Explain the problem of evil as it comes up in Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy.

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In The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, Philosophy personified states that evil is nothing, “since He to whom nothing is impossible is unable to do evil" (book 3). The all-powerful God is unable to do evil. Then the question arises, where does evil come from, and in what sense are we to say that it is nothing? According to Philosophy personified, to answer this question, we need to differentiate will and power. Because good and bad people alike strive to reach good, all men have a will toward good. However, good people not only have a will toward good but a power too, which enables them to do good deeds. Bad people, although they seek good, are powerless to do good deeds. Therefore, the essence of evil is its powerlessness.

Recognizing God as the only reason of everything that takes place in the world (“every fortune”), Boethius must necessarily recognize everything that takes place in the world as good (book 4). God “banishes all evil from the borders of His commonweal through the links of fatal necessity" (book 4). Like chance, evil is an illusion, because God works altogether for good. Thus, Boethius interprets evil as privation of good, which is similar to the way evil is understood by Neoplatonism.

It is interesting to note that in dealing with the problem of evil, Boethius never mentions the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Also, it can be argued that his point about the non-existence or powerlessness of evil is weak. However, we should remember that The Consolation of Philosophy is not a theoretical work. Rather, it is a reflection of Boethius’s effort to explain what has happened to him and to deal with the fact of his impending execution.

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