29 January 2007

Is the Consolation Vitiated at the Very End?

Today I'll simply state the problem that, in the view of John Marenbon, vitiates the conclusion of Boethius' Consolation. In later posts I'll consider whether Boethius would have thought that it really is a problem, or even a new problem.

It's important to consider, of course, how the difficulty appeared or might have appeared to Boethius, since what is at issue is whether Boethius deliberately states it, or brushes it aside, and whether his doing so therefore is crucial for the interpretation of the Consolation. If we have good grounds for thinking that Boethius would not have regarded it as a difficulty, then that the difficulty perhaps troubles us means nothing for the interpretation of the work.

According to Marenbon, immediately after Boethius gives his resolution of the difficulty about divine ominiscience and human freedom, he seems to introduce a new difficulty, now involving divine omnipotence and human freedom. The key passage is this from Consolation V (P6) is this:

Well, you will ask, isn't divine knowledge changed as a result of my rearrangement, so that as I change my wishes it, too, seems to change its knowledge? The answer is no. Each future thing is anticipated by the gaze of God which bends it back and recalls it to the presence of its own manner of knowledge; it does not change, as you think, with alternate knowledge of now this and now that, but with one glance anticipates and embraces your changes in its constancy. God receives this present mode of knowledge and vision of all things not from the issue of future things but from His own immediacy. So that the difficulty you put forward a short time ago [V, P3], that it was unfitting if our future is said to provide a cause of God's knowledge, is solved. The power of this knowledge which embraces all things in present understanding has itself established the mode of being for all things and owes nothing to anything secondary to itself. And since this is so, man's freedom of will remains inviolate and the law does not impose reward and punishment unfairly, because the will is free from all necessity. (Watts, Penguin edn.)

39. quid igitur, inquies, ex meane dispositione scientia diuina mutabitur, ut cum ego nunc hoc nunc illud uelim illa quoque noscendi uices alternare uideatur? 40. -- minime. omne namque futurum diuinus praecurrit intuitus et ad praesentiam propriae cognitionis retorquet ac reuocat; nec alternat, ut aestimas, nunc hoc nunc aliud praenoscendi uice, sed uno ictu mutationes tuas manens praeuenit atque complectitur. 41. quam comprehendendi omnia uisendique praesentiam non ex futurarum prouentu rerum sed ex propria deus simplicitate sortitus est. 42. ex quo illud quoque resoluitur quod paulo ante posuisti, indignum esse si scientiae dei causam futura nostra praestare dicantur. 43. haec enim scientiae uis praesentaria notione cuncta complectens rebus modum omnibus ipsa constituit, nihil uero posterioribus debet. 44. quae cum ita sint, manet intemerata mortalibus arbitrii libertas nec iniquae leges solutis omni necessitate uoluntatibus praemia poenasque proponunt.
Marenbon's gloss is as follows:
However it is interpreted, Philosophy's argument takes a surprising turn at the very end of the book. When he gave his initial statement of the problem, Boethius the character had distinguished the problem at issue—that of divine prescience—from that of divine predetermination. He had explained (V.3) that, for the purposes of their discussion, he was assuming that God does not cause the events he foreknows: he knows them because they happen, rather than their happening because he foreknows them. He added, though, in passing, that he did not really accept this view: it is ‘back to front’ to think that ‘the outcome of things in time should be the cause of eternal prescience.’ Philosophy now returns to this point, conceding that God's act of knowing ‘sets the measure for all things and owes nothing to things which follow on from it.’ Although Philosophy considers that she has successfully resolved the character Boethius's problems, the reader is left asking whether this final concession, which makes God the determiner of all events, does not ruin the elaborate defence of the contingency of human volitions she has just been mounting.
The problem is this: if God is (as Aquinas would later put it) the immediate efficient cause of everything that is--indeed, if, for God, to know something created simply is to create it--then how can the human will be truly free, since, ultimately, it is God that causes each person to choose how he acts, when that person acts as he does?

The passage from the Consolation quoted above appears only four sentences from the end. It would indeed spoil the argument of book V, if not the entire work, if it presents as serious a problem as Marenbon thinks.