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The Consolation of Philosophy: Solving Evil? (Critical Paper) (Essay Sample)

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In this work, The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius ponders both the nature of evil and how it interacts with reality in its existence through the character of Lady Philosophy.

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Adrian Chiang
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6 March 2015
Solving Evil? (Critical Paper)
In this work, The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius ponders both the nature of evil and how it interacts with reality in its existence through the character of Lady Philosophy. The major complaint that the narrator seems to lodge in regards to the existence of evil is the idea that in certain circumstances evil can triumph over good. Such a circumstance contradicts a universe where a necessarily just and omnipotent God exists. Lady Philosophy seeks to prove to the narrator that God does continuously enforce judgment in regards to some moral standard. She states, “…the good are always powerful, the evil are always the lowest and weakest; vice never goes unpunished; virtue never goes without its own reward; happiness comes to the good, misfortune to the wicked…” (Boethius #). This paper will focus on the first of Lady Philosophy’s solutions to the narrator’s issue regarding the ability of evil to subvert the good: the idea that philosophy argues that the good are powerful while the bad are weak. After explaining the rationale behind this absolute and inexorable power dynamic that exists between good and evil, the paper focuses on a criticism of Lady Philosophy’s presuppositions as well as the practical implications of her ethical delineations.
Primarily, it is important to explore the major points of Lady Philosophy’s understanding of power and will in order to further substantiate how she defines “good” and “evil”. From the beginning, Lady Philosophy specifies that the prerequisites for any action are will and power, “For if the will be wanting, a man does not even attempt that which he has no desire to perform; if the power be wanting, the will is exercised in vain” (Boethius 47). In this passage, Lady Philosophy shows how will and power are necessarily required in order for an individual to effect change in their actions: an action done with ample will but no power will not effect a change. Conversely, an individual with ample power but no will does not perform the action in the first place. Having established the idea of will and power as essential components to action, Lady Philosophy furthers the line of her reasoning by suggesting that what is natural constitutes what is the most potent, effective, or powerful. She uses the example of the action of walking to illustrate this, “If, then, one man walks, being able to advance upon his feet, while another, who lacks the natural function of feet, uses his hands and so tries to walk, which of these two may justly be held the more capable?” (Boethius 48). Quite evidently, the point here is that the man who utilizes his natural functions in pursuit of an end goal will be more successful in that pursuit, as is illustrated by how the natural use of one’s feet is more effective than the use of one’s hands. However, Lady Philosophy makes an interesting extension of this argument to that the idea of the pursuit of happiness by evil men and good men, “good men seek it by the natural functions of virtue, while bad men seek to attain the same through their cupidity, which is not a natural function for the attainment of good…” (Boethius 48). In the same way that the man who uses his feet is more effective at achieving his goal of walking than the man that uses his hands, the man who utilizes his virtue is more successful at achieving the greatest good (happiness) than the man who uses his cupidity. It follows from this reasoning that the good are more powerful in their greater ability to achieve their ends.
Moreover, Lady Philosophy ties this idea to her initial assertion that good individuals are supremely powerful while evil individuals are supremely helpless. Upon consideration of the state of the evil individual as handicapped in the pursuit of their goal, she writes, “Wherefore also the contrary is true; that evil men are similarly deprived of all strength…” (Boethius 48). This initial claim is simply a reassertion of the point explained in the previous paragraph. However, a deeper investigation into the pitiful, powerless evil individual in their ability to reach the end of happiness allows Lady Philosophy to reveal an additional insight, “But they lose thus not only power, but existence all together. For those who abandon the common end of all who exist, must also cease to exist” (Boethius 48). This seems to be a radical formulation. Lady Philosophy ostensibly argues here that something that does not follow or act within natural state cannot be classified along with things that do follow such a natural state. On this point she explains that, “A thing exists which keeps its proper place and preserves its nature; but when anything falls away from its nature, its existence too ceases, for that lies in its nature” (Boethius 48). Thus, in taking evil to be in an antithetical position to the natural state of goodness in men, Lady Philosophy concludes that the state of evil is identical to the state of nothingness in man. The state of nothingness represents a state of absolute powerlessness, which again supports Lady Philosophy’s initial assertions regarding the power dynamic between that which is good and that which is evil.
Finally, Lady Philosophy finishes the passages by explicating the finer details of her point and how once we accept that evil is an insufficient means to achieve one’s end due to its contrast to the natural state of goodness in men, all evil actions and crime become worthless. Let us show how Lady Philosophy again demonstrates the uselessness of evil by relating it to its capacity to allow man to fulfill his desires and occupy power, “Further, we have shewn that all power is to be counted among objects of desire… But the power of committing crime has not possible relation to the good. Therefore it is not an object of desire… Therefore the power of doing evil is no power at all” (Boethius 49). The argument here is in regards to evaluating which actions afford one the most power. Power is desirable because it allows the individual to accomplish their actions. We have established that the end goal which man works towards is happiness, and that power is necessary to fulfill such an end as an aspect of action (along with will). However, it is evident that since the end of man in achieving power move himself closer to happiness is more efficiently accomplished through virtue and not through crimes, that evil actions are pointless in relation to good actions since they oppose the natural state. A man who utilizes his virtue towards the end of happiness achieves while the man who utilizes evil does not, “They do what they like so long as they think that they will gain through their pleasures the good which they desire; but they do not gain it, since nothing evil ever reaches happiness” (Boethius 49). In other words, the man using his arms to act towards an end will never reach such an end as the man who uses the more natural state of his feet will, due to the difference in power afforded to the actions of walking with feet than with hands. In the same sense, the man who works towards the goal of happiness with evil will not be able to reach such a goal due to the lack of power in his actions, resultant from employing a method which opposes the natural state.
I have several objections to the conclusions made by Lady Philosophy regarding the concept of evil as well as in the ...
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