Monday, January 24, 2022

The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 3

Lady Philosophy consoles Boethius. Detail of an illustration for the Consolation of Philosophy by the Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?), c. 1465. Image courtesy of the Getty Museum.

 Summary of Book 3

Boethius is now ready for the more serious medicines that Lady Philosophy has promised. She discusses wealth, honor, power, fame, and pleasure as examples of false goods, and goes through each in turn to show how they are limited and only partial, when even good at all. The problem is that humans see only the partial and fail to understand that Good is actual unity.

The discourse becomes self-consciously Platonic as it is stated that humans (and all things) inherently remember the good and the one, but have forgotten or strayed, being misled by the senses and confusion of this world. In reality the happiness which all things seek is unity with God, who in turn is Oneness (as proven through the typical tautological argument starting and ending with the inherent qualities of a presumed concept, such as "oneness" which is typical of antiquity (so found also in both Plato and Aristotle, but even in the skeptic Sextus Empiricus).

Some interesting parallels with Norbert Wiener whom I am also reading: plants are compared to self-reproducing machines (in the Latin text: machinas), and all things seek to maintain unity (which is health, while disunity of the being is sickness and or death); however, in Boethius's universe the "helmsman" (kybernetes) is built-in (i.e., an all-powerful God), and the fear of overall entropy, that characterizes Wiener’s universe, does not exist). This has implications for the concept of “evil,” which in a secularized, physical form is so central to Wiener’s cyberneticism.

God is proven to be unity because nothing partial could have caused the universe; Lady Philosophy then asks if God, being perfectly good, could do evil; Boethius says no, and Lady Philosophy responds that therefore evil does not exist, because nothing is beyond the power of God. Boethius then objects that she is trapping him in a labyrinth and asks how she will get them out; Lady Philosophy responds with the myth of Orpheus, a warning not to be distracted by earthly desires. The problem of evil will be addressed in the next book.


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