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The Consolation of Philosophy

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1 The Consolation of Philosophy
AP English IV

2 Journal Warm-up What is happiness? In what specific ways do human beings misconceive, and therefore miss happiness? Answer in paragraph form and be prepared to share your response. 

3 What is Philosophy? Philosophy is quite simply man’s search for meaning, the search for truth. If you’re not confused, you’re either a god or an animal, but you’re not a philosopher.

4 The Context Written while Boethius was exiled and in prison, it became one of the most influential books ever written in Latin. The book takes the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Philosophy, personified as a woman. Boethius, once a high ranking official of state, has been wrongly accused, exiled, and tortured daily while he awaits his execution date. He is accused of being a traitor. Both its imagery and its arguments became part of the common stock of medieval ideas.

5 The Issues Poses a problem as the text does not seem explicitly Christian. Why would a Christian author turn to philosophy, not to faith, in the greatest crisis of his life? Some interpretations suggest Boethius was never more than superficially Christian, that his real loyalty was to pagan philosophy. Others emphasize the Christian imagery and language of the text Another perspective suggests Boethius set out to write a philosophical rather than a theological work in order to emphasize what Christians had in common with the best pagan thought, as representatives of “civilization” against the “barbarians” who had falsely accused and imprisoned him.

6 The Complaint The prisoner’s main complaint is that divine providence leaves human affairs ungoverned; the wicked have power and the good suffer at their hands. The Consolation, therefore, examines the nature of providence, its relation to human affairs, and the nature of good and evil, moving outward from man’s feelings about a specific historical situation to a timeless, global, “God’s eye” view of the whole sweep of the universe.

7 The Argument Boethius first complains about the loss of good fortune (Book I). Philosophy replies that it is the nature of fortune to be fickle. Moreover, the goods of fortune are not true goods. What then are goods? Philosophy begins to answer this question by examining five false goods. Everyone seeks happiness: a good so complete it leaves nothing more to be desired. Misguided people seek to attain happiness through wealth, public office, kingship, celebrity, and pleasure. Yet, these false goods do not even provide the partial happiness for the sake of which people pursue them.

8 The Resolution Philosophy goes on to argue that people seek these goods as if they are separate, when in fact they are one. True happiness is an all encompassing good. Such happiness cannot be found in transient things. Ultimately, God is the perfect good and source of happiness. There has to be a perfect good that is the source of all good. That good has to be in God because we already believe that nothing better than God can be imagined. God is the source of his own goodness and is, indeed, identical with that goodness. Given that divinity and happiness are the same thing, it follows that human beings become happy by attaining divinity.

9 Remember…. All imperfect goods can be recognized as imperfect because they are partial; the perfect good must be a unity. Thus, the one and the good (or unity and goodness) are the same. We can see this by looking at the natural tendency of things to maintain their unity and integrity and noting that when a thing loses its unity altogether, it ceases to exist. Thus, all things desire or aim at unity, which means that all things desire or aim at the good.

10 The work is best known for. . .
Its influential discussion of the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom Boethius worries that if God’s foreknowledge is both comprehensive and infallible, our actions are unnecessary. We cannot do anything other than what we, in fact, do because we cannot behave in a way that God turns out to be mistaken. Still, it is hard to see how we could ever deserve blame or punishment for doing wrong, or praise or reward for doing right, when we never have the power to do anything other than what we do.

11 Philosophy works to…. Show how human freedom and moral responsibility are possible within God’s providential governance of the universe. She explains that God is eternal—that is, outside time altogether—so that he does not foreknow our actions; he simply knows them, timelessly. She then uses the doctrine of divine eternity to show how our actions are not necessary in any sense that threatens freedom or moral responsibility.

12 If God is really as powerful and good as Philosophy claims, why are there evils?
She plans to argue that “the powerful men are in fact always the good, while the wicked are always the abject or weak; that vices never go unpunished, nor virtues unrewarded; that the good always achieve success, and the wicked suffer misfortune.” Success in human action depends on two things: will and power Everyone, whether virtuous or wicked, wants to attain happiness, but the wicked don’t attain it. Therefore we must conclude that they lack the power to attain it. Boethius objects—Don’t evil men have power, given that they are able to do evil? Philosophy replies: No, because evil is nothing, the power to do evil isn’t really power at all.

13 Boethius accepts these arguments, but still wishes that the evil were not allowed to ravage the good. Philosophy replies they are not allowed to do so. Their schemes often come to bad ends, and death soon overtakes them. She also notes the wicked are worse off when their schemes are successful: it’s bad to desire evil, even worse to achieve it.

14 Book V’s Problem/Solution
The problem of foreknowledge and freedom is an argument designed to suggest the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and human free choice. What God knows must be the case. What must be the case is not subject to human free choice God foreknows all our actions Therefore, our future actions are not subject to human choice

15 Philosophy says the solution depends on….
Understanding the nature of God’s foreknowledge and the nature of necessity. God’s knowledge of the future is not properly called foreknowledge, since God’s understanding and knowledge is eternal Eternity is “the complete and perfect possession of illimitable life all at once.” God’s life is not successive as ours. He has no past, present, or future. His foreknowledge is analogous to our own vision of something present, such as a chariot race.

16 God’s foreknowledge is not incompatible with free choice.
It’s true that if we see the charioteer doing something, he must be doing it, yet we do not suppose that this “must” in any way interfere with his free choice. This is the same kind of necessity—Boethius calls it “conditional necessity”—that attaches to what God “foreknows.” Thus, what God knows is conditionally unnecessary. But something that is conditionally necessary can still be the subject of free choice. Therefore, the original argument for the incompatibility of foreknowledge and freedom fails. And this is where the work ends.

17 Metaphors of the Text The Wheel of Fortune
The mutability of life is depicted as its main attribute Change is the nature of fortune/Life is a roulette wheel Concentric circles of the Divine The wheel of fortune is a circle out of control, but divine nature uses the circle as a symbol of order God is at the center of the universe, a force of goodness and order; as distance increases, so does unhappiness. Philosophy as medicine/Evil as sickness Lady Philosophy uses logic and stories to enable Boethius to once again understand his nature and the nature of the divine. He has forgotten his true nature. He has forgotten the source of Supreme good and, therefore, his happiness.

18 Whatever it is…. True happiness leaves nothing else to be desired.
We are motivated by our very natures to pursue happiness…..everything action/choice is aiming at happiness. Philosophy lists the false goods of wealth, kingship, public office, celebrity, and pleasure. People seek these goods as though they were separate things…and they can only be obtained in one encompassing good. (Book III, 9, p. 64) True and perfect happiness is something that makes a person powerful, and venerable, and joyful, and self-sufficient, and renowned—all in one. This is a very Platonian argument—only an eternal and permanent good can offer real and true happiness. (Book III, 10, p. 68)

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