Summary of Parts I and II
Boethius is enchanted by the song of Philosophy and tells her she is a great comfort to him. He believes he can now face the blows of Fortune. He is ready for the bitter medicine, which she says will bring him to the goal of “true happiness” (p. 47). Because of the shadows of happiness in his mind, he cannot see true happiness.
First she says she will give him an idea of the cause of happiness. He needs to turn his gaze in the right direction to recognize the pattern of true happiness. She explains in a song that when one wants to plant a field, one must first clear the land of undergrowth.
Though mortals tread different paths, all are seeking happiness. Once one has it, nothing else is needed, because “happiness is a state made perfect by the presence of everything that is good” (p. 48). The reason all people seek happiness is that the desire for it is planted in the mind by nature. Some think happiness lies in money; some think it is power or fame or pleasure or bodily health and beauty, but they confuse the ends and the means.
Humans are like drunkards unable to find their way home. What really produces happiness is “a condition of self-sufficiency with no wants” (p. 50). All those things—pleasure, fame, wealth, and beauty—are fine in their place, but they do not bring self-sufficiency by themselves, nor happiness. Yet Nature has set men on in their common pursuit of the good.
Philosophy sings a song about Providence keeping all creatures in motion to fulfill their destiny. A bird wants to fly, the sun wants to rise: “All things seek the place that best becomes . . . and make itself a circle without end” (p. 51).
Commentary on Parts I and II
Now that Philosophy has shown the gifts of worldly Fortune to bring false happiness, she turns to a definition of true happiness in Book III. So far she indicates that the desire for true happiness is inborn in all creatures, but humans alone seem confused as to how to get what they seek. They go about it backwards, looking outside themselves.
Health, pleasure, wealth, and power are only good if one is already happy and self-sufficient within oneself. It is not these worldly gifts that are to blame, but the direction of the human gaze. She mentions that to find true happiness, one must turn the gaze in the right direction, towards oneself. Her song of Providence indicates that instead of going outward to find happiness, one has to circle back to one’s own true inner nature.
Summary of Part III
Philosophy continues, saying that humans have an unclear notion of going towards their origin, because “errors” (p. 51) lead them astray. Boethius must therefore consider whether the means men employ will get them to the goal. First, she will consider riches.
Philosophy asks him if as a rich man, he was ever worried. Did he feel something was missing or something there he did not want? He replies yes, he was always worried.
So therefore, he was lacking something and not self-sufficient? He agrees. So, would he also agree then that wealth does not lead to self-sufficiency, and that money has no inherent property to keep it from being lost? Boethius agrees. And does he agree that a man would need outside help to protect his money? He says yes. But the man who has no money needs no outside help to keep it? Yes, that’s true.
Philosophy concludes then that wealth makes men dependent on others, so it cannot remove want. While “nature is satisfied with little,” “nothing satisfies greed” (p. 53).
Commentary on Part III
Philosophy begins using the Socratic method of argument on Boethius, getting him to clarify his thought by asking him questions about his assumptions and experience. She gets him to redefine wealth as self-sufficiency, showing him that having money does not remove either worry or want. Even with money, he felt something was missing, or had to worry about how to keep his money. Having a lot of money does not really make one self-sufficient.
She argues that actually one’s basic needs do not require much to satisfy, but the wealthy person becomes dependent on others to protect or manage the money. Money is no guarantee against loss, since it can be lost at any moment. It therefore cannot lead to happiness or self-sufficiency.
Philosophy has covered these points in brief before, but now she gives him what she calls the more bitter medicine of logic. She will go through each assumption step by step to show that what is generally considered good fortune is sloppy thinking. If Boethius, or anyone, will consider these matters logically, they will see they have been walking around in a fog.