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.

Book 2, Chapters 5 & 6

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

Book 2, Chapters 5 & 6

Postby magpie » 31 Aug 2005, 18:24

Here Philosophy begins a systematic analysis of those things which cannot be considered the highest good toward which persons of wisdom ought to strive. She begins with the most obviously inadequate of these "false goods," material riches. Many of her arguments are old familiar criticisms of the love of riches: that nature does not belong to us; that having things merely puts us in danger of robbers; that the more we have the more we want; and that every material enjoyment has its limits.
For nature's needs are few and small; if you try to glut yourself with too many things, you will find your excesses either unpleasant or positively harmful.
But two of her arguments are rather intriguing.

First, she declares that riches are themselves vile and become precious only when given away.
Are riches naturally precious, or are they precious because of some viture of yours? What is precious about them, the gold metal or the pile of money? Wealth seems better when it is spent than when it is in the bank, for avarice makes men hated, but liberality makes them popular. But that which is given away is no longer possessed, so that money is more precious when it is generously got rid of.
This sounds like Dolly Levy telling Horace Vandegelder (in Hello Dolly) that money is life manure; it only does good when it is spread around. It would almost seem as if wisdom and material comfort were diametrical opposed, yet I wonder how many of us are ready to abandon our IRA's in search of enlightenment.

Philosophy further insists that riches have no intrinsic value at all and that it is only our desire for them which makes them seem precious.
And if there is no desireable beauty in these things, why should you regret losing them, or be particuarly elated to possess them? If they are beautiful by nature, what is that to you? They would be pleasing to you even it they belonged to someone else. They are not precious because you have them; you desire to have them because they seem precious.
This is an interesting observation on human nature which has many modern examples. How ofter does the "must have" mechandise for which shoppers will literally trample others end up a year or two later in some rummage sale? Do we even enjoy what we have or are we always yearning for what we want to have next?

The crux of Philosophy's argument is the question why human beings who have the greatest gift of all, reason, should ever desire lesser things.
What an upside-down state of affairs when a man who is divine by his gift of reason thinks his excellence depends on the possession lifeless bric-a-brac! Other creatures are content with what they have; but you made in the likeness of God by virture of your reason, choose ornaments for your excellent nature from base things, without understanding how great an injury you do to your Creator.
This same argument which Philosophy will make against all of the other "false goods" will predictably reveal that ultimately the highest good is God. But does the fact that all other "goods" are lesser than God make them of no value? Perhaps the message here is similar to that of the medieval morality play Eyeryman where lesser goods desert the protagonist as he moves toward judgement leaving only Good Deeds at his side.

Poem 5 provides a transition to Philosophy's next argument by repeating a rather "stock-in-trade" elegy on the now lost "golden age" of innocence, which of course never existed. Instead of Arcadia, there were the Neanderthals in their caves and "nature red in tooth and claw," yet even today so many people insist upon nostalgic yearning for "the good old days."

Prose 6 mirrors Philosophy's scorn for riches, but shifts the focus to honor and power which she sees as valuable only when held by the virtuous. After remarking that power can control the body but not the spirit, she makes the curious claim that honor and power cannot be good because the wicked posses them. This is the same argument which she will use to "cut down" every other potential source of earthly happiness, the insistence that something cannot be inherently good if it cannot make people good.
In the end, we reach the same conclusion about all the gifts of Fortune. They are not worth striving for; there is nothing in their natures which is good; they are not always possessed by good men, nor do they make those good who possess them.
She supports her case in Poem 6 with the extreme example of Nero who had tremendous power, yet was totally depraved. This raises an interesting question which Philosophy does not address. Was Nero corrupted by his possession of power, or did an already depraved Nero corrupt the power which he was given. Does, as the old adage claims, power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, or is power merely the vehicle through which a corrupt nature is manifested? And what insight would Boethius give us into the numerous political and social labyrinths of our present day?
"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 » 01 Sep 2005, 13:32

magpie wrote:First, she declares that riches are themselves vile and become precious only when given away.
Are riches naturally precious, or are they precious because of some viture of yours? What is precious about them, the gold metal or the pile of money? Wealth seems better when it is spent than when it is in the bank, for avarice makes men hated, but liberality makes them popular. But that which is given away is no longer possessed, so that money is more precious when it is generously got rid of.
This sounds like Dolly Levy telling Horace Vandegelder (in Hello Dolly) that money is life manure; it only does good when it is spread around. It would almost seem as if wisdom and material comfort were diametrical opposed, yet I wonder how many of us are ready to abandon our IRA's in search of enlightenment.


Not me. I'm reading this book in the first place because I can afford a computer and an Internet connection, if not all that much more beyond the books I buy. That collection of ancient Greeks that Socrates spent his time arguing with were pretty generally well-off men who had servants and enough wealth and leisure to spend the day in ways other than making their living. It wasn't the servants or the craftsmen who got to spend their time pursuing personal enlightenment. And in our own time it's hard to pick up a newspaper without coming across some editorial about the connection between poverty, lack of education, and crime.

I survived Hell Year and its fallout primarily because I had a formidable array of intellectual resources at my disposal. If my education had been circumscribed by poverty, if I'd lacked access to enough information to make good guesses about how to deal with the problem, I doubt I'd be here to write this.

The crux of Philosophy's argument is the question why human beings who have the greatest gift of all, reason, should ever desire lesser things.
What an upside-down state of affairs when a man who is divine by his gift of reason thinks his excellence depends on the possession lifeless bric-a-brac! Other creatures are content with what they have; but you made in the likeness of God by virture of your reason, choose ornaments for your excellent nature from base things, without understanding how great an injury you do to your Creator.
This same argument which Philosophy will make against all of the other "false goods" will predictably reveal that ultimately the highest good is God. But does the fact that all other "goods" are lesser than God make them of no value? Perhaps the message here is similar to that of the medieval morality play Eyeryman where lesser goods desert the protagonist as he moves toward judgement leaving only Good Deeds at his side.


No, money's not the ultimate good, but this is hitting me as the Manichean streak again. And it's a very unBiblical attitude if the part of the Bible we're thinking about is the Old Testament. There there is constant emphasis on the enjoyment of material blessings. They're treated as genuine goods, as things to be thankful for and not despised.

I'm not saying there's no place for St. Francis. I am saying there's a place for the rose windows of the cathedral at Chartres. To count the beauty of the material things of the world as little worth is, I think, to make a serious error. Did God not make the glories of the world? Are they not images of Heaven? If God made the material world and called the creation good, whyever should we lightly esteem it? -- It is easy for me to make the argument in Christian terms.

On my own terms I would say that to disregard the many-splendored goodness of the world is to insure that one sees nothing but grey evil and black. And that is not a path to virtue for anyone tempted to nihilism. It's a precipitous road to ruin.

There is value in the idea of not taking any lesser good for greater than it is, and not being enslaved to any appetite. But I can't help thinking Philosophy has carried this rather too far.

Prose 6 mirrors Philosophy's scorn for riches, but shifts the focus to honor and power which she sees as valuable only when held by the virtuous. After remarking that power can control the body but not the spirit, she makes the curious claim that honor and power cannot be good because the wicked posses them. This is the same argument which she will use to "cut down" every other potential source of earthly happiness, the insistence that something cannot be inherently good if it cannot make people good.


Philosophy wrote:Canst thou force from its due tranquillity the mind that is firmly composed by reason?

Yes. I wish the answer were no.

I doubt that worldly honor or power have any tendency to induce virtue. But I think this is wrong:

Philosophy wrote:Besides, if there were any element of natural and proper good in rank and power, they would never come to the utterly bad, since opposites are not wont to be associated. Nature brooks not the union of contraries.


Say rather this:
C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, wrote:To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage, or Shylock without self-denial as regards the flesh?


My own tendency to nihilism is nothing but broken and inverted idealism, and my vengefulness is partly a desire for justice distorted.

Was Nero corrupted by his possession of power, or did an already depraved Nero corrupt the power which he was given. Does, as the old adage claims, power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, or is power merely the vehicle through which a corrupt nature is manifested? And what insight would Boethius give us into the numerous political and social labyrinths of our present day?


I think that power has a tendency to produce corruption because it exposes people to new temptations, while removing prudential constraints against giving in to those temptations.

I am doing a reasonable job of checking my inherently bad temper these days, but I refuse to become a moderator on any board I post at until I achieve a much greater level of virtue than I possess at present, because I wouldn't be working in the conditions under which I maintain enough equilibrium to pull that off. I only manage by limiting my exposure to things likely to make me angry. Put me in a position where I have to interact with the people who are most irritating rather than being able to back well away, and the result is not pretty. It becomes even worse if I don't have the luxury of taking extensive time to reflect -- if I have to act with reasonable dispatch. I have an existing defect of character which the possession of a particular kind of power would make worse, so I won't accept that kind of power.
Air of Winter
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 282
Joined: Jul 2005

Postby magpie » 07 Sep 2005, 20:43

Air of Winter wrote:Not me. I'm reading this book in the first place because I can afford a computer and an Internet connection, if not all that much more beyond the books I buy. That collection of ancient Greeks that Socrates spent his time arguing with were pretty generally well-off men who had servants and enough wealth and leisure to spend the day in ways other than making their living. It wasn't the servants or the craftsmen who got to spend their time pursuing personal enlightenment. And in our own time it's hard to pick up a newspaper without coming across some editorial about the connection between poverty, lack of education, and crime.


It is interesting to note that most of the writers (the nineteenth century romantics come most readily to mind) who endlessly rhapsodized about the "unwashed poor" being inherently virtuous, were themselves safely ensconced in middle class (or even aristocratic) comfort. Contrast their position to the naturalism of Emile Zola who had no illusions about the impact of poverty upon moral character.

However it would be a dull thread if I did not offer what in Minnesota we call the "yah-buttal." (Yah, it's nice today, but it'll rain tomorrow.) I think that Philosophy is touching upon an issue which (although she does not explicitly use the term) is one of idolatry. While at first glance she seems to be implying that material possessions are to be shunned, her fundamental point is that things cannot be considered the highest good. This same argument would also hold for the less tangible "gifts of Fortune" which she discusses in later chapters. In this respect I am reminded of Gerald May's fascinating book Addiction and Grace in which he argues that our "addiction" is whatever we put in the place of God or which we allow to come between ourselves and God. This paradoxically would include things which we might otherwise consider obvious "goods," such things as family, patriotism, duty, etc. This of course, requires a theistic frame of reference which is concurrent with that of Boethius himself.

I'm not saying there's no place for St. Francis. I am saying there's a place for the rose windows of the cathedral at Chartres. To count the beauty of the material things of the world as little worth is, I think, to make a serious error. Did God not make the glories of the world? Are they not images of Heaven? If God made the material world and called the creation good, whyever should we lightly esteem it? -- It is easy for me to make the argument in Christian terms.


I am struck by the particular examples which you cite. These are indeed things which are material and yet glorious. However, they are also, for the most part, things which are not possessed but enjoyed. I think that Philosophy is making her argument against any private claims on the material world. Moreover while we are called to be co-creators of beauty as persons ourselves made in the "image of God," as creatures so "made" we are also called to be aware of the temporal nature of our creations. I think that Philosophy is cautioning us not to mistake the "images of Heaven" for Heaven itself.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, wrote:
To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage, or Shylock without self-denial as regards the flesh?


My own tendency to nihilism is nothing but broken and inverted idealism, and my vengefulness is partly a desire for justice distorted.


In this respect, Richard Rohr in The Enneagram points out that what we consider our to be greatest virtue can in fact be our "besetting sin." Thus it is not surprising that even in the most depraved there must remain some virtue, and in the most virtuous some unacknowledged vice.
"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 » 08 Sep 2005, 22:30

magpie wrote:I think that Philosophy is touching upon an issue which (although she does not explicitly use the term) is one of idolatry. While at first glance she seems to be implying that material possessions are to be shunned, her fundamental point is that things cannot be considered the highest good.

I agree with that in theory. I hope I agree with it in practice if I ever don't have any things.
This same argument would also hold for the less tangible "gifts of Fortune" which she discusses in later chapters. In this respect I am reminded of Gerald May's fascinating book Addiction and Grace in which he argues that our "addiction" is whatever we put in the place of God or which we allow to come between ourselves and God. This paradoxically would include things which we might otherwise consider obvious "goods," such things as family, patriotism, duty, etc. This of course, requires a theistic frame of reference which is concurrent with that of Boethius himself.

Pretty much. There's nothing exactly alike. Saying that I ought not to value anything above virtue is true in an academic sense, but in practice it conjures up a fairly nasty image -- that of someone who puts their sense of their own righteousness above the welfare of other living creatures -- which is, of course, not virtuous at all. There's no real way to state an equivalent principle because it doesn't work if there isn't a highest thing that isn't an animate object of love.
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