Boethius: from antiquity to the Middle Ages
- Boethius: from antiquity to the Middle Ages John Marenbon Boethius is a difficult figure to place in the history of philosophy. Considered just in himself, he clearly belongs to the world of late antiquity. Born in 480, at a time when Italy was ruled by the Ostrogoths under their king, Theoderic, Boethius was adopted into one of the most distinguished patrician families of Rome and benefited from an education which made him at home not only in classical Latin culture but also in Greek literature and philosophy. Although most historians doubt that Boethius actually went to Alexandria or Athens to study, he certainly knew the work of Greek Neoplatonists of the immediate past: Proclus, Porphyry and probably Ammonius. Although a Christian, writing in Latin, he therefore falls into a tradition stretching back directly to Plotinus and, ultimately, to Aristotle and Plato. Yet considered as a late antique philosopher, his importance is limited. Most of Boethius’ ideas and arguments derive from his Greek sources; his own contribution lay more in choosing, arranging and presenting views than in original thinking. By contrast, from the perspective of medieval philosophy, Boethius looms large. Only Aristotle himself, and perhaps Augustine, were more important and wide-ranging in their influence. Besides providing scholars in the Middle Ages with two of their most widely-read textbooks on arithmetic and music,1 through his translations, commentaries and monographs Boethius provided the basis for medieval logic. His short theological treatises helped to shape the way in which logical and philosophical techniques were used in discussing Christian doctrine. His Consolation of Philosophy, read and studied from the eighth century through to the Renaissance, and translated into almost every medieval vernacular, was a major source for ancient philosophy in the early Middle Ages and its treatment of goodness, free will and eternity continued to influence thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thinkers. In short, it would be hard to understand the development of philosophy in the medieval Latin West without looking carefully at Boethius’ work—and it is for this reason that, although he falls outside its chronological limits, a chapter on his work (with glances forward at its medieval influence) begins the present volume. THE LOGICAL WORKS In one of his logical commentaries ([1.4] II:78–9), Boethius announces that he is planning to translate into Latin all the works of Aristotle’s he can find, and all of Plato’s dialogues, and to provide commentaries for each of his translations. Only for Aristotle’s logic was the project, at least in large part, realized. Boethius translated the whole of Aristotle’s logical organon, along with the Isagoge (‘Introduction’) by Porphyry. The translations, executed in meticulous word for word fashion, remained the standard versions of the organon until the end of the Middle Ages, except in the case of the Posterior Analytics, where his version was lost. In addition, Boethius wrote two commentaries each on the Isagoge and on On Interpretation, a commentary on the Categories and scholia on the Prior Analytics; there are grounds for thinking he also wrote a commentary on the Topics, although it does not survive.2 In formulating his project, Boethius was strongly influenced by the common attitude among late Neoplatonists to Plato and Aristotle. Although they looked to Plato as the originator of the philosophy which gave understanding of the intelligible world and which they pursued in their most ambitious works, Neoplatonists from Porphyry onwards recognized a distinct place for the study of Aristotelian logic; and in the Alexandrian school, Neoplatonists such as Ammonius devoted most of their public teaching to Aristotle’s logic. This logic was seen to be concerned with language as used to describe the world we perceive with our senses. So long as students of logic were aware that they were not dealing with a complete description of reality as the Neoplatonists envisaged it, they could pursue the subject with profit. Plato and Aristotle could be reconciled, once their different spheres of interest were recognized (it is no surprise that Boethius himself planned to write a monograph showing the agreement of Plato and Aristotle). In the logical commentaries he kept scrupulously to the Aristotelian approach, even where he produced two commentaries to the same text.3 Although he speaks of writing a second, ‘Pythagorean’ commentary on the Categories, he seems never to have done so.4 Some scholars have argued that Boethius’ logical commentaries are merely direct translations of marginalia he found in his manuscripts of the Greek texts, but this view is implausible. Boethius gives every indication of having worked from a small number of sources, among which Porphyry was his favourite, selecting, arranging, paraphrasing and from time to time adding his own reflections.5 It remains true that these commentaries are thoroughly unoriginal works, but they were all the more valuable for that reason to medieval thinkers. Rather than giving them the views of just one logician, the commentaries opened to them a whole tradition of late antique thinking over a wide range of subjects, since the commentaries go far beyond the discussion of strictly logical questions, to consider matters of metaphysics, meaning and the philosophy of mind. Unlike the Neoplatonic students or Boethius himself, however, the medieval readers did not suppose that the approach to philosophical problems taken in the commentaries was a deliberately limited one, to be complemented and superseded by an investigation of intelligible reality. As a result, medieval Western philosophy was given a strong bias towards Aristotelian ways and aims, even before Aristotle’s metaphysical, scientific and ethical works became available. There are many illustrations of this phenomenon. An obvious example is the influence of Boethius’ discussion of universals in his second commentary on the Isagoge ([1.3] 159:10–167:20). Porphyry himself had skirted over the problem of universals as one too difficult for the beginners to whom the Isagoge was addressed. He left just a set of unanswered questions, which suggest that, understandably for a Neoplatonist, were he teaching more advanced students he would have wished to raise and defend the existence of Platonic universals, existing independently of particulars and incorporeally. Boethius, however, presents the view of Alexander of Aphrodisias, which he considers to be the solution in accord with Aristotle. His argument, identifying the universal with the form which makes any particular of a given species the sort of thing it is, and which can be grasped mentally by abstracting from accidental differences, has been criticized by modern commentators as muddled—and was perceived as such by many medieval readers. But it presented a realism quite distinct from Platonic realism, and in the medieval debate, dominated by refinements of Boethius’ position and nominalist attacks on it, Platonic realism played almost no part.6 Or, to take another example, Boethius’ discussion of perception, the mind and language at the beginning of his second commentary on On Interpretation introduced many of the themes which Aristotle explored in his On the Soul. Boethius’ work as a logician went beyond his plan of translating and commenting on Plato and Aristotle. He wrote a series of logical monographs, on categorical syllogisms, hypothetical syllogisms, division and topical reasoning, as well as a commentary on Cicero’s Topics. The short treatise On Division deals with some of the material of the Isagoge and Categories. In writing about categorical syllogisms (syllogisms the premisses of which are non-complex statements)—in his earlier On Categorical Syllogisms and his later, unfinished Introduction to Categorical Syllogisms—Boethius follows Aristotle closely, though adding some post-Aristotelian developments concerning negative terms. The other two treatises introduce new, non-Aristotelian areas of logic. A hypothetical syllogism is a syllogism where one or both of the premisses are molecular statements: statements consisting of more than one simple statement joined together by a connective. These are not just conditionals (as the word ‘hypothetical’ may suggest) but also conjunctions and disjunctions. Whereas the variables in categorical syllogisms are terms, the variables in hypothetical syllogisms are statements. On Hypothetical Syllogisms goes beyond Aristotle, who had restricted himself to the logic of terms, by exploring the logic of statements (prepositional logic), although it seems not to draw on the most sophisticated ancient exponents of this branch of logic, the Stoics. To a modern reader, some of the inference schemata Boethius proposes will seem strange, since—unlike most modern logicians—he assumes that it cannot be the case that, if p then q is true, it is also true that if p then not-q.7 For medieval logicians, however, On Hypothetical Syllogisms was one of the two important bases from which they went on to elaborate a logic of statements. The other basis was Boethius’ On Topical ‘differentiae’. The theory of topics was seen originally as a way of discovering arguments: in the case of Aristotle’s Topics, arguments for use in dialectical argumentcontests, in the case of many later writers (including Cicero in his Topics) for use in legal oratory. By Boethius’ time, topics were considered to be both what were called ‘maximal propositions’—obviously true, universal generalizations—and the differentiae by which the whole genus of maximal propositions is divided into subordinate genera and species. For instance, one of Boethius’ maximal propositions is that ‘things whose definitions are different are themselves also different’ and its differentia is ‘from definition’. Themistius and Cicero had each divided up the maximal propositions differently, producing two alternative sets of differentiae. On Topical ‘differentiae’ explains the theory of topics, sets out the two schemes of differentiae and compares them. The use of the treatise as an aid to constructing (and, by extension, to confirming) informal arguments is obvious. The link with formal logic arose because, in addition to maximal propositions expressing what might, at best, be thought of as common-sense generalizations (‘what seems true to everyone or to many or to the wise should not be denied’), there are others which put forward some of the fundamental principles which are needed for logical deduction, such as modus ponens (if p then q, and p, then q) and modus tollens (if p then q, and not-q, then not-p). Some medieval logicians would see the theory of topics, as set out by Boethius, as providing the laws both for syllogistic inference and for the logic of statements. THE THEOLOGICAL TREATISES Boethius’ reputation as a theologian depends on five short treatises, called in the Middle Ages the Opuscula sacra. Only three of them are of importance: no. 2 is a briefer, probably preliminary version of part of no. 1, whilst no. 4 (‘On faith’)—sometimes, but probably wrongly, supposed inauthentic—is a straightforward confession of faith, containing nothing of Boethius’ own thoughts. No. 5, a refutation of the opposing extreme Christological views of Nestorius and Eutyches, was probably the first to be written (after 512). Christology was a controversial issue in Boethius’ day. The statement of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which affirmed that Christ was made known in two natures, but without division or separation, was accepted in the West, but challenged in the East by the followers of Nestorius, who emphasized the distinctness of Christ’s two natures, and by monophysites, who held that in the person of Christ there is only a single, divine nature. Acacius, the patriarch of Constantinople (471– 89) issued a document, the Henotikon, which condemned Nestorius and also condemned the extreme monophysite, Eutyches, but failed to reaffirm the Council of Chalcedon’s statement about the number of natures in Christ. This failure provoked a schism (the ‘Acacian schism’) with the Latin Church. Boethius’ treatise was stimulated by the attempt in 512 of a group of Greek bishops to draw up a compromise position which would be acceptable to the papacy (see [1.31]). Boethius—who was more willing than the Pope to go along with the Greek bishops’ position—clearly wished to contribute to the debate, though less perhaps by the view he stated, than by the manner in which he put it forward. He adopted the precise, scholastic style of theological writing which had become popular in the Greek East, but went against usual practice in the Latin West. He carefully defined his terms—‘essence’, ‘subsistence’, ‘substance’, ‘person’ and ‘nature’—and proceeded to argue that his heterodox opponents were guilty of logical, as well as doctrinal, error (see [1.14]). Boethius’ treatises on the Trinity (1 and 2) also seem to owe their origin to events connected with the Acacian schism. In 519, a group of Scythian monks, loyal to Chalcedon, came to Rome to try to gain acceptance of the formula ‘one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh’, which had been rejected by the authorities in Constantinople. Boethius approaches the question of divine triunity more generally, trying to show that a careful application of logical tools, especially Aristotle’s theory of the ten categories, shows how God can be both three persons and yet one God. Boethius’ theological treatises were studied intensely, glossed and commented on, from the ninth century onwards. Their importance for medieval scholars was unrelated to the doctrinal controversies from which they arose: although there were many theological controversies in the medieval Western Church, they were rarely on the questions of Christology and trinitarian doctrine which were so important in late antiquity. Medieval thinkers, rather, found in the opuscula a valuable source of information about ancient philosophical doctrines. To take two examples. Boethius’ definition of ‘nature’ in treatise no. 5 introduced them to ideas from Aristotle’s Physics. A discussion early on in treatise no. 1 ([1.7] 10:21–12:58) discusses in detail the relations between God, form, matter and being. God, says Boethius, is not just form without matter, he is also (the only) non-composite pure form. Physical objects are concrete wholes of form and matter but, Boethius insists, the embodied forms are merely images of other, disembodied forms. Much twelfth-century metaphysics is an effort to clarify and develop this threelayered hierarchy of pure, non-composite form, disembodied forms and the images of these forms in material things. Medieval thinkers were also greatly influenced by the method of these treatises. They suggested that logical tools and precisely defined philosophical terms could both clarify difficult points of Christian doctrine and provide the means to demonstrate that, given certain fundamental points of doctrine (accepted by all parties), heterodox positions involved logical error. These two patterns of logically-competent, philosophically-informed theological speculation were two of the main models for Christian thinking from the ninth century to the fifteenth. The third of the theological treatises is different in character from the others. In the Middle Ages it was known as De hebdomadibus (‘On the groups of seven’) from the reference in its first sentence to a work, since lost, by Boethius called the ‘Hebdomads’. The treatise is intended to clarify a problem considered there: how is it that all things are ‘good in that they are’, although they are not ‘substantial goods’? There is nothing explicitly Christian in its content. Boethius begins with a list of philosophical axioms which modern scholars have been able to interpret in the light of late antique Neoplatonism, but which perhaps proved all the more stimulating to medieval commentators by their obscurity.8 The discussion which follows is, in effect, an unravelling of the ambiguity of the phrase ‘good in that it exists’. One way in which something can be good in that it exists is to be ‘a substantial good’. God is a substantial good because he cannot be conceived except as good. Everything else is good in that it exists, but in a different way. All things derive their existence from God (and could not exist unless they did so), and because God is good, they are good by virtue of the existence they derive from him. It is true, therefore, that they cannot exist without being good. They, however, unlike God, could be conceived as not being good. They are not, therefore, substantial goods. Some of the considerations Boethius raises here would be explored in a wider context as part of medieval discussion of the transcendentals— those attributes, including goodness, which everything was considered to have by virtue of existing.9 ‘ON THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY’: THE HIGHEST GOOD Although they lived under the rule of a barbarian king committed to a heretical Arian Christianity, Boethius and his aristocratic Roman contemporaries were allowed to retain many of the trappings of importance and authority and, if they chose, to exercise real power as officials of Theoderic. Boethius combined—as a man of his rank would have been expected to do—public service with his private devotion to scholarship. Until near the end of his life, however, writing and translating was his primary concern, and his political activities were confined to Rome and the Senate, away from the court of Theoderic at Ravenna.10 In 522 Boethius was given the almost unprecedented honour of both his sons being appointed as consuls together. In the same year, Boethius himself was appointed to be ‘Master of the Offices’, an important and influential position at the Ravenna court. He had not held the post for long when he was arrested, imprisoned and eventually (probably in 525, but possibly in 524 or 526) executed, on charges of treason against the Gothic regime and sorcery. Boethius himself dismisses all these accusations and attributes his downfall to the intrigues of enemies created by his uprightness and his defence of the weak as a court official. The underlying reasons for Boethius’ execution—followed soon by that of his respected father-in-law, Symmachus—seem, however, to lie in Theoderic’s growing doubts over the loyalty to him of the Roman aristocracy, after the strongly pro- Catholic Emperor Justin acceded to the Byzantine throne in 518 and the Acacian schism had finally been resolved in 519. While in prison, Boethius wrote the work by which he is most remembered, On the Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione Philosophiae). Here he deserts his usual simple presentation and dry style for the elaborate literary form of a prosimetrum (a work in prose interspersed with verse passages), which allows his personal circumstances to give urgency to the philosophical questions he tackles. The Consolation is an imaginary dialogue between Boethius and Philosophy, a female personification of the tradition of philosophical wisdom which, despite the attempts of different schools to sunder it (her clothes are torn, because each philosophical sect has tried to take some of them for itself), is a unified one, stretching back to Socrates and Plato. Boethius represents himself at the beginning of the dialogue as overcome by grief and self-pity: he bewails the injustice of the accusations against him and the turn of fortune which has brought him from a position of importance to prison; he longs for death to put an end to his suffering. Philosophy treats him as someone suffering from an illness. The shock of his fall from power has made him forget the wisdom which, from his youth, he had learned from her. He still retains the knowledge (I, prose 6) that there is a God who rules the universe, but he no longer knows to what end all things move. He believes that, whereas the workings of nature follow a rational order, in human affairs the evil are left free to triumph and oppress the good. Philosophy begins with what she calls ‘lighter remedies’, a series of arguments to show him that his personal downfall is not the disaster he takes it to be. In particular, she insists that he cannot blame fortune for instability, since it is the very nature of fortune to be unstable, and of the goods of fortune, such as riches, power, honour and fame, to be transitory. Boethius is now prepared for Philosophy’s ‘weightier remedy’, her argument about the highest good (bk III). When people seek to obtain the various goods of fortune, she argues, they are motivated by a genuine desire for the good—we desire only what we consider to be good—but are misled by ignorance about the nature of the good. Each of the goods of fortune, taken on its own, is worth little and does not last. People’s mistake is to seek these goods individually, rather than trying to gain the single good from which all these other goods derive. This highest good is happiness (beatitudo); but, since God (III, pr. 10) is that than which nothing better can be thought, he is perfectly good. Therefore the highest good, which everyone seeks but most, ignorant of its undivided nature, fail to gain, is God himself. Philosophy goes on (bk IV) to explain why, despite appearances, it is not the case that the wicked enjoy power while the good are left impotent. She distinguishes the will to obtain something and the power to be able to do so. Everyone, she says, wants happiness. The good have the power, by being good, to gain happiness, whereas the evil are unable to gain it. By contrast with Boethius-the-character’s earlier view of a universe in which God has abandoned humankind to its own devices, Philosophy explains that divine providence arranges all things; fate is simply the working out as actual events of this providential plan which is conceived ‘in the purity of God’s intellect’ (IV, pr. 6). The thumbnail sketch in the last paragraph of Philosophy’s arguments does little justice to the reasoned manner in which she is made to develop her points. Yet the impression of looseness and question-begging which may emerge is not misleading. At almost every stage, Philosophy makes assumptions which an interlocutor less docile than Boethius-the-character would have questioned, and the views she reaches, although sweeping, are far from clear. To take just two examples. Central to Philosophy’s argument is the idea that there is a perfect good, from which the imperfect goods of fortune are derived. She argues that the existence of a perfect good follows from the existence of imperfect goods, because (III, pr. 10) ‘if in any genus there seems to be something which is imperfect, it is necessary that there is also something perfect in it’. She supports this view by asking from where the imperfect thing would derive its existence, did a perfect one not exist. This principle may, indeed, have been one which Neoplatonists of Boethius’ time would accept, but is not the obvious truth which Philosophy claims it to be. Another central idea is that the good man is happy because he is able to gain the highest good, God. But in what does this grasp of the highest good consist? What seems to be called for is some idea of a beatific vision, either in this life or beyond it. Philosophy, however, provides no such explanation. Yet it may not be right to criticize Boethius-the-author for merely indicating the shape of a philosophical position, rather than describing and justifying it in detail. The full arguments for Philosophy’s views, he might argue, are to be found in the tradition of writing she personifies. The Consolation merely sets out the main conclusions of the way of thought which the character Boethius had supposedly forgotten in his grief; five short books cannot be expected to provide a substitute for his years of Neoplatonic study. ‘ON THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY’: DIVINE PRESCIENCE AND HUMAN FREE WILL In Book V, the manner of the Consolation changes. The ornate language of the earlier books all but disappears in favour of a more technical style, close to that of the logical commentaries; and it is the Aristotelian logical tradition which now gives Boethius his starting point. After a short discussion of chance, the dialogue takes up the question of God’s omniscience and human freedom. Here the issue is strictly God’s foreknowledge: his providential predestination, executed in time through fate, as discussed in Book IV, does not enter into consideration. Intuitively, divine omniscience seems to pose a threat to human free will. If God knows everything, then he knows what I will do tomorrow. Whether I drink red wine or white wine with my dinner tomorrow might appear to be something I can choose by my free will. But if God knows now which I shall drink, is not my free will over the choice illusory? If God knows now that I shall drink white wine—and it is knowledge, not just a good guess—then it seems that the possibility that I shall drink red has already been closed. I have no choice but to drink white. One way of trying to formalize this train of thought is what might be called the ‘knowledge-brings-determinism’ argument. Part of the definition of ‘knowledge’ is that it is true belief. So, if I know p, then p is true. Since this follows from a definition, it is a matter of necessity. Just as it is a matter of necessity that, if I am a bachelor, I am unmarried, so it is a matter of necessity that if I know p, p is true. God knows everything, and so for p we can substitute any true statement about the past, present or future, including statements about future events such as my drinking the white wine. If God knows that I will drink white wine tomorrow, then necessarily I will drink white wine tomorrow, and similarly for any statement about the future—there are therefore no future contingents; all that will happen will happen by necessity. The knowledge-brings-determinism argument, however, is invalid. It commits what would now be called a scope fallacy, by failing to distinguish whether the whole complex statement, or rather just an element of it, should be qualified by ‘necessarily’. Consider the analogy of the bachelor. It is not the case that, if someone is a bachelor, then necessarily he is unmarried. He might well have married before now, although he has not. Rather, we ought to say: necessarily, if he is a bachelor, he is unmarried. Similarly, the definition of ‘knowledge’ shows merely that necessarily, if God foresees p, then p. Allowing that the whole conditional (if God foresees p, then p) is necessarily true in no way implies that p itself is necessarily true, and so it presents no threat to contingency or to human free will. Boethius is often credited with showing the fallaciousness of the knowledge-brings-determinism argument and contrasted with earlier thinkers, such as Augustine who, though upholding free will, thought the logic of this argument irrefragable.11 The basis of the claim is a distinction Boethius makes near the end of his discussion of divine prescience (V, pr. 6) between ‘simple necessity’ and ‘conditional necessity’. As an example of strict necessity Boethius gives the necessity that all men are mortal; as an example of conditional necessity, that ‘if you know someone is walking, it is necessary that he is walking’. He goes on to explain that, in such a case of conditional necessity, it is not the nature of the matter, but the ‘adding of the condition’ which brings about the necessity; and conditional necessity, he says, does not imply simple necessity. At first sight, especially in light of his terminology, Boethius does seem to be distinguishing between simple (non-composite) necessary statements, and the necessity of a whole conditional; and it is this distinction which is needed to expose the fallacy of the necessitybrings- determinism argument, by contrasting the whole conditional ‘If God knows p, then p’, which is necessary, with the simple statement p, the consequent of this conditional, which is not necessary. But closer scrutiny of the text does not support this reading.12 Boethius is not talking about different types of statement but about different types of necessity. He is saying that the fact that men are mortal is necessary according to simple necessity, whereas, if you know someone is walking, the fact that he is walking is necessary, but only according to conditional necessity. Simple necessity, he believes, constrains—men cannot but die some time; but not conditional necessity—the man might have chosen to remain still. Boethius’ idea of conditional necessity is bound up with his view, inherited from the Aristotelian tradition, of the necessity of the present. Immediately after he has used the example of knowing (you know he is walking) to illustrate conditional necessity, he moves on to another example, which he apparently considers parallel: ‘No necessity compels a walking man that he should will to walk although at that time when he is walking, it is necessary that he walks.’ Here, too, Boethius believes, is an example of conditional necessity: the fact that he is walking at time t becomes necessary, conditionally though not simply, by the addition of the condition that it is now time t. Modern philosophers would say that, although it is not possible that he walk and not walk at t, it is possible that, although he is walking at t, he might not have been walking at that time: there is another possible world in which he stayed still at that moment. Boethius had no such conception of synchronous alternative possibilities.13 The link Boethius makes between conditional necessity and the necessity of the present renders the way in which he goes about tackling the question of divine prescience and human free will explicable. At the beginning of the discussion (V, pr. 3) the character- Boethius puts to Philosophy a version of the knowledge-bringsdeterminism argument, as applied to divine prescience. He considers the counter-argument made by some, that there is no causal relation between divine prescience and future events, but he replies to it by saying that, though there is no causal relation, none the less, divine prescience renders future events necessary. In her reply (which presumably gives Boethius-the-author’s considered view), Philosophy begins by arguing that Boethius was wrong to dismiss the counterargument. If divine prescience does not cause future events to take place, it does not determine them. She recognizes, however, that there is something troubling about the idea that God knows now what I shall do tomorrow. Since, if the action in question is one I shall freely decide on it is not certain now what it will be, it seems as if there can be no foreknowledge about it, merely opinion. Philosophy’s way of dealing with this problem (V, pr. 4–5) is to explain that beings of different levels cognize in different ways. God’s ‘intelligence’ is unlike our reason, just as our reason differs from the senses. To see how God’s intelligence works, we must realize (V, pr. 6) that for God to be eternal means that he enjoys ‘the entire and perfect possession at once of unending life’ (interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio). God therefore knows all things, past, present and future, as if they were present. Only after having established this point at length, does Philosophy introduce briefly the distinction between simple and conditional necessity. The idea of God’s timelessness—which would have been entirely superfluous were this distinction Boethius’ way of noticing the scope fallacy which underlies the knowledge-bringsdeterminism argument—is, then, central to his treatment of prescience and free will for two reasons. First, it enables him to answer the epistemological problem about how an uncertain future could be known: for God, the object of knowledge is not future (or past), but present. Second, it allows him to resolve the logical problem which troubled the Boethius-the-character-in-the-dialogue, by assimilating God’s present-tense knowledge of p to the more general case of p being true at the present time. Both cases are seen to involve an added condition (‘GOD KNOWS p’/‘p WHEN P’). Boethius accepted the necessity of the present, but also knew that no one thought it a constraining necessity, and so it was now easy for him to characterize both it and the necessity implied by God’s omniscience as a special sort of non-constraining ‘conditional necessity’, to be distinguished from constraining simple necessity. From the thirteenth century onwards, detection of the scope fallacy involved in the knowledge-brings-determinism argument was routine. Statements of the form ‘if p, then necessarily q’ were said to exhibit ‘necessity of the consequent’ (necessitas consequentis), as opposed to statements of the form ‘necessarily, if p then q’, which exhibited ‘necessity of the consequence’ (necessitas consequentiae) (‘consequentia’ was the word for an ‘if…then…’ statement). This awareness was, however, often put in terms of Boethius’ simple and conditional necessity, as if Boethius had shared it. Moreover, Boethius’ treatment of God’s timeless eternity was widely discussed. Some, such as Aquinas, adopted it (in the Summa Theologiae Aquinas states verbatim Boethius’ definition of eternity as ‘the entire and perfect possession at once of unending life’ and defends it); other, later thinkers argued vigorously against it. Aquinas also found an important use for this view of timeless eternity in tackling an argument from divine prescience to determinism which Boethius had not anticipated. If God foreknows everything, then it is not just that God knows that tomorrow I shall drink white wine, not red: it is also true that it has come to God’s knowledge that I shall drink white wine, not red, tomorrow. ‘It has come to God’s knowledge that p’ implies p and, since it is a statement about the past and the past cannot be changed, if it is true, it seems it must be necessarily true; what a necessary truth implies is itself necessarily true; and so, the argument goes, my drinking the white wine is necessary.14 There are various ways of attacking this argument, but Boethius provides Aquinas with a very straightforward one: if God knows in a timeless eternity, then it is not the case that God has come to know anything. As with many aspects of Boethius’ work, medieval thinkers found more in his argument about divine prescience and human free will than he had explicitly put there. This may be a tribute to a certain undeveloped philosophical insight in Boethius—an inexplicit feel for important problems and the moves needed to deal with them—as well as to the cleverness of his medieval readers. ‘ON THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY’: NEOPLATONISM AND CHRISTIANITY The most remarkable feature of the Consolation is something it omits: any explicit reference to Christianity. Boethius’ discussion of the highest good, which is God, and his treatment of providence, fate and prescience, would have been as acceptable to a pagan Neoplatonist as to a Christian, and of uniquely Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and incarnation there is not a mention. But few scholars nowadays believe that Boethius omitted Christian dogma from the Consolation because, when he wrote it, he had abandoned Christianity. Such a conversion to paganism is implausible, and there are several biblical echoes in the Consolation, at least one of which appears deliberate, since Philosophy echoes closely the phrasing of the Book of Wisdom and Boethius-the-character comments that, not merely what she has said, but the ‘very words’ she has used, delight him (III, pr. 12). Why, then, is the Consolation not more openly Christian? Perhaps because Boethius envisaged his task as presenting a philosophical justification of the providential ordering of the universe by a supremely good deity: a justification in which none of the premisses is based on revelation. His training and writing had been as a logician and philosopher, and even his theological works had been exercises in philosophical analysis. It is not surprising that he should seek to come to terms with his downfall by writing as a philosopher, though he remained in his faith a Christian. None the less, there are moments in the Consolation when Boethius’ Neoplatonism does sit uncomfortably with Christian doctrine. At a central point in the work, before she concludes her argument identifying God with the highest good, Philosophy makes a solemn prayer. The poem (III, metrum 9) is an epitome of the Timaeus, the favourite Platonic dialogue of the Neoplatonists. It speaks without reservation of Platonic doctrines, such as reincarnation and the World Soul, which are clearly incompatible with Christianity. Possibly Boethius thought that, in the context of a poem, they need not be taken literally. Later, however, in his discussion of divine prescience (V, pr. 6), he champions the view that the world has endured for ever: it is what many would call ‘eternal’, although Boethius prefers to describe it as ‘perpetual’, reserving ‘eternal’ to describe the timeless eternity of God. Boethius’ view was that of the pagan Neoplatonists of his time. Christians insisted that the world had a beginning and, writing shortly after Boethius’ death, the Greek Christian philosopher John Philoponus would devise a set of intricate arguments, drawing on Aristotle’s ideas about infinity, to support this position. Yet Boethius cannot have seen his own view as unacceptable for Christians, since he had already referred to it in his painstakingly orthodox On the Trinity (section IV).15 Although medieval writers drew on almost every aspect of the Consolation, none was more important than the work’s uncertain status as a text by a Christian writer without explicitly Christian doctrines, and with some ideas which seemed distinctly pagan. The most popular strategy for commentators was to discover an explicitly Christian meaning implicit within the text, especially in sections like III, m. 9 which, at first sight, were hardest for Christian readers to accept. But there were dissenters, such as Bovo of Corvey in the tenth century, who insisted on a literal reading.16 For some writers, such as the Middle English poet, Chaucer, the Consolation seems to have provided a model for writing about serious issues in a way which presupposes no commitment to Christianity, a philosophical precedent for the use of a pagan setting in literary fiction. EPILOGUE In the Latin West, Boethius’ death marks the end of the ancient tradition of philosophy. There were writers—for instance, Cassiodorus (c. 485–580), Boethius’ more politically-compromising successor as Master of the Offices, and Isidore (before 534–636), Bishop of Seville— who helped to pass elements of ancient teaching to medieval readers. But they were educators and encyclopaedists, rather than thinkers. The seventh- and eighth-century scholars in England and Ireland included some enthusiastic grammarians, but no logicians; the philosophical elements in patristic texts aroused little interest from them. The medieval Latin philosophical tradition would begin at the court of Charlemagne, in the 790s. In the Greek tradition of philosophy, however, Boethius’ death by no means marks a boundary. The Christian, John Philoponus, would produce important and influential philosophical work a little later in the sixth century.17 Nor had pagan Neoplatonism come to an end. When in 529, shortly after Boethius’ death, the Emperor Justinian closed the Platonic school at Athens, its philosophers sought refuge at the court of the Persian king, Chosroes. When, a little later, Chosroes concluded a peace treaty with Byzantium, it included a provision that the pagan philosophers be allowed to return to Byzantine lands and practice their form of philosophy unhindered. They took up residence at Harran, near to the Persian border, in about 532 and there Simplicius wrote most of his work.18 The pagan Neoplatonic school at Harran survived at least until the tenth century, although very little is known of its later work. By then, the Middle East had been transformed by the preaching of Muhammad in the seventh century and the rapid rise of Islam. It is the tradition of philosophy which grew up in Islam from the ninth century onwards that this History will first consider. NOTES 1 For these works (and possible works on geometry and astronomy), which fall outside the scope of this discussion, see Chadwick [1.12] 69–107 and the articles in Gibson [1.16] by Caldwell, Pingree and White. 2 See J.Barnes, ‘Boethius and the study of logic’, in Gibson [1.16] 73–89. Barnes points out (p. 87) that Boethius himself ([1.1] 1191A, 1209C, 1216D) claims to have written such a commentary. Barnes also points to a thirteenth-century commentary which mentions a commentary by Boethius on the Posterior Analytics; but this medieval remark, not otherwise supported, carries little weight. 3 The first commentary on the Isagoge is an early work, which uses Marius Victorinus’ translation rather than Boethius’ own; the second commentary gives his maturer thoughts on the text. Boethius composed the two commentaries on On Interpretation together, putting simpler material in the first and more complex (but no less Aristotelian) discussion in the second. 4 See [1.1] 160AB and S.Ebbesen, ‘Boethius as an Aristotelian commentator’ in Sorabji [1.32], esp. 387–91. 5 See J.Shiel, ‘Boethius’ commentaries on Aristotle’ in Sorabji [1.32] 349–72 for the view that Boethius translated marginalia, and Ebbesen’s article, cited in the previous note, pp. 375–7, for strong arguments against it. 6 See the wide-ranging discussion in de Libera [1.22] (pp. 128–32 for Boethius). 7 See Barnes, ‘Boethius and the study of logic’ in Gibson [1.16] 83–4, Dürr [1.15] and Martin [1.23] 379–86. 8 On the medieval influence of De hebdomadibus, see Schrimpf [1.30]. 9 There is a collection of articles on the transcendentals in medieval philosophy in Topoi 11 (1992) (guest editor, J.Gracia). 10 See J.Matthews, ‘Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius’ in Gibson [1.16] 26–9. 11 See, for instance, C.Kirwan, Augustine, London, 1989, p. 98. 12 Knuuttila ([1.21] 60–1) briefly mentions exactly this point; I shall try to develop and justify it in the following paragraphs. Pike [1.28] 72–6) attributes to Boethius a different and more powerful argument either than the traditional interpretation criticized above, or than the one proposed here. But it is hard to believe, from the way Boethius develops his ideas in the text, that the argument really is his. 13 The lack of a conception of synchronous alternative possibilities in Boethius and other ancient writers, and the gradual introduction of this notion from the twelfth century onwards, is one of the main themes of Knuuttila [1.21]. 14 This argument is stated in, for instance, Aquinas’ De veritate q.12, a.12. For discussion of it, see Kenny [1.19] and Prior [1.29]. 15 See Courcelle [1.13] 221–31 for a comparison between Boethius’ views on the eternity of the world and those of his Christian and pagan near contemporaries. 16 See Chapter 5, pp. 110–11. 17 A good introduction to Philoponus’ work is given in R.Sorabji (ed.) Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, London, 1987. 18 See I.Hadot, ‘La vie et oeuvre de Simplicius’, in I.Hadot (ed.) Simplicius: Sa vie, son oeuvre, sa survie (Peripatoi 15), Berlin and New York, 1987, pp. 3–39; but not all scholars accept this reconstruction of events. BIBLIOGRAPHY Original Language Editions of Boethius 1.1 Works in MPL, 63–4, Paris, 1847. 1.2 Translations of Aristotle in AL 1, 2, 3, 5, ed. L.Minio-Paluello et al., Bruges and Paris, 1966–9; 6, ed. B.Dod, Leiden and Brussels, 1975 (hereafter AL). 1.3 Commentaries on Porphyry’s Isagoge, ed. S.Brandt (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 64), Vienna and Leipzig, 1906. 1.4 Commentaries on Aristotle’s On Interpretation, ed. C.Meiser, Leipzig, 1877–80. 1.5 Scholia on Prior Analytics, in AL 3. 1.6 Commentary on Cicero’s Topics, ed. J.C.Orelli and J.G.Baiter in M.Tulli Ciceronis opera omnia V, 1, Zurich, 1833 and On Hypothetical Syllogisms, ed. L.Obertello, Brescia, 1969. 1.7 Theological Treatises (Opuscula sacra), ed. H.F.Stewart, E.K.Rand, S.J. Tester (with On the Consolation of Philosophy), London and Cambridge, Mass., 1973. 1.8 On the Consolation of Philosophy, ed. L.Bieler (Corpus christianorum 94), Turnhout, 1957. English Translations of Boethius 1.9 On Topical Differentiae, trans. E.Stump, Ithaca, NY and London, 1978. 1.10 Boethius’ ‘In Ciceronis topica’, Ithaca, NY and London, 1988. 1.11 On Division, in N.Kretzmann and E.Stump (eds) Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts: Logic and the Philosophy of Language, Cambridge, 1988, pp. 11–38. 1.7 contains a parallel English translation of the Theological treatises and also a translation of On the Consolation of Philosophy. Many other translations of the Consolation exist. Boethius Studies 1.12 Chadwick, H. Boethius: the Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology and Philosophy, Oxford, 1981. 1.13 Courcelle, P. La consolation de philosophie dans la tradition littéraire: antécédents et posterité de Boèce, Paris, 1967. 1.14 Daley, B. ‘Boethius’ theological tracts and early Byzantine scholasticism’, Mediaeval Studies 46 (1984):158–91. 1.15 Dürr, K. The Prepositional Logic of Boethius, Amsterdam, 1951. 1.16 Gibson, M. (ed.) Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, Oxford, 1981. 1.17 Gruber, J. Kommentar zu Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiae, Berlin, 1978. 1.18 Huber, P. Die Vereinbarkeit von göttlicher Vorsehung und menschlicher Freiheit in der Consolatio Philosophiae des Boethius, Zurich, 1976. 1.19 Kenny, A. ‘Divine foreknowledge and human freedom’, in A.Kenny (ed.) Aquinas: a Collection of Critical Essays, Notre Dame, Ind., 1969, pp. 273–96. 1.20 Klingner, F. De Boethii Consolatione Philosophiae, (Philologische Untersuchungen 27), Berlin, 1921. 1.21 Knuuttila, S. Modalities in Medieval Philosophy, London and New York, 1993. 1.22 Libera, A. de La querelle des universaux: De Platon à la fin du Moyen Âge, Paris, 1996. 1.23 Martin, C.J. ‘Embarrassing arguments and surprising conclusions in the development of theories of the conditional in the twelfth century’, in J.Jolivet and A. de Libera (eds) Gilbert de Poitiers et ses contemporains (History of Logic 5), Naples, 1987, pp. 377–400. 1.24 Minio-Paluello, L. ‘A Latin commentary (trans. ?Boethius) on the Prior Analytics and its Greek sources’, The Journal of Hellenic Studies 77 (1957): 93–102 (repr. in Opuscula 347–56). 1.25 ——‘Les traductions et les commentaires aristotéliciens de Boèce’, Studia Patristica II, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 64 (1957):358–65 (repr. in Opuscula 328–35). 1.26 ——Opuscula: the Latin Aristotle, Amsterdam, 1972. 1.27 Obertello, L. Severino Boezio, 2 vols, Genoa, 1974. 1.28 Pike, N. God and Timelessness, London, 1970. 1.29 Prior, A. ‘The formalities of omniscience’, in Papers on Tense and Time, Oxford, 1968, pp. 26–44. 1.30 Schrimpf, G. Die Axiomenschrift des Boethius, De Hebdomadibus als philosophisches Lehrbuch des Mittelalters (Studien über die Problemgeschichte d. antike u. mittelalterlichen Philosophie 2), Leiden, 1966. 1.31 Schurr, V. Die Trinitätslehre des Boethius im Lichte der ‘Skythischen Kontroversen’ (Forschungen zur christlichen Literatur und Dogmengeschichte 18.1), Paderborn, 1935. 1.32 Sorabji, R. (ed.) Aristotle Transformed: the Ancient Commentaries and their Influence, London, 1990.
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