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Book 5, Chapter 4 & 5

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

Book 5, Chapter 4 & 5

Postby magpie » 01 Mar 2006, 18:19

In the face of the previously stated conflict between Providence and human freedom, Philosophy begins by asserting a fundamental difference between divine and human knowledge.
The cause of the obscurity which still surrounds the problem is that the process of human reason cannot comprehend the simplicity of divine foreknowledge. If in any way we could understand that, no further doubt would remain.
Then arguing that present knowledge of an event has not caused it, she proceeds to demonstrate that likewise "foreknowledge does not impose necessity on future events."
For signs only show what is, they do not cause the things they point to. Therefore we must first prove that nothing happens other than by necessity, in order to demonstate that foreknowledge is a sign of this necessity. Otherwise, if there is no necessity, then foreknowledge cannot be a sign of something that does not exist.
However, this raises the question of how there can then be foreknowledge of things whose outcomes are not necessary, ie things not determined before they actually happen.
For these things seem opposed to each other, and you think that if things can be foreseen they must necessarily happen, and that if the necessity is absent they cannot be foreseen, and that nothing can be fully known unless it is certain.
In response she argues that this question only arises because Boethius is assuming that things are known by virtue of their own nature, whereas in truth knowledge resides in the capacity of the knower.

She demonstrates this by contrasting the different types of information conveyed by our various senses with the more abstract concepts which are discovered through our mental processes.
The senses grasp the figure of the thing as it is constituted in matter; the imagination, however, grasps the figure alone without the matter. Reason, on the other hand, goes beyond this and investigates by universal consideration the species itself which is in particular things. The vision of intelligence is higher yet, and it goes beyond the bounds of the universe and sees with the clear eye of the mind the pure form itself. In all of this we chiefly observe that the higher power of knowing includes the lower, but the lower can in no way rise to the higher.
This fourfold division of human knowledge, which echoes Plato's discussion of the same topic in Book 6 of his Republic, is reinforced subsequently in Poem 4.
What is that power which perceives individual things and, by knowing them, can distinguish among them? What is the power which puts together again the parts it has separated and, pursuing its due course, lifts its gaze to the highest things, then descends again to the lowest, then returns to itself to refute false ideas with truth?

Chapter 5 presents a detailed analysis of divine intelligence. Moving from the lowest life forms which receive only immediate sensory data through the beasts which have sufficient imagination to seek or avoid certain things, Philosophy arrives at reason which is characteristic of the human and pure intelligence "wholly free from all bodily affections" which is reserved for God alone.
It follows, then, that the most excellent knowledge is that which by its own nature knows not only its own proper object but also the objects of all lower kinds of knowledge.
Thus sense and imagination have no grounds for refuting the existence of the universal which reason knows (a prescient refutation of the positivism which would be promoted at a much later date by Hume and the other empiricists). Similarly human reason ought not to suppose that divine intelligence is limited to finite human understanding of future events.
For you argue that if some things seem not to have certain and necessary outcomes, they cannot be foreknown as certainly about to happen. Therefore, you say that there can be no foreknowledge of these things, or, if we believe that there is such foreknowledge, that the outcome of all things is controlled by necessity. But if we, who are endowed with reason, could possess the intelligence of the divine mind, we would judge that just as the senses and imagination should accede to reason, so human reason ought justly to submit itself to the divine mind.
This argument she follows with Poem 5 contrasting the downcast face and sluggish senses of a beast to the uplifted head and lofty mind of a human being.

The question remains, however, whether this epistomological schema adequately answers the issue raised initially by Boethius in Chapter 3, the apparent conflict between divine foreknowledge and the freedm of human will. It is obvious from subsequent developments in philosophy and theology that for many thinkers it does not. Perhaps it is because this "explanation" reminds me of the many occasions upon which Philosophy curtly dismisses Boethius' objections by remarking that he doesn't know what he is talking about, but this "solution" to the thorny problem of divine Providence and human freedom leaves me unsatisfied. While I do agree with Isaiah that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nonetheless the question of human responsibility in the face of divine foreknowledge has still not been addressed. There is only one chapter left, Lady Philosophy, and I am still waiting for "consolaltion."
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