’s dead in a few days anyways. So, he’s going to meet the supreme good anyways. He looks back at his life and wishes he hadn’t taken for granted all of the good that had been in his life. His mind was flawed and views of the good were broken. His cup was overflowing with the good, but with no contemplation, he too was just tearing off pieces of Lady Philosophy’s robe. His conclusion is more of a warning to those who still have a life to live: live a good one.

Finally, I’m glad to have read Boethius. It is an interesting book. He never actually states which God he’s talking about. I think it is a generalization of God of all religions. Which makes Boethius quite profound for his time! He’s miserable in prison, but through reasoning and recollection of his past, he finds comfort in how is life played out, and is ready to meet his maker.

I’m not converted. I do not think it is a good foundation for any philosophy student. The book just entangles itself in contradictions. It then builds defensive barriers around these holes, so, if anyone challenges them, they just get lost in misused rhetoric. Hope I helped someone out with a paper!


Source by Jonathan L Drouillard

The source of the book

This book was brought from as under a Creative Commons license, or the author or publishing house agrees to publish the book. If you object to the publication of the book, please contact us.


We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Register New Account