The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius - Book IV

October 9 2018

The Consolation of Philosophy - Book IV

Why is evil? Why are their wicked people if all tends to goodness?

Philosophy tries to explain why evil is not a relevant concept. Goodness is powerful (it is god after all), so wickedness is weak. Any human action presumes two things: there is will and there is ability.

If a person fails to do something, they lacked the ability to get what they have wanted. If one achieves to do something, the had the ability to get what they are wanted. The former person was weak and the latter was strong. Human will is, as Lady Philosophy as already explained, tilted towards happiness and since happiness is goodness, those who seek happiness, seek goodness.

It follows, that both good people and evil people seek happiness and thus, goodness.

While both seek the same, only good people obtain goodness, and thus are powerful, while evil people failed to obtain goodness and thus, are weak.

It can be said, Philosophy concludes further, that those who go against their nature by abandoning themselves through pursuing evil instead of their naturally inclined tilt to goodness, cease to exist.

This leads to the conclusion that wicked people are miserable and deserve our pity, since they eventually (when achieving what they think their desire), they realize they are not happy and have achieved nothing at all.

How to help the wicked then?

Punishment. If the wicked get punished, they in fact gain some good!

Then why do people not see it this way? The average person would think punishment is always bad. Philosophy answers with an allusion to blindness:

“Ordinary people don’t look up at the stars.”

Boethius is still struggling with why evil people appear to be rewarded at times. Philosophy tries to initially divert this conversation, but Boethius will not accept platitudes.

Therefore, Philosophy gets to the real fundamentals.

God, she says, has all things spring from its mind. This is known as providence. Providence is solid and governs all things close to god, such as birth and death, the movement of the starts, the arrangement of the elements and human fortunes.

To govern separate things, god’s mind is used and called fate. Fate is a movable concept. Providence supersedes fate for order from fate comes from providence.

Consequently, what humans perceive as good or evil may simply be misinterpreted. A poverty-stricken person might be given money by fate, so as to prevent them from stealing due to their weakness and some evil people cause other evil people to become good. Thus, even evil can have a good purpose sometimes.

All fortunes are good, then! This is Philosophy’s conclusion but Boethius is still not fully convinced.

The explanation: If something pleasing happens to a good person, it is their reward. If something painful happens to a good person, it is a test from god.

If something pleasing happens to an wicked person, it is to either prevent more evil or to correct their ways, and if something painful happens to a wicked person, it is their punishment.

In all cases, their fortunes are good, because they are just and useful.

Boethius is pacified but sees the absurdity of all this. While he now understands what fortune really is, the ordinary person will always call for a lack of evil for the good person and a lack of good for the evil one.

Virtue, says Philosophy, is the answer to their ignorance. Virtus means strength or vigor. A good person suffering simply shows their bravery, it is a test of their excellence. A virtuous person relies on their own power and cannot be undone by adversity. If it did, their would not be good.