Though his name does not inspire the same familiarity as Socrates or Plato, Boethius is nonetheless a magnificent philosopher worthy of his historical standing. Born in 6th century Rome, he was a senator, prisoner and ancient philosopher that left a lasting impact on the minds of medieval Europeans. His main work, The Consolation of Philosophy, was likely written during his imprisonment, and just before he was executed for unproven treason.
The Consolation of the Philosophy is, arguably, one of the most important philosophical pieces in the entire world. It helped shape Europe during the medieval era and still resounds in many theories that exist today. It is thought to be a commentary on Christianity, though it never explicitly refers to religion. However, the beliefs and concepts present in the text lend towards Christianity. It also confronts a basic religious problem that applied heavily to Christians for years to come: evil, and why evil exists in a world created by a compassionate God.
When Boethius considers evil in the world, he faces off between the teachings of the church and the reality of what happens around him. He attempts to understand how evil men could become successful, while good men suffer wrongly (such as he was, facing death for a crime he didn’t commit). He comes to the optimistic conclusion that man, in and of himself, is not evil. Rather all men are good, and simply turn evil after choosing to submit to wicked actions. Boethius likens evil to a disease, and seems to show compassion on sinful people. Human nature, he believes, is naturally innocent and good; only when the natural disposition is morally diseased does a man become evil.
Another huge issue that Boethius confronts in The Consolation of Philosophy is the idea of free will. He debates with himself whether or not humankind has free will at all, and if not, whether an all-knowing God determines each man’s fate. This was another topic that seemed to have Christian influences. Boethius eventually came to his own realization that God had instated free will in man. Even though God is omniscient, he does not intervene into man’s affairs. Rather, he allows mankind to make their own decisions without determining their fates. This, at least, was the theory reached by Boethius.
The Consolation of the Philosophy is one of the most inspiring pieces of literature ever written. It not only shaped future philosophers, but also the beliefs and standards by which many individuals live. The text, heavily influential in the Middle Ages, is just as debated and discussed today as it was a hundred years ago.