Books and Code · A Miscellany

The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius (A Review)


I’m told that medievals thought Boethius was the man. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis also apparently thought his argumentation was compelling. Then I started a class on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde which is steeped in Boethian thought. So, after years of hearing how great this guy was I finally decided that I had to read this book. How disappointing. It is little more than a case study in the perils of motivated reasoning.

The book addresses four related metaphysical problems: why bad things happen to good people, what happiness is, good vs. bad fortune, and the question of free will and God’s foreknowledge. The problems I had with the book are variations of the following fallacy: assume some complex idea is true a priori (eg. God exists, is good, etc.), redefine the problem in terms that you’ve already assumed true, then voila! the resulting conclusions just happen to make the guy awaiting death feel better about getting screwed over by life. The more you want to believe something because it makes you feel good the more you should doubt it.

While I’m not wholly antagonistic to philosophical realism per se, I am aggravated by the reticence Neoplatonists and other sympathizers have to revisit their premises and the ease with which their universal forms accrete bullshit. Yes, I do wear my Methodological Nominalist badge to cocktail parties.

Ultimately, I am glad I read this for the insight into medieval and Christian philosophy it brings. However, it was at the cost of losing some respect for the judgment of people who are convinced by Boethius’ arguments.