The Consolation of Philosophy

boetius1In August, we read a book that stirred philosophical passions and summoned strong opinions, Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy. Matt, brimming with swagger, gave an extempore’ opening ‘essay’ that simply hailed the book’s status as an essential western work that bridges the ancient and medieval periods.

Philosophy is portrayed as a female counselor, though it was decided that this was not unusual. She counsels the imprisoned Boethius that suffering is relative. Misery is only so if one thinks it to be so.

Without a doubt the most heat-generating conversation was over the consideration of Boethius’ treatment of predestination, with a customary wrestling over words such as “foreknowledge” and “mystery,” that eventually settled into the recitation of reformed talking points that it was not clear to this writer whether Boethius was saying.

Some was said about “fortune,” another female character. She has not changed; she has always been fickle. “Have nothing to do with her dangerous games.”

What is the Ultimate Good, Philosophy asks? And after enumerating the usual answers—pleasure, wealth, fame, power, etc.—she goes on to debunk each. Several admired Philosophy’s advocacy of the stoic ideal as an attitude by which to consider good and evil, vain hopes, and sentimentality. The observation was made that modern Christianity is frequently sentimentalized.

Jimmy pointed out that the book was an exercise in theodicy, or absolving God of human suffering, by means of reasoning.

There was some good poetry in the Modern Library version. I advise readers to shun the Oxford Classics paperback for it’s deliberate bowdlerizing of the poetical sections.

The vote for October’s book was for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, nominated by Jordan.

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