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 4, Chapters 3 & 4

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

Book 4, Chapters 3 & 4

Postby magpie » 22 Dec 2005, 21:19

Philosophy opens Chapter 3 by asserting that the good are always rewarded and the wicked always punished. She "proves" this by what seems to be a feat of tautological acrobatics.
We have demonstrated that happiness is the good for which all things are done. Absolute good, therefore, is set up as a kind of common prize for all human activity. Now this prize is always achieved by good men, and further, no one who lacks the good may rightly be called a good man.
In other words, the good always receive their reward because those who do not possess it are not good. (If you are not happy, then shame on you!) Continuing her equation of happiness and goodness, she then concludes,
Since the good is happiness, all good men are made happy by the very fact that they are good. And we have already shown that those who are happy are gods. Therefore, the reward of good men, which time cannot lessen, nor power diminish, nor the wickedness of any man tarnish, is to become gods.
This argument only holds if one accepts the premise that happiness and the good are interchangeable essences, a premise which not only flies in the face of a great deal of human experience, but one which also has denigrating implications for the "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," the true God (not merely a god) who "became flesh and dwelt among us." But then Incarnational theology has been strangely absent from this work, once again raising the question of Boethius' intended audience in a society still torn by the Arian controversy.

The same circular reasoning is employed to demonstrate that the wicked are always punished.
For, since good and evil, reward and punishment are opposites, the rewards of the good necessarily indicate the opposite--the punishment of the wicked. Therefore, just as virtue is the reward of virtuous men, so wickedness itself is the punishment of the wicked.
Moreover, just as the good become gods, the wicked cease to be human.
You learned earlier that whatever is, is one, and that whatever is one, is good; it follows then that whatever is must also be good. And it follows from this that whatever loses its goodness ceases to be. Thus wicked men cease to be what they were; but the appearance of their human bodies, which they keep, shows that they once were men. To give oneself to evil, therefore, is to lose one's human nature.
This conclusion is supported by a catalogue of vices and their emblematic animals, a recitation which leads to the declaration,
In this way, anyone who abandons virtue ceases to be a man, since he cannot share in the divine nature, and instead becomes a beast.
This is supported (quite predictably) by the ensuing poem which recounts the story of Ulysses and Circe who turned his sailors into swine.

As one might expect given his circumstances, Boethius protests,
Still, I wish that these cruel and wicked minds were not permitted to ruin good men.
But his objection is quickly overruled by the explanation that the power of the wicked is actually their punishment.
If, however, the power which they are thought to have were taken from them, their punishment would be greatly diminished. For, though this may seem incredible to some, the wicked are necessarily more unhappy when they have their way than they would be if they could not do what they wanted to do.
Thus Philosophy sets the theme for the remainder of Chapter 4, the premise that the wicked are powerless and miserable no matter what appearances to the contrary might suggest. Arguing that
If wickedness makes men miserable, the longer they are wicked the more wretched they must be.
she conlcudes,
That the wicked are happier when they are punished than when they evade justice.
This she demonstrates as follows:
1. The good are happy and the wicked miserable.
2. One who is unhappy but who achieves some good is happier than one whose unhappiness is "unmixed with the slightest good."
3. One who has no good and increases in evil is unhappier than one who has achieved some good.
Therefore, the wicked receive some good when they are punished, because the punishment itself is good inasmuch as it is just; conversely, when the wicked avoid punishment, they become more evil, because you have already admitted that such impunity is evil because it is unjust. Therefore, the wicked who unjustly escape punishment are more unhappy than those who are justly punished.
But all this presupposes that Philosophy has already successfully proved that the wicked are miserable, an assertion which depends in turn upon our acceptance of the inherent equivalence of happiness and goodness.

Ever the obedient student, Boethius accepts her argument, but then observes,
But, if we consider the ordinary judgment of men, who is likely to find these ideas credible, or who will even listen to them?
(I was about to say that myself.) Never at a loss for words, Philosophy responds, not with a logical argument, but rather with an emotional diatribe against human blindness, enslavement to feelings, and general baseness. From this outburst, she jumps to her next assertion.
Most thoughtless people will not even grant another equally strong argument to the effect that those who injure others are more unhappy than those whom they injure.
This she demonstrates as follows:
1. The wicked deserve to be punished.
2. The wicked are unhappy.
3. Those who deserve to be punished are miserable.
4. The one who does an injury deserves punishment.
5. The one who does evil is more miserable than the one to whom it is done.
From this sequence, she derives an interesting idea for the legal system.
But at present, lawyers take the opposite tack. They try to arouse sympathy in the judges for those who have suffered grave injury, when those who have harmed them are much more deserving of pity. Such criminals ought to be brought to justice by kind and compassionate accusers, as sick men are taken to the doctor, so that their disease of guilt might be cured by punishment.
This same sentiment is exhoed in the final words of the ensuing poem:
If you would give every man what he deserves, then love the good and pity those who are evil.
It is interesting to note that after calling wickedness a disease, Philosophy speaks of those who are evil, not those who do evil. Is wickedness a series of behaviors, an acquired condition, or an integral aspect of one's essence? (Perhaps this question is moot since earlier Philosophy has argued that evil does not exist.) Besides its implications for the penal system, this chapter raises the issue of determinism versus free will, a question which Boethius will not address until Book 5. Nonetheless, there seems to be a troubling pattern of tautological "proof" by the clever definition of terms. As Humpty Dumpty once explained to Alice,
When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less...The question is, which is to be master--that's all.
"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

Re: Book 4, Chapters 3 & 4

Postby Kolbitar » 31 Dec 2005, 14:55

::This argument only holds if one accepts the premise that happiness and the good are interchangeable essences, a premise which not only flies in the face of a great deal of human experience, but one which also has denigrating implications for the "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," the true God (not merely a god) who "became flesh and dwelt among us."

Hold on there, this is a common misunderstanding -- one which would have the Founding Fathers, with their "pursuit of hapiness," as complete subjectivists.

That is not what adherents to the perennial philosophy mean by "happiness": we moderns have warped it's meaning to resemble our own immediate-pleasure-seeking lives.

"(T)his insight...Boethius...expresses in an oft repeated characterization of happiness as "a life made perfect by the possession in aggregate of all good things." So conceived, happiness is not a particular good itself, but the sum of goods." --Mortimer Adler

There's a vast difference between being happy at one particular moment -- having the psychological contentment accompanying the possession of a good -- and the quality of happiness pursuing a good life. The latter is a disposition, a habitual inclination, and does not primarily refer to the fleeting emotions of sorrow, anger, contented happiness, etc. The opposite of a happy life as Boethius, Aristotle, or other natural philosophers conceive it, is a tragic life. To explain what Boethius means about our own rewards and punishments, we have to make a further distinction, because as you note Christ did not live a life replete, as a long string of happy emotions -- Boethius does not have this in mind. Nor could we call Christ's life happy, as opposed to tragic, as a whole. What then does Boethius have in mind? The answer is to make the distinction between limited and unlimited goods: those not within our power to possess, and those that are -- outside circumstances, and inner dispositions. The opposite of happiness in this sense is neurosis. A happy person in this sense can have unhappy feelings yet still have an inner disposition which enables him to make virtuous decisions (and become a god). What of the self-deluded who think their possession of one good to the exclusion of all others makes them happy? Well, as Mill said, “…if the fool…(is) of a different opinion, it is because (he) only know(s) (his) own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” It would be self-evident to anyone thus shown, experientially, the “other side” (the wicked shown what it means to be good) that he was a “fool.”

Jesse
User avatar
Kolbitar
Wardrobian
 
Posts: 654
Joined: Feb 2000
Location: Exile

re: Book 4, Chapters 3 & 4

Postby magpie » 25 Jan 2006, 19:28

Jesse, please excuse me for being so late in replying to your excellent post. As many in the Wardrobe know, my life has been extremely unsettled of late.

I was intrigued by your suggestion that I might somehow consider the "Founding Fathers" to be "complete subjectivists." Actually quite the opposite is the case. The authors of the Declaration of Independence were directly influenced by the French philosophes who asserted a universal human right to "life, liberty, and property." It is understandable that some of these colonists would be reluctant to attribute rights of property to all men, including those who were themselves property (ie. their own slaves), but I find their choice of a substitute term problematical. Happiness is presented as a totally external commodity to be pursued, and it is that pursuit alone which is claimed as a right. As an external entity, that which is thus pursued can be denied, or if once attained, can be taken away by an equally external agent. This is precisely why the concept of happiness as an objective entity has always seemed to me to be woefully inadequate.

I was also startled to see that you linked Boethius with "Aristotle and other natural philosophers." While he was indeed acquainted with Aristotle, some of whose works he translated, he was far more heavily influenced by the idealism of St. Augustine and through him the neo-platonists. However, my point is not to revive the old realist/nominalist debate which came significantly later than Boethius. Rather my objection is to Lady Philosophy's continual use of "happiness" and "goodness" as if they were interchangeable essences (or platonic forms if you will) with no distinction between them.

For that reason, I much prefer your own argument that happiness is an internal quality.
There's a vast difference between being happy at one particular moment -- having the psychological contentment accompanying the possession of a good -- and the quality of happiness pursuing a good life. The latter is a disposition, a habitual inclination, and does not primarily refer to the fleeting emotions of sorrow, anger, contented happiness, etc. ... A happy person in this sense can have unhappy feelings yet still have an inner disposition which enables him to make virtuous decisions (and become a god).
In my present circumstances, I find your words far more "consoling" that those of Lady Philosophy.
"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


Return to The Consolation of Philosophy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered members and 1 guest

cron