Boethius: Getting Your Mind Right

Medieval View of Fortune's Wheel

Medieval View of Fortune’s Wheel

We’ve all been there. We’ve been passed up for a promotion because the nephew of the CEO came on board. Or we came down with the flu the day before we leave on our dream vacation. Something goes wrong in the universe and we are dealt a really bad hand. Life feels like it’s all gone to crap.

Anicius Boethius had one of these days. He was a highly respected Roman patrician and philosopher – considered by some as the last classical Roman. Some of his rivals, however, convinced the king that Boethius was plotting a coup. And also that he practiced astrology.

Sentenced to death, Boethius found himself really hating life. Fortunately (for us) he had enough time on his hands to write a compelling philosophical treatise – The Consolation of Philosophy
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In his book Boethius imagines himself visited by a woman who personifies Philosophy. She diagnoses Boethius as suffering from a disordered mind. But there’s hope…she will show him a series of steps he can take to get his mind right.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Philosophy gives Boethius this framework to improve his thinking:

  1. God is good
  2. God’s plan is for man to find happiness
  3. Happiness can’t be found in Fate or Fortune, because these are fickle
  4. Happiness can only be found by pursuing Virtue
  5. Virtue can be discovered even when life really, really sucks
  6. There is no reason, even in the middle of a lousy situation, to think you are separated from God’s goodness and by extension that true happiness eludes you.

Following this logic is equally comforting on a bad day or good. Boethius’ prescription for getting your mind straight has a lot in common with modern psychotherapy. The Consolation of Philosophy enjoyed a lot of popularity during the middle ages but kind of disappeared from shelves in recent times. C. S. Lewis put Boethius at the top of his list of authors who deserve a comeback.

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  1. Phil Houtz April 11, 2016
  2. Jeff April 11, 2016