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Book 4, Chapters 1 & 2

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

Book 4, Chapters 1 & 2

Postby magpie » 14 Dec 2005, 20:04

In response to Philosophy's announcement at the end of Book 3 that evil is nothing, Boethius, "still depressed by personal grief," protests,
Here, though, is the greatest cause of my sadness; since there is a good governor of all things, how can there be evil, and how can it go unpunished. Think how astonishing this is. But it is even more amazing that with wickedness in full control, virtue not only goes unrewarded, but is trampled underfoot by the wicked and is punished instead of vice. That this can happen in the realm of an all-knowing and all-powerful God who desires only good must be a cause of surprise and sorrow to everyone.
There in a nutshell is the age-old question with which all believers in a personal God must untimately struggle. Philosophy readily admits that it would indeed be "a monstrous thing and astonishing to everyone" if it were true, however,
But this is not the case. For if our previous conclusions are valid, and with the help of Him whose kingdom we are now speaking of, you will discover that the good are always powerful and the evil always weak and futile, that vice never goes unpunished or virtue unrewarded, that the good prosper and the evil suffer misfortune, and much else which will remove the causes of your complaint and strengthen your convictions.
But first (like Gene Autry in the old westerns) she breaks for a song, this one again asserting the cosmic sovereignty of God, the key to her subsequent exposition.

In Chapter 2 Philosophy turns her attention to the issue of power, insisting,
First you will agree that the good always have power and the wicked do not. Each of these propositions proves the other: for, since good and evil are contraries, if good is shown to be powerful, the weakness of evil necessarily follows. Conversely, if evil is shown to be weak, the strength of good is clear.
(Just as an aside, how can evil which she has previously declared to be "nothing" have any attributes at all?) To prove her first proposition, that good is powerful and hence evil of necessity weak, she argues that every act requires both the will to initiate action and the power to complete it successfully. From this she posits:
1. Every intention of human will is directed toward happiness.
2. Happiness is the good so that to seek happiness is to desire the good.
3. All persons, good or bad, thus strive to obtain the good.
4. Human beings become good by obtaining the good. (We do???)
And so she concludes,
But evil men would not be evil if they obtained the good they seek. Therefore, since both seek the good, but good men obtain it and evil men do not, it follows that good men have power but evil men are impotent.
This line of reasoning seems to me seriously flawed, especially in its assumption that all persons truly seek "the good" which then bestows goodness upon all who obtain it. As they say in Porgy and Bess, "'It ain't necessarily so." Equally suspect is her subsequent argument that the good are powerful because they act through "natural" means while the wicked are weakened by their use of "unnatural" ones, terms which are never clearly defined and hence lack the force of evidence.

Philosophy now moves on to argue her second proposition, that evil is weak and hence good is powerful. Continuing to assert that it is the goal of all human beings to seek the good, she declares,
Consider how great is the weakness of vicious men who are unable to achieve that goal toward which their nature leads, even forces them.
Then arguing that this failure to desire the good, "the common goal of all existence," whether from ignorance or vice, is to forsake existence itself, she explains,
Perhaps it may strike some as strange to say that evil men do not exist, especialy since they are so numerous; but it is not so strange. For I do not deny that those who are evil are evil; but I do deny that they are, in the pure and simple sense of the term. For just as you may call a cadaver a dead man, but cannot call it simply a man, so I would concede that vicious men are evil, but I cannot say, in the absolute sense, that they exist. For a thing is which maintains its place in nature and acts in accord with its nature. Whatever fails to do this loses the existence which is proper it its nature.
I think that the assertion of the weakness of evil would have been much stronger if Philosophy had not digressed into this strange insistence on the essential non-existence of wicked people, and perhaps Boethius realized this also since he quickly returns to the issue of the relative power between good and evil. Reaffirming that the sovereign God can do all things while human beings, capable of evil, cannot, Philosophy argues,
Therefore, since He who can only do good can do all things, and those who can do evil cannot do all things, it is obvious that those who can do evil are less powerful. Moreover, we have already shown that every kind of power is included among the things which men desire, and that all objects of human desire are related to the good as the goal of their natures. But the ability to commit crime is not related to the good, and so it is not desirable. And, since every power should be desired, it follows that the power to do evil is not a power at all. From all this it is clear that good men have power, but evil men are weak.
Let us for purposes of argument accept Philosophy's premise that the wicked are inherently weak, so enslaved by "shameful desires," as the concluding poem describes them, that they are incapable of obtaining "the good they are really looking for." They still manage to do an immense amount of damage and cause untold suffering to innocent victims. Hitler was a psychological basket case, but he nonetheless created the Holocaust. The question still remains: how can an all-powerful God allow these "weaklings" to wreck such havoc? Lady Philosophy, we are still awaiting your answer.
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