Boethius vs Plato

Write 4+ pages (double-spaced, typed) on  one  of the following topics.

Your essay should demonstrate careful reading and a clear understanding of the text(s) involved, as well as careful and accurate use of their concepts. You need to synthesize ideas and arguments from across one or more texts, demonstrating critical abilities and philosophical insight. You will have to express your own viewpoint creatively, giving reasons for specific claims you make.


[1] Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy is, like Plato’s Phaedo, a piece of prison literature. Phaedo begins with Socrates in prison writing poetry/music, while the Consolation opens with Boethius in prison writing poetry/music. Socrates says he had always thought that philosophy was the highest, best sort of music, while Lady Philosophy shows up to Boethius to offer better music. Socrates writes music in response to a recurring dream (which seems to have some connection to his self-identification as a swan-like prophet of Apollo), while Boethius’ entire conversation with Lady Philosophy is dreamlike. What do you think is going on with these connections? Do the two works diverge in significant ways? What do you think is the significance of these similarities and differences?

[2] In Book III, Prose 2-7, Boethius’ argument builds upon Aristotle’s argument in Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, especially sections 1-6. How does Boethius use Aristotle in talking about lives that pursue wealth, honor/reputation/power, and physical pleasures? How does he go further than Aristotle or differ from Aristotle? How does the notion of self-sufficiency play into the arguments of both Boethius (see especially Book III, Prose 9 here) and of Aristotle? How does Lady Philosophy’s discussion of how goodness and virtue fulfill our natural function (Book IV, Prose 2) relate to Aristotle’s discussion of virtue and the human function?

[3] According to Plato, Socrates drinks the cup of poison “calmly and easily.” Earlier Socrates had said that a soul purified by philosophy

makes its way to the invisible, which is like itself, the divine and immortal and wise, and arriving there it can be happy, having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear, violent desires and the other  human ills and, as is said of the initiates, truly spend the rest of time with the gods (Phaedo 81a)

He later adds, “The soul of the philosopher achieves a calm from such emotions; it follows reason and ever stays with it contemplating the true, the divine.” How might Boethius’ Consolation serve as a commentary and further explanation of these ideas from Plato?

[4] In his description of the relationship between happiness, the highest good, and God (Book III, Prose 10-12), how does Boethius make use of Platonic thinking in general and about the Forms in particular? Consider especially how Plato describes the relationship of beautiful things to The Beautiful in Phaedo 100b-e (but also think about his arguments there in general). Consider also how Plato describes the forms as “divine” and the soul purified by philosophy as “godlike” and “divine.”

[5] At the beginning of Boethius’ Consolation, when Lady Philosophy first appears, she is described existing both on earth in human form and as a superhuman figure with her head in heaven. Her clothing is described as having a ladder on it, offering a series of steps, from π (pragma, practical) to θ (theoria, theoretical). How does the structure of his discussion with Lady Philosophy follow this pattern, providing a path from earth to heaven, from the practical to the theoretical (in the sense of something to be contemplated)? How does this relate to Aristotle’s discussion of practical and theoretical knowledge and virtues of thought (Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI)? How does it parallel the structure of Plato’s Phaedo as the text proceeds through the four main arguments, ending with Socrates’ final myths?

[6] In Book IV, Prose 3 of Boethius’ Consolation, he describes how those who “fall away from the Good cease to exist” and lose their humanity. He goes on to describe how various kinds of wrongdoing make people like corresponding sorts of wild beasts. How does this relate to Plato’s Phaedo (81e-82c) where Socrates seems to describe those who do wrong reincarnated as various sorts of animals? How does this discussion fit with Socrates’ myth in which the purified soul ascends to a place that is brighter, true, more real than the hollows of the earth or the fate of souls in Tartarus? (Optional: How might this align with Aristotle’s discussion of what he calls “bestiality”?)


For grading criteria, refer to the rubric connected to the assignment on Canvas. More detailed criteria are contained within the rubric.

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