Kierkegaard formed a system of ethics based upon the notion that we ought to hold a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to enter a higher realm of morality, referred to as the religious life. The purpose of this essay to determine whether we can consider this to be a synthesis of Kant’s and Aristotle’s moral philosophy, to which I shall argue we can but only as a partial synthesis since Kierkegaard omits elements of both Kant and Aristotle.
In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard draws out a system of ethics where we ought to move towards what he considers to be the highest virtue, faith, by means of a teleological suspension of the ethical. Before I go on further it would be best if I point out that by virtue Kierkegaard does not mean an excellence of character in the sense Aristotle does, instead the term virtue is implemented to mean something more along the lines of what we ought to have in order to be considered noble. So To avoid confusion between these two terms I shall use the term arête when referring to virtue in the Aristotelian sense.
One of the fundamentals to Kierkegaard’s ethics is that man has three modes of living; the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthetic life is one in which we pursue a hedonistic lifestyle constantly chasing pleasure, consequently never staying with any one thing for too long. The ethical life is sometimes referred to as living in accordance with the Universal (this is done within Fear and Trembling), by which it is meant living in accordance with some form of universal moral law, such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Finally the religious life is one in which we have removed any sense of duty to the ethical life and become a self-legislating body which obeys only the law it gives itself in such a way that allows us to become “a relation that relates itself to itself” [Kierkegaard, SD, XI:127], by which it is meant that we become capable of reflecting upon ourselves in order to receive autonomy making us free from universal maxims as we become able to decide our own path. It is by deciding what path to take and sticking to it ‘religiously’ that Kierkegaard argues that we acquire faith, thus faith does not necessarily mean belief in a deity (although it can), but instead sticking to a decision without doubt, as Rudd states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment” [Rudd, pg:71].
The idea of faith being the highest virtue is demonstrated through what is known as the four sub-Abrahams within Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard, FT, pp:8-13], and later on where he states “but he who strove with God is greater than all [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:16], but it is within the third sub-Abraham that Kierkegaard reveals to us a second theme vital to the overall system…the virtue of love…we briefly see this virtue within the following passage: “when the child is to be weaned the mother is not without sorrow, that she and the child grow more…apart” [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:12], it is possible to read this passage in a way which means that love is bittersweet for even though the mother loves her baby and draws the warmth from that bond, there will be times when the same love will cause pain. Yet we ought not to abandon love because of this possibility of pain, but embrace it as it is through sacrifice that we are able to move from the ethical to the religious, via a teleological suspension of the ethical, which Rudd explains as “refusing simply to take his standards of good and evil from his society” [Rudd, pg:121].
This notion of love now needs to be explained in more detail for Kierkegaard uses love in a very specific way, one in which could be synonymous with the Confucianist virtue ren or the Greek term agape, both of which mean a universal, unconditional form of love. The notion of love is described in Works of Love where the importance of love is made explicit in the passage: “to cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity…one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out of love” [Kierkegaard, WL, pp:23-24]. Later on a description of what love is comes to us as Kierkegaard says “by its fruits one recognises the tree …in the same way love also is known by its own fruit” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25] meaning that we do not know love in any other way than through the acts of love made by others, but more specifically it is the acts of Christian love which Kierkegaard is referring to for he states “the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit- revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25].
This is why it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s view of love is synonymous with ren and agape for Christian love, according to Kierkegaard, is universal “the Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbour , to love all mankind, all men, even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36] and unconditional “God you are to love in unconditional obedience, even if what he demands of you may seem to you to be your own harm” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36]. Hence the leap from ethical to religious is made by abandoning any universal moral laws, and/or conformities to social norms, in order to serve our own moral maxims (God, the eternal) with unconditional obedience whilst also treating all others equally for if we “love a human being more than God…this is a mockery to God – the same holds true of friendship and erotic love” [Kierkegaard, WL, Pg.36]. Therefore once we have entered the religious life we ought to show respect to every element of mankind equal to the unwavering respect we show to our self-made moral maxims otherwise we risk slipping back into the ethical or aesthetic life.
To summarise Kierkegaard’s ethics is not one of universal maxims, or a system devised to tell us how to act (unlike Kant’s), but one which tells us to choose our own path and stick by it just like we would stick to our religious faith in a deity. This does sound similar to Nietzsche’s concept of divorcing ourselves from the herd morality in order to determine our own path through life, a concept which I argue is fundamentally Aristotelian (I shall return to this later). But in order to make this movement from ethical to religious we ought to learn to love ourselves and others in equal measure for if we did not we would see no reason to unconditionally obey our moral maxims, or care for the society around us which brings us the things necessary for a life of contentment (food, water, shelter, companionship and so on). Now I shall move on to demonstrate how this model of ethics is similar to, and different from Aristotle’s in order to show how close the two systems are.
Aristotle argues that the moral hero is one who pursues happiness as happiness is the end goal in itself, “happiness on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor…for anything other than itself” [Aristotle, 1097b], which bears some semblance with Kierkegaard who in part two of Either-Or writes “the beautiful was that which has its teleology within itself” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:245], so the ‘beautiful’ or noble agent is one who has the end goal within themselves. Kierkegaard later adds that happiness can be found within his work, his calling, for “our hero works for a living; this work is also his delight; he carries out his calling” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:266], hence Kierkegaard, like Aristotle, believes that each agent has a function and it is by working within your function that we become heroic for “all things have a function…the good and the well is thought to reside in the function” [Aristotle, 1097b]. This claim is strengthened further when we consider Rudd’s claim that “one can only avoid the necessity of judging one’s life in moral terms by evading long-term commitments. But to live such a life is to be in despair, for a life without commitments is one without purpose” [Rudd, pg.69] . Therefore the moral agent is one who follows his commitment to his function.
However where Kierkegaard and Aristotle deviate is at the point where Aristotle holds that man has no choice over his function within society, whereas (as demonstrated above) Kierkegaard argues that we are able to decide for ourselves what function it is we are to commit to. I speak of functions, in regard to Kierkegaard, here not just as jobs but also roles and relationships following on from Rudd who states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment to roles and relationships”. So when I talk about functions in relation to Kierkegaard I use the term is a broader sense than when in relation to Aristotle who specifically means a role within society. As a result of this we can consider the agent’s function, for Kierkegaard, is to commit to his role within the workplace (following E-II, II:266) and to commit to his relationships with his neighbours (following WL, pg.36),
Although Rudd argues that there is a more important end goal and it is this which separates the religious from the ethical, “an absolute telos…is the primary overriding task for each individual to bring him-or herself into the right relationship with God” [Rudd, pg.134]. But if we take Kierkegaard from a non-Christian perspective and equate God with the absolute good then we Rudd’s statement becomes one which means the primary end goal to bring himself into the right relationship with their own moral maxims and not a set of universal laws or socially constructed ethical code.
To summarise Kierkegaard’s system follows Aristotle in the sense that both accept that the good can be found in pursue your social roles, as this is part of the love for one’s neighbour as by fulfilling your social role you help society as a whole progress. Also by living in accordance with a self-devised system of morality we can find similarities between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who as I stated earlier is arguably Aristotelian in essence within his moral system. Although Kierkegaard is not completely Aristotelian as there is no mention of habituating virtues, and Kierkegaard believes that social roles are not pre-ordained but freely chosen and this is where the two thinkers differ within their systems. I shall now go on to discuss Kierkegaard in relation to Kant.
Pattison argues that Kierkegaard’s system contains some links with Kant’s since “figures who remove themselves from the moral accountability of their contemporaries and act as if they are beyond good and evil…would seem to be anti-Kantian, they also, in another way give expression to another Kantian theme, the pursuit of maximum autonomy” [Pattison, pg.106], and for Kant autonomy is “the property of the will by which it is a law to itself” [Kant, 4:440]. Pattison also adds “If one sees the argument of The Critique of Practical Reason as a genuine attempt to establish the requirement of belief in God via the concept of the supreme good…the Kantian analogy is strengthened still further” [Pattison, pg. 101]. Thus Kierkegaard’s concept of moving from the ethical to the religious if seen as a notion which brings us closer to God, and since the religious life is the ultimate good for Kierkegaard, then it does show Kierkegaard to be Kantian.
However Pattison does recognise that there are also differences between the two systems as he acknowledges the faults within Kant’s categorical imperative. The example he gives us is based upon the idea that to do only what is universalisable can result in situations which undermine the maxim which has been universalised, such as “in feeding the cat I am neglecting all the cats who may be dying even now of malnutrition” [Pattison. Pg.113], therefore ‘I ought to feed the cat’ as an universalisable maxim would be ‘I ought to feed every cat’ or ‘Everyone ought to feed the cat’. The former results in an impossible maxim since no single person could feed every cat on the planet (especially if we count every species of cat such as lions and tigers). The latter on the other hand results in everyone feeding the single cat you own which would result in the cat becoming ill through overfeeding. Thus this is why Kant’s system fails and why Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate good lies beyond the ethical and in the religious, based upon just the one imperative “helping the neighbour to love God, rather than ameliorate any concrete worldly problems” [Pattison, pg.118].
Another difference between the two systems is that Kierkegaard does not tell how to act or which rules to follow, but instead tells us that we ought to break away from the ethical systems of the herd, move beyond good and evil, and become a law onto ourselves in a movement that brings us closer to maximum autonomy. Whereas Kant explicitly tells us how to act for he says “act that use humanity always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” [Kant, 4:429] and “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” [Kant, 4:402].
To conclude Kierkegaard’s system of ethics can be seen as a partial synthesis of kant’s and Aristotle’s as it contains Kant’s notion of pursuing maximum autonomy, and Aristotle’s concept of fulfilling your social roles as a way of loving your neighbour whilst being a law only unto ourselves. However Kierkegaard has not made a complete synthesis of the two as he omits the categorical imperative from Kant and the notion of habituating arête in order to pursue happiness. Arguably this would a deliberate omission since the two concepts are incompatible as Kant classes any pursuit of happiness as a hypothetical imperative as he says “the imperative that refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness…is still always hypothetical” [Kant, 4:416].
• E-II – Either-Or Part II
• FT – Fear and Trembling
• SD – Sickness Unto Death
• WL – Works of Love
• Aristotle, (1995), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, The Complete Works of Aristotle (Sixth Reprint), Chichester: Princeton University Press
• Kant. I, (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (translate by Gregor.M), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1987), Either-Or Part II (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New Jersey: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (2005), Fear and Trembling (translated by Hannay. A), London: Penguin Books
• Kierkegaard. S, (2009), Works of Love (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New York: Harper-Collins
• Pattison. G, (2005), The Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Chesham: Acumen
• Rudd. A, (1993), Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical, New York: Oxford University Press
• The Holy Bible (King James Version), (2000), Michigan: Zondervan
The medieval philosopher Boethius became puzzled by the problem of divine foreknowledge and attempted to answer this conundrum in the form of a dialogue between him and philosophy that is given the guise of a lady known as Lady Philosophy. Being educated in the Neo-Platonic tradition Boethius had knowledge of Platonic and Aristotelian modes of thought, both of which can be seen within his arguments on the topic of divine knowledge. However the purpose of this essay is to determine whether Boethius’ position is Platonic, Aristotelian or Stoic, as elements of Stoicism can also be found throughout Boethius’ dialogue with Lady Philosophy. In order to achieve this I shall begin by highlighting the parallels between Plato and Boethius, then the parallels between Aristotle and Boethius before moving onto the parallels between the Stoics and Boethius.
However the issue is a complex one due to the complications within Boethius’ style of writing so I shall draw my conclusion to two possibilities, one being based on the notion that the character of Boethius and Lady Philosophy are the same person that is Boethius the author, with the other being centred around the idea that they are two separate entities; Boethius and a manifestation of the views he argues against played by Lady Philosophy. I do not intend to answer the question as to whether or not we ought to or ought not to read the text as two separate entities or as both belonging to the same person, I merely acknowledge that this is a concern which can confuse my main focus so needs to be made clear. By the end of this essay I hope it shall become clear than Boethius can be argued to be Aristotelian in his views on divine foreknowledge regardless of whether you take Lady Philosophy’s arguments to be views separate or part of Boethius’ own views.
First let us look at the similarities between Plato and Boethius starting with one which although may seem trivial could hold deeper implications later on. The style in which Boethius goes about writing, in the form of a dialogue, is characteristic of Plato within a number of his works including The Republic and Timaeus, suggesting that Boethius has some Platonic leanings. Although by writing in this way it does also raise the issue as to whether we can attach what is said by Lady Philosophy to Boethius or whether he is using this second character in order to distance himself from views separate from his own.
In the first book of Consolations of Philosophy we are provided with an account of the character of Boethius’ early life as a public figure, which does bear some small resemblance to Plato’s concept of a philosopher king in book seven of The Republic, although it also shares some similarity to Aristotle’s argument that the life of the philosopher is a political one within The Nicomachean Ethics [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095b-1097b ]. So it can be said that in his earlier years Boethius showed some Platonic tendencies. Equally it can be argued that Boethius, in his early years, showed some Aristotelian tendencies, however, in order to determine which is more prevalent more evidence is required.
There are a number of passages within book three which hint at the possibility of Boethius being a Platonist, firstly there is the line “to that true happiness your soul dreams of but cannot see because your sight is distracted by images” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pp.59-60] the notion of man being distracted from the truth by way of images is one which appears in The Republic, specifically in the simile of the divided line [Plato, The Republic, 509d-511e].
Also a little further on in the dialogue appears the line “it isn’t the human body then, that is attractive, but only the weakness of human vision that makes it seem so” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.78], this could be interpreted to be an attack of those who concern themselves with aesthetics rather than truth in itself as they allow themselves to be carried away by the senses instead of appealing to reason. This is also argued similarly by Plato when he attacks the lovers of art, “for those who love looking and listening enjoy learning about things…but they’re a peculiar lot to class as philosophers, because nothing would induce them to spend time on any kind of serious argument” [Plato, The Republic, 475d].
Thirdly it is argued that “everything that exists is unitary, and that oneness itself is good” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.118], which in this case Boethius argues to be God and so a section of his argument for God’s foreknowledge is because we are part of him and he of us that he possess knowledge of us in the present, past and future and to him all occurs simultaneous being an atemporal being [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.170]. Plato also argues that everything is unitary “since beauty and ugliness are opposites, they are two…and as they are two, each of them is single…the same is true of…all qualities, each of them is in itself single, but they seem to be a multiplicity because they appear everywhere” [Plato, The Republic, 476a], even though at the beginning it looks like Plato is saying that everything is divided into individual pieces the final phrase “but they seem to be a multiplicity because they appear everywhere” [Plato, The Republic, 476a] shows that Plato realises that every individual is connected to something more unified higher up the chain of order within the cosmos, for Plato this would be the form of the Good within the intelligible realm of the Forms, for Boethius it would be God both of which are considered the Good which links back to the end part Boethius’ statement “and that oneness itself is good” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.118]. However all of these lines are written for Lady Philosophy so as to whether we can attribute these to Boethius as his views or not remains at question.
There is one line which has Platonic resemblances and is spoken by the character of Boethius within the dialogue, “the universe is composed of so many different parts that it could never have come together unless there was one to join all these elements” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.99]. Again this hints as the idea that Boethius accepts Plato’s view that everything is part of a unity which is higher than any of its individual parts, but also it hints at the idea that Boethius argues that there is an intelligent design to the universe, for if there were no grand intellect to design such a perfect system then the parts would not work as smoothly with each other than they appear to do. A similar concept is forwarded by Plato in Timaeus “in his delight planned to make it still more like its pattern; and as this pattern is an eternal Living Being, he set out to make the universe resemble it in this way too as far as was possible” [Plato, Timaeus, 37d], thus Plato argues that the universe is made to be as similar to the perfect pattern of the Forms as is possible, just as Boethius argues the universe is made to be as similar to God’s perfection as possible.
It would seem then if we are to take both Lady Philosophy and the character of Boethius as representing Boethius’ views then we do not have a worthy case for Boethius being a Platonist on the subject of foreknowledge, since there are no actual arguments on divine foreknowledge based upon Platonic ideas. Alternatively if we take only what the character of Boethius says within the dialogue to be the views of Boethius we still do not have a worthy case to argue that Boethius is a Platonist, as he argues against Lady Philosophy who is made, at least to some extent, to represent the views of Plato. The only part in which both characters are in agreement is that everything is part of unity, although given the nature of what Boethius is discussing within this text should he argue against a divine unity to the universe, denying God’s existence in the process of doing this, then any discussion on divine foreknowledge becomes a moot point, therefore Boethius must accept this point within this context whether he agrees to it or not.
Now we have observed the case for Boethius being a Platonist, which is unconvincing, let us look at the evidence which may suggest Boethius is an Aristotelian. Again I shall first look at the statements made by Lady Philosophy starting with book two where she utters the line “avarice is not admirable, but liberality is generally praised” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.43]. Here it shows a sympathy for Aristotelian ethics, although it does appear to be somewhat out of place within a text on divine foreknowledge, which argues that any characteristic when in excess is considered a vice [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a, 1104b and 1173a], and avarice being an excess of desire for power or material objects would be considered a vice under an Aristotelian system of morality. Since Boethius seems to show Aristotelian ethics a case, albeit a weak one as there is little evidence to show it to be the case, could be made that Boethius may be Aristotelian in other areas, although to do so off this piece is troublesome given Boethius’ background as a Christian and some models of Christian ethics, particularly Catholic based doctrines, preach that it is a sin to partake in avarice. Thus it is unclear here as to whether Boethius argues in support of an Aristotelian ethics or a Christian ethics.
Another line used by Lady Philosophy is “since men want happiness, and since happiness is in itself divinity, then it follows that men in the pursuit of happiness are actually in the pursuit of divinity” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.89] which bears resemblance with Aristotle’s view that “we assume the gods to be blessed and happy” [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1178b] but also that happiness for Aristotle comes from living a contemplative life and a contemplative life is the life of the gods [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1177a-1178b]. What this does is brings up the idea that we are somehow joined to God in that he is happy and we wish to join him in his happiness although this holds no direct relation to divine foreknowledge so even though it does link Boethius to Aristotle it is not a strong argument to claim Boethius is Aristotelian in his stance of divine foreknowledge.
Marenbon points out “Philosophy considers that…only what is necessary is certain. It follows that…future contingent events are not certain. But Philosophy also believes that…if someone knows something, he thereby knows it as something certain. If God knows future contingent events, it follows…that he judges them as being other than they are. But…if something is judged otherwise than it is, it is not known” [Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy, pg.44]. Meaning that if God knows future contingents then he knows them as certain which they are not, yet if he does not know future contingents then he cannot be omniscience and therefore cannot possess foreknowledge. Consequently Lady Philosophy must be mistaken on this occasion, which Boethius points out in his argument through the mouthpiece that is Lady Philosophy, “God has an eternal and omnipresent nature, his knowledge surpasses time’s movements and is made in the simplicity of a continual present” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.170], hence God does not know future contingents because for him there is no future so all events must be necessary from God’s perspective. This can be supported by Aristotle who says “what is, necessarily is, when it is” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 19a] and since everything is present for God then everything is when it is so everything must be necessary.
The point of God knowing future contingents means he knows them as something they are not, for he would know what is uncertain as being certain, if he holds foreknowledge is expressed by the character of Boethius when he states “if anyone thinks that something is different from what it really is, then that is not knowledge but a false opinion” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.154], this can be taken to mean two things. Firstly Boethius is arguing that should God think future contingents are known with certainty then God is mistaken. Secondly if God thinks future contingents are known with certainty then it is us who are mistaken when we say they are uncertain, what we should be saying is that they are future necessities. Given that in the end Boethius accepts God as having foreknowledge then it is likely that Boethius is arguing for the second meaning rather than the first. In which case when we talk of future contingents as being uncertain we speak falsely for we are saying that they are known certainly and uncertainly (or to put it into a simplified formula F is X and not-X).
This would mean that Boethius is accepting Aristotelian logic in his approach to determine whether God holds divine foreknowledge because, according to Aristotle, to say something is both X and not-X simultaneously goes against the law of non-contradiction so one of the claims must be false. The law of non-contradiction can be found in Aristotle’s metaphysics where he states in chapter three of book gamma of Metaphysics, “It is impossible for the same thing at the same time to be-in and not be-in the same thing in the same respect” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1005b]. The character of Boethius then goes on to say “once we have accepted this…there cannot be punishment for evil or reward for good if there are no free and voluntary actions” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.155], this suggests that he takes the second interpretation of the previous passage so that it is us who are mistaken when we talk about future contingents. Since God sees them as future necessities or simply just necessities as from his viewpoint there is no future, as pointed out earlier, then the notion of free will cannot be accepted as there is no room for random action coming about as a result of choice or chance. Again this is similar in a sense to Aristotle’s take on foreknowledge when he argues “nothing of what happens is as chance has it, but everything is and happens of necessity” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 18b], however Aristotle later makes room for free will as he states “it is not necessary for there to be or not to be a sea-battle tomorrow; but it is necessary for one to take place or not take place” [Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 19a]. This is where the similarity between Boethius and Aristotle stops since Boethius has trouble holding free will and divine foreknowledge whereas for Aristotle the problem does not appear to cause too much difficulty.
There is a line within De Anima which may be able to link Boethius to Aristotle as it states “the soul knows everything” [Aristotle, De Anima, 405b]. If we are to assume that Boethius believes Plato’s claim that the universe is made from parts, and each soul then being be a part, joined together in and by God then God, knowing everything and having made the universe as close as possible to his own state of nature, would have handed down as much of his omniscience as possible. Also as our souls are part of God then through the soul he knows us and the decisions we have made, are making and will make, this would allow God to possess foreknowledge. However as a consequence of accepting Plato’s claim of all being joined as part of a unity this passage only links Boethius to Aristotle so long as it links Boethius to being a Platonist
Based on what has now been said on the parallels between Boethius and Aristotle it would seem that Boethius is Aristotelian, to a degree, within his stance on foreknowledge as he uses the same laws of logic set up by Aristotle and comes to a similar conclusion, although fails to reconcile free will and divine foreknowledge. Also Boethius makes statements which sound close to Aristotelian ethics which as said previously suggests that Boethius has Aristotelian sympathies. Although the passages relating to Aristotelian ethics are expressed by Lady Philosophy so may not be the views of Boethius, but instead be views he opposes which would suggest that he more Platonic in his ethical views, which could explain why Boethius has trouble accepting free will since Aristotelian ethics relies on free will to a certain extent. Whether or not the views are to be taken independently of each other or not there is a stronger case for Boethius as an Aristotelian than there is for him being a Platonist.
Now the evidence for Boethius being Platonic and Aristotelian has been covered it is time to look at the small traces of evidence which highlight arguments which sound Stoic. First I shall look at the Stoic passages, before moving onto the sceptical ones. Once this has been done we can draw the whole thing together to determine whether Boethius is a Platonist, Aristotelian, Stoic or sceptic in his stance on divine foreknowledge.
Very early on in the text we see a direct reference to Stoicism as Lady Philosophy, when questioned about the state of her dress, which the character of Boethius refers to as being “a miracle of fine cloth…some ruffians had done violence to her elegant dress…bits of fabric had been torn away” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.3] , answers Boethius by saying “the squabbling mobs of Stoics and Epicureans fought to claim his legacy and each side tried to carry me off, tearing this lovely dress” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.8]. What is being shown here is contempt for the Stoics and Epicureans, both by Lady Philosophy and by the character of Boethius. Furthermore is shows Boethius’ view that the Stoics and Epicureans are not to be considered philosophers in the same sense that Plato and Aristotle are, if at all, since Lady Philosophy is portrayed to be the manifestation of philosophy and it is said that the Stoics and Epicureans have damaged philosophy. This contempt for the two schools suggests that Boethius would try and argue against them and therefore prove that he is nether Stoic or Epicurean in his view on divine foreknowledge.
What happens instead is that Boethius offers no further argument against either the Stoics or the Epicureans and does not argue against Lady Philosophy with arguments from either school, even though Lady Philosophy tries to reason with him using Stoicism during book two. Lady Philosophy reprimands Boethius by saying, “you thought you were a philosopher, but let me tell you a story. There was a man who made such a claim…somebody came along to taunt him…this critic said that he would believe the claim if the man could bear all the injuries fate heaped upon him in calm and in silence” [Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, pg.54-55]. This bears some semblance to Stoicism in the sense that it asks the character of Boethius to face the hardships of life without letting his emotions overpower his reason as according to the Stoics the “definition of the good, as follows: that which is perfectly in accord with nature for a rational being, qua rational” [Diogenes Laertius 7.94] and the Stoic concept of the soul is divided into eight parts; “the five sense organs and the vocal part and the thinking part and the generative part. And corruption afflicts the intellect because of falsehoods and from such a mind there arise many passions…passion itself is, according to Zeno, the irrational” [Diogenes Laertius7.110], thus we ought to not allow the emotions get in the way of reason.
However this brief section of Stoic argument bears no significance on the main argument on divine foreknowledge thus is out of place within this text. Secondly the Stoicism comes from Lady Philosophy so if we are to take the two characters as being separate then Boethius is removing himself from Stoicism, either way we cannot make any claim to Boethius being Stoic in his view on divine foreknowledge therefore it is fair to say that Boethius is not Stoic whether we take Lady Philosophy’s arguments to be part of Boethius’s views or not.
To conclude if we take the two characters, Boethius and Lady Philosophy, to be holding the views of Boethius then we have a stronger case for him being Aristotelian in his view on divine foreknowledge than the case for him being Platonic. Alternatively if we consider the views of Lady Philosophy to be separate from the character of Boethius then even though Boethius argues more in line with Platonic modes of thinking there is little which is significant to the argument at hand against Lady Philosophy. Whereas the arguments made in line with Aristotelian modes of thought against Lady Philosophy are stronger due to their relevance, then we still have a strong case for Boethius being an Aristotelian in his view on divine foreknowledge. As for the brief resemblances to Stoicism there is so little and of what there is it fails to bear any relevance to the argument at hand, therefore there can no defendable argument that Boethius is a Stoic in his views whether or not we take the two characters to be separate or not.
· Aristotle, 1995, ‘De Anima’, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’, Chichester: Princeton University Press
· Aristotle, 1995, ‘De Interpretatione’, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’ Chichester: Princeton university Press
· Aristotle, 2004, Metaphysics (translated by Lawson-Tancred. H), London: Penguin Books
· Aristotle, 1995, ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, ‘The Complete Works of Aristotle Volume I (sixth edition)’, Chichester: Princeton University Press
· Boethius, 2008, Consolations of Philosophy (translated by Slavitt. D), Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
· ‘Diogenes Laertius’ in, 1997, Hellenistic Philosophy Introductory Readings (second edition (translated by Gerson. L and Inwood. B)), Indianapolis: Hackett
· Marendon. J, 2007, Medieval Philosophy an Historical and Philosophic Introduction, Abingdon: Routledge
· Plato, 2007, The Republic (second edition (translated by Lee. D)),London: Penguin Book
Plato, 1970, Timaeus and Critias, London: Penguin Books
 Referring to Socrates
 which is the intellect itself
 Or passions as the Stoics called them
I have just started reading the manga series Naruto (my book review can be found on Facebook and I may post it up here aswell if there is a call for it.) and one of the things which intrigues me is the character of Naruto. He does not appear to be your standard, run-of-the-mill hero. Lazy, mischeavious, reckless, undisciplined even obnoxious and arrogant at times he hardly shows any of the sterotypical virtues of a hero; such as courage, wisdom or temperance, He even lets his emotions overrule his mind voiding logic at times of crisis. How then can we be expected to accept that such a character is in fact our hero?
Well in my opinion it is exactly this which makes Naruto all the more interesting as a character and draws me in, As you gain a desire to find out just how it is he comes to achieve this status of hero. Also Naruto emits a definate message to the audience: ‘A hero is nobody special. A hero can be anybody…even me or you. He/She need not be some multi-millionaire gadget loving citizen such as Batman, or someone blessed by superhuman capabilites such as Superman. Instead Naturo is a down to earth, realistic person just like anyone you’re likely to find in the street next time you venture out to catch your morning bus to work, and this appeals to our psyche drawing us into Naruto’s world in some sub-conscious hope that we may find a nugget of insight as to how we can turn ourselves into heroes, or in Neitzsche’s words an ubermencshce.
So it would seem being a hero is not something thrust upon you by fate, coincidence or some other external factor we have no such control over. Instead heroship is something we must aim to achieve via working towards a series of virtues, overcoming our shortcomings in the progress. Similar in a sense to how Aristotle proposes we are to achieve eudaimonia, Perhaps then there is a link between heroship and eudaimonia? In which case only the hero can truly be happy…
I awoke this morning to spy out of my window the same sturdy oak that I do each and every day only this time I noticed something. It’s leaves were not the dark green typical of an oak, instead they were a sort of greenish-yellow.
A couple of minutes later the same tree displayed dark green leaves as the sun withdrew behind some cotton-white clouds. When the sun peered out once more the leaves returned to the thier yellwosih-green hue they had shown previously.
So what colour exactly are the leaves? Yellowish-green? Dark green? Perhaps something in the middle or not even green at all, after all during the night hours they appear black?
They cannot be yellowy-green, dark green and black for that would contradict the principle first set by Aristotle; the law of non-contradiction (for those of you who follow my work regularly will know by now that is a favorite law of mine and Aristotle is a passion of mine). Equally it cannot be none of the aforementioned as that begs the question why then would a substance display a property it does not possess?
It also raises another problem. How can we trust our senses as a reputable source for information when we see dark green leaves on a tree and then moments later the same treacherous eyes bemuse us with leaves of a different quality?
Ach! So many questions not enough answers!
“All men by nature require to know”
This quote by Aristotle was taken from ‘Aristotle: a Very Short Introduction’ and there is no-one of whom this is more true than Aristotle as he was dedicated to every possible discipline he could sink his teeth into making him one of the utmost key figures within philosophy, not only in classical philosophy but he is still regarded as influential in modern philosophy.
As well as being a devoted biologist, botanist, moral philosopher, psychologist, zoologist and many more things besides Aristotle held a view about human nature that he interwove into his concept of virtue theory, this is described at some length in the text Nicomachean Ethics. It is this view on human nature that I intend to explain and discuss throughout this essay with reference to some more recent philosophers to show that Aristotle’s view was not only linked directly to Athenian society but has managed to stand the test of time. A point I will return to later in a yet to posted article ‘Can we Consider Modern Ethics to be Aristotelian or Nietzschean?’, this article is much better written and argues the points in greater detail. I must admit this was in fact a very early work of mine and although some editing has been made it still lacks the strength some of my later pieces possess.
From quite early on in the text Aristotle starts to interweave his views on human nature. He makes the claim that by nature man is blind to morality suggesting that man is naturally an amoral creature, this is backed up by a earlier on where he says that man is born without knowledge hence morality cannot be part of human nature as man has yet to acquire knowledge of morality. Here Aristotle is not just making the suggestion that man is amoral but also that morality itself is a posteriori as opposed to being a priori knowledge. This suggestion is backed up again later by the phrase “None would be evil…wickedness is voluntary”; Aristotle was claiming that no one is born immoral it is our choices that we make after birth that make us either moral or immoral. Again this points towards the idea that Aristotle believed that man is an amoral creature and that morality is a posteriori.
French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau expressed disagreement on these points since Rousseau strongly believed that “man is by nature good” and not amoral as Aristotle would have us think, but both agree that external factors will later corrupt man. Also since Rousseau believes if we are moral by nature then it must follow that morality is a priori and not a posteriori as Aristotle would have us believe.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who was writing during the English Civil War is also in complete disagreement with Aristotle’s claim that human nature is amoral yet at the same time disagrees with Rousseau. Instead Hobbes claimed that “man acts according to a natural law” and it was this natural law that compels man to act with aggression, envy and a number of other vices that induce war, yet a firm sovereign could control this natural law. What Hobbes was hinting at is the idea that human nature is immoral and needs controlling; not as Aristotle would have us believe, amoral at birth and then corrupted as we age. Like Rousseau, Hobbes’ view also supports the theory that morality is a priori.
The next point about human nature put across in Aristotle’s writing is the idea that man is hedonistic; a term meaning to pursue pleasure and shun pain by nature. A feature which later shaped the works of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill when drawing up their moral theories of utilitarianism. There is a slight hint towards this where he comments on human nature being highly impulsive making man a creature of impulse “the lives that men lead, most men, of the vulgar type…identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure”.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud in his psychodynamic theory of the psyche makes good use of this point about men being impulsive creatures and argues that the our unconscious drive is completely selfish, irrational and blind to the world beyond it but at the same time entirely hedonistic. The former points support Plato’s account of human nature as described in ‘The Republic’. Plato held onto the idea that man by nature was corrupted by power, irrational and blind to true knowledge but the final point about being hedonistic supports Aristotle’s account, this possibly suggests that Freud built his psychology upon the wisdom of the ancient Greeks but this is a matter for a later article. More importantly (at least presently) it hints at the idea that Aristotle didn’t always disagree with his mentor Plato, something contrary to popular belief.
After laying down the point about man being impulsive Aristotle moves into an argument suggesting that if man is to become moral we must learn to go against our nature and control our impulses so that reason and rational judgement can guide us accurately towards being moral agents. Later on though there is a more explicit argument suggesting human nature is hedonistic; again the notion that man is amoral by nature is repeated but then this notion is extended to provide a reason as to why man is immoral. The reason is thus, we follow our natural impulses to seek pleasure, hence we are hedonistic, but we are ill-educated in where we seek pleasure and so fall into the trap of seeking it within the vices making us immoral. This leads us back into Plato’s idea of human nature since the vices corrupt us as does power so both agree that it is in our nature to become corrupt, although Aristotle thinks that it is by habituation of the virtues that we can fight against this part of our nature. To summarise man is born amoral with hedonistic impulses, which if left unchecked or uncontrolled will lead us directly into immorality unless we are properly educated as to where we ought to seek pleasure.
In the opening section of book three Aristotle mentions that it is possible for man to go against his nature; this can be done by force or via choice, however to go against our nature would cause us to suffer some pain. So following what has been said so far being hedonistic we would choose to follow our ill-educated nature and become immoral as opposed to suffer pain and become moral.
Throughout the second book Aristotle makes a detailed account of how to acquire the virtues in order to become moral, since we have already established that he argues morality was a posteriori then it holds that the virtues (not to be confused with the Christian concept of virtue. Aristotelian virtues refer to human excellences) are not part of our nature and need to be learnt. According to Aristotle the virtues need to be habituated into our nature if we are to become moral agents. Again this requires suffering, practise and time. Sadly our hedonistic impulses would much rather have us sit around dining on the elegances of fine cuisine with a glass of vintage wine deep in the art of philosophic conversation with our acquaintances. Thus it can be argued that one of the impulses that we seek pleasure from is idleness. Although what I have just described to a utilitarian would be a great achievement and ought to be applauded as it maximises pleasure, therefore a moral action, but I digress. For Aristotle, however, idleness is a vice as it is the lack of motivation. Idleness also happens to be a Christian vice as it relates to the deadly sin of acedia and as Christianity holds a strong grip on public opinion of morality in modern western culture is would seem that at least one part of Aristotle’s idea has lasted, although this could be thanks to St. Aquinas who, being a neo-platonic philosopher and therefore aimed to synthesise the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, set up the Christian virtues based on Aristotle’s moral philosophy in the latter half of the thirteenth century.
Aristotle also acknowledges that there may be a component of human nature which drives us to idleness. He accepts the fact that we are all enticed by the vice of idleness, but being enticed by something would surely meant we find pleasure in it would it not? If so then if follows our hedonistic component as we find pleasure in idleness. Aristotle then goes on to talk about each person’s individual nature being compelled towards particular vices more than others although we are all naturally open to corruption again hinting at the suggestion that Aristotle agrees with Plato. There are other links to be made to idleness being part of human nature where some time is spent discussing this issue along with the notion that man is ignorant and not just idle. Aristotle himself does not attempt to hide the fact that he is guilty of falling under the vice of idleness as at several points in his work he fails to elaborate on his ideas or doesn’t provide a full description; in chapter nine of the first book there is this passage “Now if there is any gift of the gods to men, it is happiness…but this question would perhaps be more appropriate to another inquiry” this points at the idea that Aristotle is passing on the workload to someone else instead of doing it himself making Aristotle look guilty of idleness. However what Aristotle is doing is accepting that his knowledge has reached its limits and is allowing those with a greater understanding to fill in the details of his theory, hence he was not being idle but prudent; prudence being one of the four most worshipped virtues in Ancient Greece (the four being prudence, justice, temperance and courage); about how much he knows. Perhaps Aristotle was trying to pay homage to Socrates who stated “wisest is he who knows he does not know”?
Renowned commentator on Aristotle, Jonathan Barnes comments on his zoological researches as being “by any scientific standards, slapdash”. Although this is not a fair comment due to the lack of scientific tools and principles available to Aristotle at the time, it unfairly helps to strengthen the point about Aristotle being idle and should be dismissed. There is however one piece from Aristotle himself to counter this argument. Aristotle claims that man chooses to be idle and ignorant they are not part of human nature. However the weight of evidence put forward by Aristotle is heavily weighed towards the view that some part of human nature compels man to be idle and ignorant.
Rousseau accepted the idea that man was by nature ignorant but at the same time held the view that man had a driving force compelling them to acquire knowledge; a view also held Aristotle.
To return to a point made earlier about Aristotle arguing that there was no such thing as an underlying human nature shared by all men. Instead he believed that each man has a unique nature belonging to that individual alone. It is this individuality within nature that compels us towards certain vices over others, so some are likely to be more idle, some more ignorant, others tempted by avaritia.
Throughout ‘The Communist Manifesto’ Marx & Engels highlight just how man is naturally compelled towards avaritia because of the course politics takes. This point is taken up by the writer George Orwell who writes about the dangers of communism in his socio-political novel ‘Animal Farm’. Within this novel there is a quote to be found at the very end of the book that supports both Aristotle and Marx that man is susceptible to avaritia via politics “The creatures outside looked from pig to man…it was impossible to say which was which”. Aristotle also believes that politics carries the temptations of avaritia, which appeals to those susceptible to the vices of superbia and avaritia, so Orwell, Marx and Aristotle appear to be in agreement on this point despite talking in different times and cultures. On the other hand there is a more positive side to the notion of individual nature. That is the potential for virtues to exist within our nature if we habituate them; this is one of the foundations for Aristotle’s concept of eudemonia.
Human nature plays a part in the eudemonia theory since it is based on man having an end goal; this end goal is to seek happiness. This happiness is a specific type of happiness rooted within our function in society (be it doctor, teacher, scholar, bard or soldier), not pleasure. By performing well, sometimes called flourishing in some translations, within our function we are able to receive happiness from it and in order to perform well we must act in accordance with our virtues. However Aristotle claims that man does not naturally have a function it is determined by society, yet the potential to harbour the virtues is part of human nature along with the hedonistic component linking eudemonia to human nature. Therefore eudemonia is something based within human nature but needs a social input in order to reach actualization. One final point to make on this is that if Aristotle did not include function within human nature it might be argued that he was hinting at the suggestion that man by nature is useless unless entered into a functioning society ready to make use of him, a concept used by Plato when talking about why philosophers were useless.
To conclude Aristotle seems to be pretty condemning in his account of human nature since he sees man as a vice-filled hedonistic creature, totally dependant on others else he is to be useless. It would seem that elements of Aristotle’s account on human nature have been able to stand the test of time, making him an influential figure in modern moral philosophy.
- Aristotle, (1998), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, New York: Oxford World’s Classics
- Barnes J.(2000), ‘Aristotle A Very Short Introduction’, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Freud. S, (1995), ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
- Gaardner J.(1995), ‘Sophie’s World’, London: Orion Books
- Marx K. & Engels F.(1992), ‘The Communist Manifesto’, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Orwell G.(1972), ‘Animal Farm’, London: Heinemann Educational Books
- Plato(2003), ‘The Republic’ (2nd edition with additional revisions and further reading), London: Penguin Books
- Stokes P.(2003), ‘Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers’, London: Arcturus Publishing Limited
 Barnes. J, Aristotle a Very Short Introduction, 2000, Pg.3
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1998, 1094b
 Ibid, 1094a
 Ibid, 1113b
 Gaardner. J (quoting Rousseau), Sophie’s World, 1995, Pg. 243
 Stokes. P (quoting Hobbes), Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers, 2003, Pg. 69
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1998, 1095b
 Freud. S, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1995, Pg. 595
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1998, 1104b-1105a
 Ibid, 1110a-1111b
 Ibid, 1103a-1109b
 Ibid, 1109a-1109b
 Ibid, 1108b-1109a
 Ibid, 1095b-1096a and 1105a-1105b
 Ibid, 1099b
 Gaardner. J (quoting Socrates), Sophie’s World, 1995, Pg. 45
 Barnes. J, Aristotle a Very Short Introduction, 2000, Pg. 20
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1998, 1105a-1105b
 Orwell. G, Animal Farm, 1972, Pg. 89
 Plato, The Republic