Monday, June 20, 2011

Boethius Contemplates the Larger Issues

I have been back to reading a bit of The Consolation of Philosophy and I was interested by how much Boethius and his 'Philosphy' discuss Greeks and Romans. I should not be terribly surprised that Socrates and Plato get mention as many of the early church fathers loved reading classics while at the same time wondering if it was suitable to a Christian. Also, thanks to Augustine, much of Plato's thought made its way into Christian dogma and thus Plato ends up in Purgatory as one of Dante's righteous pagans.
I was struck by his statement in Consolation I.IV, lines 105-106, "'Si quidem deus,' inquit, 'est, unde mala? bona vero unde, si non est?'" "If God exists from where comes evil? But where does good come from, if he does not exist?"
Boethius was not himself asking the question, he was merely stating that it was no wonder one of Philosophy's disciples would ask the question. The footnotes to this line (by S.J. Tester from the Loeb edition) state that "the authorship of this dilemma is unknown. Editors have generally referred to Epicurus fr. 374 ex Lactantius De ira dei 13, 21; but that is a different problem (either God can prevent evil and will not, or will, but cannot), and this one is surely not Epicurean. Its origins can be found in Plato( cf. Republic, 379 and Schol. in Remp. 379a ......)It is probably from some Neo-Platonist commentator, possibly Ammonius."
If these philosophers are speaking of Zeus as God, I do not understand why they are surprised that he does not prevent evil. Too busy boinking princesses?
Lactantius was an early Christian and was tutor to Constantine's son. According to this site, he is partly responsible for the medieval 'flat earth' theory. The writer is correct, Pliny the Elder stated the world is a globe. The writer also states that Lactantius was declared a heretic posthumously. (Who wasn't at some point?) His book was written as an attack on Epicurian philosophy. The early Church is certainly more interesting than the later one. It was like the Wild West out there. Stabbings, burnings, poisonings. And then, there was the gruesome manner of Boethius' execution. Of course, Boethius was not above taking a poke at what he thought of as heresies, like Arianism, so he was courting death one might say.
I have not finished the book yet and Boethius did not answer the question why there is evil in this world in that chapter . We shall see if he figures anything out at all by the end but I think I know why there is evil in this world.

10 comments:

Tracy said...

(either God can prevent evil and will not, or will, but cannot),
Yes, that's the more frequently-posed dilemma, but I always thought that the answer to both why does God allow evil things to happen, and why does evil exist, was supposed to lie in free will. We were given free will so that we could choose - and that takes us back to Original Sin and the knowledge of good and evil. Be interesting to see what Boethius eventually concludes.

But as an ignorant atheist I say do we really need to invoke outside forces to make us either good or evil?
And define evil. Because an awful lot of 'challenging' behaviour has been justified, and is still being justified, by one religion or another over the centuries.

anachronist said...

If these philosophers are speaking of Zeus as God, I do not understand why they are surprised that he does not prevent evil. Too busy boinking princesses?

Lol, you certainly made a valid point here. Not only princesses, young boys too, do you remember Ganimedes?

And define evil.
Evil is when other people suffer unjustly because of our actions. Do as you would like to be done by.

Tracy said...

Evil is when other people suffer unjustly because of our actions. Do as you would like to be done by.
A definition which makes an awful lot of us evil, anachronist.

The Red Witch said...

I think God is rather like Conan's Crom. :-) from Robert E. Howard: "Crom was their chief and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death. It was useless to call on Crom because he was a gloomy and savage god, and he hated weaklings. But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian's mind, was all any god should be expected to do."
New movie coming out this summer. I hope it blows that horrible Schwarzeneggar travesty out of the water.

anachronist said...

From time to time I enjoy being evil, Tracy. Don't you? ;D I would love to discuss philosophy one day with you, guys!


New Conan movie? Oh I do hope it will be better - I liked the books well enough. In fact they showed me that I might have a taste for fantasy.

Tracy said...

From time to time I enjoy being evil, Tracy. Don't you?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her for'head
When she was good she was very, very good
And when she was bad she was horrid!

A rhyme my dad used to say was definitely about me.

anachronist said...

Oh I DO think it still suits you! It's sweet!

The Red Witch said...

@New Conan movie? Oh I do hope it will be better.

It would be difficult to make it worse. There are previews on Youtube.
Cute poem. :-)

@ ;D I would love to discuss philosophy one day with you, guys!

I thought we were. i.e. Discussing the problem of evil.

anachronist said...

@I thought we were. i.e. Discussing the problem of evil.

Sorry, I meant IRL...face to face...drinking some nice alcohol or coffee...

The Red Witch said...

Tea in my case. :-) but a patio would be nice too, with a view over mountains.