Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy in the Ancient Essay

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Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy

In the ancient Roman Empire, the power of the state was beginning to break down. The new religious movement, Christianity, was converting more and more citizens and was spreading out beyond borders and the limits of national influence. There was conflict within this society which often spurred from the contrast between legal wrongs within the empire and moral wrongs as established by the Christian and Catholic churches. Boethius wrote his work Consolation of Philosophy at a time when he was imprisoned for treason and was awaiting what he knew to be a likely execution which is what eventually happened. Logically, his unfortunate position made him question much of what he knew about the world, such as right and wrong, wickedness and righteousness, and of course how these things can be in a world where God is omniscient. His life experiences with the ways in which he as an affluent Roman was taken down by the treachery of others shaped his perspective on the rest of the world and the actions of others in respect to himself. He tried to show through this text how evil exists in a world where God also exists. When theology is introduced into a society, particularly one which believes in a monotheistic religion with a singular, all powerful god, it can be hard to understand wickedness. After all, how and why could a perfect being allow innocent people to be harmed if he had the ability to prevent such actions? This is a question that still plagues humanity today. In the context of the fourth part of his book, Boethius tries to explain through the words of Lady Philosophy that the presence of evil is neither proof nor a denial of God's existence and what is more that those who choose wickedness do so at their own peril because they take their lives and their souls for granted.

The fourth section of the text discusses the nature of evil in the world and whether it exists. In the book Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, the character of Lady Philosophy speaks the following:

Men who give up the common goal of all things that exist, thereby cease to exist themselves. Some may perhaps think it strange that we say that wicked men, who form the majority of men, do not exist; but that is how it is. I am not trying to deny the wickedness of the wicked; what I do deny is that their existence is absolute and complete existence. Just as you might call a corpse a dead man, but couldn't simply call it a man, so I would agree that the wicked are wicked, but could not agree that they have unqualified existence. A thing exists when it keeps its proper place and preserves its own nature. Anything which departs from this ceases to exist, because its existence depends on the preservation of its nature (Boethius 92).

Throughout the book up until the fourth section, Boethius has more or less agreed with Lady Philosophy in their various discussions about life and morality and purpose, but this section of the book is where the two characters present very different perspectives on the issue of evil and God's existence. It is actually a larger question about God and the powers he possesses and the limitations to those powers, if there are limitations that is. Whereas Lady Philosophy makes the statement aforementioned, Boethius has trouble believing her perspective. He argues that the presence of evil should indicate that God is not omniscient or perhaps it is that he is not all-powerful. If he were capable of preventing evil but chose not to do so it would make him seem wicked. Further, he explains that in territories where there is a great deal of wickedness, the goodness in humanity is suppressed. People ignore their need to do good out of a need to survive despite the malicious and wicked behaviors of others. Wickedness begets wickedness is his essential argument.

Lady Philosophy explains to him that God's existence and the existence of evil are not mutually exclusive ideas. They can both be true although it does not seem to make sense. She utilizes logos, which is a rhetorical device utilizing logical links to explain and persuade others of your argument, to prove that although God's existence and the presence of evil seem paradoxical that there is actually an understandable and logical conclusion to this paradox which she then explores. It is an undeniable fact that if God exists then some of his actions are confusing. God permits evil to exist in the world because he has given humanity free will and these people choose wickedness. Instead of controlling every person and dictating their choices, he instead gives people the ability to choose their life's course for themselves. He influences behaviors by establishing a code of morality within the society, but it is up to the people to follow his rules or to reject them and face the legal and mystical consequences for those choices. However, they will not be always rewarded for these poor decisions. God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked and remembering this should help those who feel oppressed by those who do evil. There are other benefits to remaining virtuousness. Specifically, she talks about happiness. Only the virtuous can ever obtain true happiness because those who perform wickedness do not have the same interpersonal relationship with God. Separation from God, she argues, creates such an internal void that it serves as a punishment to the wicked even on the earth.

Lady Philosophy does not believe that wicked people truly exist. This is based on a definition of existence that is not understood in the modern vernacular. Modern people think of existence is whether or not a thing is in a state of being. All living people exist according to this definition. However, Lady Philosophy says that since people choose wickedness, they have then chosen to turn their backs on God. Consequently they are denied God's presence both in this life and in the world beyond it. Without God they can never know true happiness. They cannot aspire to salvation in Heaven. If there is no chance for Heaven, then there is not life after this. If something has no chance at an afterlife then it dies and nothing happens to them. In this understanding, the wicked person is essentially dead already and if something is dead then logic dictates that it cannot exist. Given that all this is true, it can be determined that all the power that the evil seem to have is really nonexistent as well. Although wicked people can negatively impact others by striving for money or power, they cannot do harm to another person's soul and therefore can never really do harm to others. The physical body of the righteous can die but the soul will not, unlike the evil person who only has the physical body because they have no hope of living in the heavens as a spirit.

It is because of the fact that wicked people have no chance for true happiness or to enter Heaven that Lady Philosophy suggests compassion and leniency. Although they have plenary powers, that is to say they have the ability to obtain wealth or political power here on the earth; they will never be satisfied by their ill-gotten gains. Wicked people will spend their lives trying to acquire more and more power or material goods because they do not understand why they feel a void within. Righteous people know the truth. Evil doers feel a void because that hole is where god and godliness lies. Having compassion does not mean that they should go unpunished. Even though wicked people will have their comeuppance after their…

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