This forum was closed on October 1st, 2010. However, the archives are open to the public and filled with vast amounts of good reading and information for you to enjoy. If you wish to meet some Wardrobians, please visit the Into the Wardrobe Facebook group.

Redo of Book 2, Chapters 3 & 4

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Redo of Book 2, Chapters 3 & 4

Postby magpie » 24 Aug 2005, 19:59

As I now attempt the reconstruction of the thread for these two chapters, I am aided by the fact that Air of Winter had saved a draft of her response to my opening post. Since she uses both my own comments and those which I quoted from Boethius, I will try to "fill in the gaps" without retyping all of my remarks. I hope that this will not be too confusing.

The overarching theme of these two chapters is the inadequacy of mortal things to bestow true happiness. In Prose 3 Boethius is told to be grateful for past joys and remember that even if Fortune had not withdrawn her favors, death would have ended them.
Although it is true that things which are subject to fortune can hardly be counted on, nevertheless, the last day of a man's life is a kind of death to such fortune as he still has. What difference does it make, then, whether you desert her by dying or she you by leaving?
This remark is immediately followed by Poem 3 which states that in a world ruled by change, nothing that is born can last and which is discussed in the opening section of Air's post below.

In Prose 4 Boethius protests that the very memory of past joys make their loss all that more painful. Air responds to my remarks on this passage (including the story of my high school Latin teacher) in the section following her quotation of Tennyson.

Philosophy continues by instructing Boethius to take heart that he has not lost everything--yet. His chaste wife remains faithful, albeit totally miserable over his fate, and his father-in-law is still "unharmed." I questioned whether Boethius might be using "dramatic irony," a well-known device in the Greek theater, a question to which Air replied.

I found the next section of Prose 4 to be highly disturbing. Philosophy seems to turn on Boethius an manner that is anything but consoling.
We have made some progress anyway if you have found something to be happy about. But I find your self-pity hard to bear when you moan childishly over the loss of some of your happiness. No one is so completely happy that he does not have to endure some loss.
She continues with a diatribe which recalls the lectures which I used to receive as a child when I complained about what was for dinner and was reminded of all the "starving children" who would appeciate that particular entree.
Besides, those most blessed are often the most sensitive; unless everything works out perfectly, they are impatient at disappointment and shattered by quite trivial things. It takes very little to spoil the perfect happiness of the fortunate. Just think how many people would consider themselves lucky to have only a small part of your remaining good fortune.
Philosophy seems to be treating Boethius like a spoiled child who has just lost his favorite toy, not a man under condemnation of death.

Philosophy then moves on to the meat of her argument which Air discussed in the section of her post which begins with my words, "All this serves as a springboard..."

This was in turn followed by what I considered to be Philosophy's rather pessimistic conclusion.
It is clear, then, that if transitory happiness ends with the death of the body, and if this means an end of all happiness, the whole human race would be plunged into misery by death. But if we know that many men have sought the enjoyment of happiness not only in death, but also in the sorrows and pains of life, how can this present life make us happy when its end cannot make us unhappy?
This reminded me of the final advice of the chorus in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Call no man fortunate that is not dead.
The dead are free from pain.
to which Air replied in her post and concluded with her comments on my short remarks about Poem 4.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

Member of the Religious Tolerance Cabal of the Wardrobe
User avatar
magpie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Feb 2005
Location: Minnesota

Postby magpie » 24 Aug 2005, 20:13

This post has been removed because Air of Winter has posted her own original below as shown by the short exchange of remarks following this post. NOW we're back on track!
Last edited by magpie on 25 Aug 2005, 20:33, edited 1 time in total.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

Member of the Religious Tolerance Cabal of the Wardrobe
User avatar
magpie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Feb 2005
Location: Minnesota

Postby Air of Winter » 25 Aug 2005, 19:21

I could repost the text of my reply and you could edit the above post, if you don't want to risk people mistaking my opinions for yours because of the post header.
Air of Winter
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Jul 2005

Postby magpie » 25 Aug 2005, 20:08

Air of Winter wrote:I could repost the text of my reply and you could edit the above post, if you don't want to risk people mistaking my opinions for yours because of the post header.


If you think that it would be clearer, go ahead, and I will simply delete my "patch" after you have done it. Hopefully, from now on things will be getting back to normal.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

Member of the Religious Tolerance Cabal of the Wardrobe
User avatar
magpie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Feb 2005
Location: Minnesota

Postby Air of Winter » 25 Aug 2005, 20:28

OK, here's my repost.
magpie wrote:
If the form of this world cannot stay the same, but suffers so many violent changes, what folly it is to trust man's tumbling fortunes, to rely on things that come and go. One thing is certain, fixed by eternal law: nothing that is born can last.

This argument makes philosophical sense which the intellect can grasp, but I wonder if the heart is consoled by such observations. Indeed, as Boethius himself immediately protests, the recollection of past joys is actually bitter to one who has now lost them.


Tennyson wrote:Comfort? comfort scorn'd of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.


But the memory of it is what causes me most pain; for in the midst of adversity, the worst misfortune of all is to have once been happy.
I once had a high school Latin teacher, a middle-aged "maiden lady" whose fiance had died in World War II. She always included as one of our translation exercises the sentence, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved." I wondered now, as I did then, if it is that simple. What do you think" Does the rembrance of past joys console or pain you?[/quote]
It does both, and at the end I end up agreeing with your Latin teacher. Most of my immediate family is dead: there are more gone than remain; and one of the things that distresses me is that part of the way in which the grief of bereavement lapses is by the slow lapse of the memory of the beloved. I don't often mourn my first German shepherd, but that is because a quarter of a century has all but devoured my memories of him. Another quarter of a century will leave me with but distant recollections of my father. I would take the grief back to restore the memories.

Slow change may pull us apart -- what if that gets into your heart?


Does anyone know if Boethius knew of his father-in-laws condemnation, and if he did, which one of them died first? If he knew, it would make Philosophy's remarks particularly harsh.

Symmachus was executed not long after Boethius, apparently having incurred disfavor by defending Boethius. But that's all I know.

All this serves as a springboard to Philosophy's main argument that mortal things can never bring true happiness which can only be found within oneself.
Is anything more precious to you than yourself? You will agree that there is nothing. Then if you possess yourself, you have something you will never want to give up and something which Fortune cannot take from you.
She goes on to explain that nothing which can be lost is the supreme good because it would be less good than that which cannot be lost. (I do wonder what my Latin teacher would have said to that!) The very knowledge that we can lose our joy negates that same joy even while we are experiencing it. Do you agree or disagree with her assessment of human experience?


I would be happier if I feared less -- that's certain enough.

I wish I could agree that Fortune cannot take away the self. I used to think much this way, but even without the example of Alzheimer's, I could hardly say so after Hell Year.

Call no man fortunate that is not dead.
The dead are free from pain.
I have always considered such a stance profoundly pessimistic, although it would appear that Philosophy intends it to be an essential part of the consolation which she is offering to Boethius. How do you see it?

As profoundly pessimistic, and probably true. I think, in practice, I'm as close to being a nihilist as it's possible to be without actually stepping over the line; but I am also a moral realist, and that prohibits the final step. Virtue -- the pursuit of the Good -- is worthwhile for its own sake, and if the universe is so constructed that I am unrewarded for it and end in agony -- well, so what? It is the prudential, not the moral, impulse that he follows, who does good because he hopes for reward, and eschews evil because he fears punishment.

One of the things that pains me most, with my loss of faith, is the loss of any conviction that my dead relatives and pets are alive elsewhere, and happier than they could ever be here in the vale of wrath and tears. That they don't exist at all anymore is no pleasant thought. But when I see how far this world is from benevolent governance, I fear that it is wishful thinking to think that the next world might be kindlier; and perhaps I should be rather relieved than distressed.

Swinburne wrote:"I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow and reap;
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful
With lips but half regretful
Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal
Nor days nor things diurnal
Only sleep eternal
In an eternal night."



Poem 4 seems to temper this stark conclusion by advocating a life of moderation which avoids both danger and delight. This reminds me of the classical coping mechanism of abuse victims who in numbing their pain also lose the capacity for joy. But will this strategy of avoidance truly insulate us from suffering, and even if it can, is it worth the cost? What do you think?

I don't think there's any way to avoid it. One shuts down feeling because the situation is too hazardous to permit it to drive one's behavior.

There is something in this philosophy of Boethius' that's common in Classical thought, and that is the idea that the passions, being part of the lower animal and material nature, ought to be suppressed and controlled as an intrinsically meritorious act. I don't think that most of us make the same assumption about the passions. I hold that it can be desirable to suppress or control them, if they are going to work some particular and foreseeable harm to me or to another; but that they are intrinsically bad I deny, for they can also assist in doing good. And I never did make this Classical assumption when I was a Christian: however similar it may sound to Pauline discussions of the carnal nature, in truth it's implicitly Manichean, an accusation that God did not make man of the right stuff, but built into his makeup that which could never have a right use, but only wrong uses. There is a difference between saying that the passions are disordered and often produce ill, and saying that they ought not to exist at all.
Air of Winter
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Jul 2005

Postby magpie » 29 Aug 2005, 19:18

Air of Winter wrote:Most of my immediate family is dead: there are more gone than remain; and one of the things that distresses me is that part of the way in which the grief of bereavement lapses is by the slow lapse of the memory of the beloved. I don't often mourn my first German shepherd, but that is because a quarter of a century has all but devoured my memories of him. Another quarter of a century will leave me with but distant recollections of my father. I would take the grief back to restore the memories.


I am reminded of the passage in A Grief Observed where Lewis realizes that he has no photograph of Joy and is beginning to forget what she looked like. He makes it clear that if losing his grief means losing her memory, he will accept the pain of his grief. I likewise see such grief as the token of love, and to deliberately numb the one is to relinquish the other.

Virtue -- the pursuit of the Good -- is worthwhile for its own sake, and if the universe is so constructed that I am unrewarded for it and end in agony -- well, so what? It is the prudential, not the moral, impulse that he follows, who does good because he hopes for reward, and eschews evil because he fears punishment.


I would agree that for a vast majority of the spiritually immature, behavior does seem governed by a belief in divine rewards and punishments. A youth once told me that he avoided doing wrong because he did not want to "be on the end of the Devil's fondue fork." However, most spiritually mature people would counter that we do not earn "eternal bliss" by our "good behavior." Indeed heaven cannot be "earned" at all. Rather virtuous actions are a reflection of our desire to please God from a sense of loving gratitude and not from fear of punishment.

One of the things that pains me most, with my loss of faith, is the loss of any conviction that my dead relatives and pets are alive elsewhere, and happier than they could ever be here in the vale of wrath and tears. That they don't exist at all anymore is no pleasant thought. But when I see how far this world is from benevolent governance, I fear that it is wishful thinking to think that the next world might be kindlier; and perhaps I should be rather relieved than distressed.


I admit that I spend very little time thinking about a "next world" because I am still so deeply involved in this one. Yet as I look into my heart, I do find that the assurance of blessing for many of my loved ones and a converse anxiety for others provides a substratum for my current attitude. However, the greatest difference between us seems not so much a question of any afterlife, but our experience of this one. While I openly admit that there is a great deal of evil in the world, I also see impressive amounts of good. Thus once more I am Tigger to your Eeyore as we wander with Boethius in tow through the Hundred Acre Wood.

There is something in this philosophy of Boethius' that's common in Classical thought, and that is the idea that the passions, being part of the lower animal and material nature, ought to be suppressed and controlled as an intrinsically meritorious act. I don't think that most of us make the same assumption about the passions. I hold that it can be desirable to suppress or control them, if they are going to work some particular and foreseeable harm to me or to another; but that they are intrinsically bad I deny, for they can also assist in doing good. And I never did make this Classical assumption when I was a Christian: however similar it may sound to Pauline discussions of the carnal nature, in truth it's implicitly Manichean, an accusation that God did not make man of the right stuff, but built into his makeup that which could never have a right use, but only wrong uses. There is a difference between saying that the passions are disordered and often produce ill, and saying that they ought not to exist at all.


I have always been disturbed by the tendency toward dualism which has seeped into Christian theology, not only from Paul but even more from Augustine who, despite his intellectual and theological rejection of Manichean doctrine, nonetheless continued to reflect his earlier affinity in his attitudes toward the body. This is so counter to the Hebraic tradition in which Jesus himself was steeped where the soul and body were regarded as unified. Indeed, when the Psalms declare "Lift up your hearts," the members of the worshiping community would stand up. Unfortunately Western Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), with its heavy heritage from Augustine perpetuates this attitude which Boethius also reflects. In this respect I find the Eastern emphasis on an incarnational faith much healthier.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

Member of the Religious Tolerance Cabal of the Wardrobe
User avatar
magpie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Feb 2005
Location: Minnesota

Postby Air of Winter » 30 Aug 2005, 00:45

magpie wrote:I admit that I spend very little time thinking about a "next world" because I am still so deeply involved in this one. Yet as I look into my heart, I do find that the assurance of blessing for many of my loved ones and a converse anxiety for others provides a substratum for my current attitude. However, the greatest difference between us seems not so much a question of any afterlife, but our experience of this one. While I openly admit that there is a great deal of evil in the world, I also see impressive amounts of good. Thus once more I am Tigger to your Eeyore as we wander with Boethius in tow through the Hundred Acre Wood.


Well, one thing I should note is that in real life I don't sound like a marshwiggle. I haven't mentioned the health problems yet, which have long been serious enough to keep my from working. Day to day, I say very little about any of this and my practical philosophy is a dogged determination to crawl forward as far as I can. I don't think I come across as Ms. Doom and Gloom in person. I'm merely reticent.

The philosophical despair is real, and when I feel free to talk about such subjects I frequently end up bleeding all over my arguments. It's a relief to be able to speak. But I may be inadvertently distorting the portrait I draw of myself.

Among other things, I'm in better shape now in almost every respect than I've been for two decades, and I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle awakening out of a sleep heavily laced with nightmare. What ... happened ... to me?

In this respect I find the Eastern emphasis on an incarnational faith much healthier.


Yeah, now that you mention it.
Air of Winter
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Jul 2005

Postby magpie » 31 Aug 2005, 17:12

Air of Winter wrote:
magpie wrote:Thus once more I am Tigger to your Eeyore as we wander with Boethius in tow through the Hundred Acre Wood.


Well, one thing I should note is that in real life I don't sound like a marshwiggle. I haven't mentioned the health problems yet, which have long been serious enough to keep my from working. Day to day, I say very little about any of this and my practical philosophy is a dogged determination to crawl forward as far as I can. I don't think I come across as Ms. Doom and Gloom in person. I'm merely reticent.

The philosophical despair is real, and when I feel free to talk about such subjects I frequently end up bleeding all over my arguments. It's a relief to be able to speak. But I may be inadvertently distorting the portrait I draw of myself.

Among other things, I'm in better shape now in almost every respect than I've been for two decades, and I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle awakening out of a sleep heavily laced with nightmare. What ... happened ... to me?


I do think that I was being a tad flip. The reality is that we as human beings all contain a little of both Tigger and Eeyore. At the practical level we need hope just to be able to function in the day to day realities which we all face, and at various points in our lives it is more difficult than at others. I have my Eeyore days as well as my Tigger ones.

Nonetheless the philosophical and theological differences between us are significant, and I believe that I have much to gain in hearing your perspective on matters which I often tend to take for granted.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

Member of the Religious Tolerance Cabal of the Wardrobe
User avatar
magpie
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 1096
Joined: Feb 2005
Location: Minnesota

Postby Air of Winter » 31 Aug 2005, 18:30

magpie wrote:I do think that I was being a tad flip. The reality is that we as human beings all contain a little of both Tigger and Eeyore. At the practical level we need hope just to be able to function in the day to day realities which we all face, and at various points in our lives it is more difficult than at others. I have my Eeyore days as well as my Tigger ones.


I didn't perceive it as flippant; it seems a useful enough shorthand. I am conscious of not easily being able to present my outlook in a fashion that is not misleading because the despair comes with words and the dogged determination often doesn't. I wonder if this might not, to a certain extent, distort my thinking: that which is named has prominence.

It may be that I will be better able to describe it and analyze it if I improve my philosophical vocabulary. I have just gotten Van Inwagen's Metaphysics from Amazon and, while I'm often reading a dozen things at once, I mean to give it a fairly high priority. Possibly something so theoretical won't help with practical description; but it can't possibly hurt.
Air of Winter
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Jul 2005


Return to The Consolation of Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered members and 1 guest

cron