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Book 5, Chapter 1 to 3

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

Book 5, Chapter 1 to 3

Postby magpie » 03 Feb 2006, 18:42

Book 5 opens as Boethius asks whether there is such a thing as chance, and if so what it is. Lady Philosophy retorts that such a question is beside the point, but when he insists upon an answer, she argues (as she had done for the issue of evil) that chance does not exist.
If chance is defined as an event produced by random motion and without any sequence of causes, then I say that there is no such thing as chance; apart from its use in the present context, I consider it an empty word. For what room can there be for random events since God Keeps all things in order?
(Are there any quantum physicists who care to reply?) She further explains that we must revise our concept of chance because every event has a cause, even if that cause is unforseen by the one experiencing it.
Therefore, we can define chance as an unexpected event brought about by a concurrence of causes which had other purposes in view. These causes come together because of that order which proceeds from inevitable connections of things, the order which flows from the source which is Providence and which disposes all things, each in its proper time and place.

From this assertion she quickly moves into Chapter 2 where she declares that all rational natures must of necessity possess free will.
For any being, which by its nature has the use of reason, must also have the power of judgment by which it can make decisions and, by its own resources, distinguish between things which should be desired and things which should be avoided. Now everyone seeks that which he judges to be desirable, but rejects whatever he thinks should be avoided. Therefore, in rational creatures there is also freedom of desiring and shunning.
However, she tempers this statement by making a distinction between divine uncorrupted will and finite human will which, joined to the body, is "bound by earthly fetters." Moreover, those who "lose possession of reason and give themselves wholly to vice" are enslaved by passion and become "captives of their own freedom."

This distinction leads Philosophy to conclude Prose 2 with the declaration
Nevertheless, God, who beholds all things from eternity, forsees all these things in his providence and disposes each according to its predestined merits.
which sets up the crucial discussion in Chapter 3 concerning the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human will which Boethius contends are incompatible.
For if God sees everything in advance and cannot be deceived in any way, whatever his Providence foresees will happen, must happen. Therefore, if God foreknows eternally not only all the acts of men, but also their plans and wishes, there cannot be freedom of will; for nothing whatever can be done or even desired without its being known beforehand by the infallible Providence of God. If things could somehow be accomplished in some way other than that which God foresaw, his foreknowledge of the future would no longer be certain. Indeed it would be merely uncertain opinion, and it would be wrong to think that of God.
This, of course, is the same problem which has plagued many theologians and philosophers both before and after Boethius, including and especially St. Augustine.

Boethius begins by rejecting the solution that Providence only foresees things because they will happen, thus placing the necessity of existence in things themselves and not in Providence. This appears to him to place an unacceptible limit upon divine power.
For even though the events are foreseen because they will happen, they do not happen because they are foreseen. Nevertheless, it is necessary either that things which are going to happen be foreseen by God, or that what God foresees will in fact happen; and either way the freedom of the human will is destroyed. But of course it is preposterous to say that the outcome of temporal things is the cause of eternal foreknowledge. Yet to suppose that God foresees future events because they are going to happen is the same as supposing that things which happened long ago are the cause of divine Providence.
Moreover, future things must actually be as God knows them to be, or else this divine knowledge would be only uncertain fallible opinion and not true knowledge. This latter premise Boethius likewise finds totally unacceptible. It is on this basis that Boethius categorically denies any possibility of free will.
But if nothing can be uncertain to Him who is the most certain source of all things, the outcome is certain of all things which He knows with certainty shall be. Therefore, there can be no freedom in human decisions and actions, since the divine mind, foreseeing everything without possibility of error, determines and forces the outcome of everything that is to happen.

However, if this is indeed the case, what becomes of human responsibility? Boethius recognizes that without this responsibility all rewards and punishments for good and evil become pointless since all human actions would be involuntary. Thus rewards and punishments would be rendered "unjust" by the "inevitability of predetermination." This he also finds to be unacceptible, even "blasphemous" since it would make the "Author of all good" equally responsible for human vice. Furthermore, even prayer would become irrelevant since everything has already been "determined by unalterable prosess."
But if we hold that all future events are governed by necessity, and therefore that prayer has no value, what will be left to unite us to the sovereign Lord of all things? And so mankind must, as you said earlier, be cut off from its source and dwindle into nothing.
The contemplation of this sevrance from "divine grace" leads Boethius into Poem 3 in which he asks how the "human mind overcome by the body's blindness" can know the truth which it longs to discover. He finds a tentative answer in the concept of some vague remembrance of a pre-carnal "forgotten" knowledge of God, a "general truth" of which the mind has "lost its grasp of particulars."

This poem, however, does nothing to address the core issue raised in Chapter 3, the apparent conflict between God's foreknowledge of what will, and hence must, happen and the existence of human free will, and hence responsibility. If all human behavior is predetermined, how can anyone be justly held accountable? Thus God is presented as all-powerful but unjust. If, however, human beings are free to choose their actions, then the future becomes contingent, and God's foreknowledge is rendered uncertain and dependent upon human decisions. Throughout Boethius' analysis of this dilemma, Lady Philosophy has been uncharacteristically silent, a situation which will obviously not last. How will she address this vexing question which continues to plague generations of thinkers? Stay tuned for further developments.
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