Consolation of Philosophy:Summary of Book III Part IV-VIII

Summary of Parts IV and V


Now Philosophy takes up the topic of high office. Giving someone a high office or position does not confer virtue on that person. More often, high office exposes the vice of the person and actually magnifies evil. We cannot consider men worthy because of the office they hold. If you see a man of wisdom, however, you respect him for himself. Is this not so? Boethius says yes. 


So, virtue is its own reward; public office does not confer honor or respect. If a Roman consul, for instance, were to go among foreigners, he would have to rely on his own wisdom to gain respect. The great Roman titles no longer have the luster they once had; they are empty. Office has no virtue of its own.


Similarly, power does not bring happiness because it is not sufficient even to preserve the life of a king, who can be deposed at any time by another. A king can never live free from worry. He is dependent on bodyguards or an army. The friends of kings likewise are subject to the caprice of the king. Nero was once a friend of Seneca, who was later forced to commit suicide by Nero. 


Commentary on Parts IV and V


Philosophy shows again step by step how backward it is to expect outer honors to confer inward virtue and happiness. There is nothing inherent in office or power to bring stability or security or self-sufficiency. Even a king lives in terror of losing his power. Therefore, power and office are redefined as sources of weakness, rather than strength. Boethius merely exposed himself to danger by taking office among the wicked in the government. If a person is honorable, he brings it with him, and he is honorable despite not because of, the office.


Summary of Parts VI, VII, and III


Fame, says Philosophy, is actually shameful and deceptive. Men acquire fame through the false opinion of others. Even if the praise is deserved, it cannot confer anything to a man who lives by his own conscience instead of popularity.


Fame is relative, since it is local. A famous man may be a nobody in another country. The nobility that comes from birth and lineage is merely “borrowed nobility” since it came from one’s ancestors. The praise of someone else cannot ennoble a person. Philosophy sings a song about the equality of all humanity: “From one beginning rises all mankind;/ For one Lord rules and fathers all things born” (p. 59). 


As for pleasure, if one goes after bodily pleasure, it leads to illness and pain if one gives in to excess, and passion leads to sorrow and remorse. Animals may be happy because they simply satisfy the body’s needs. Humans go beyond their bodily needs to get pleasure and suffer the consequences. 


The roads that seem to lead to happiness are therefore “side-tracks” (p. 60). If you want to hoard money, you have to take it by force. If you want office, you have to grovel and humiliate yourself. If you want power, you have to expose yourself to danger. If you go for bodily pleasure, you find out how fragile the body is.


Commentary on Parts VI, VII, and VIII


These examples intend to show that nothing from outside can confer happiness or nobility on a person. Wisdom and virtue come from within. Everyone is equally given an inborn and noble potential since all come from God and share a divine spark. The source of unhappiness therefore is from abandoning the inner gifts of that source: “No man is base except through sin he quit/ His proper source to cherish meaner things” (p. 59). 


When one looks to the heavens, one sees that strength comes not from the size and speed of the planets’ movements, but from “the order that rules them” (p.61). Being in tune with this divine order is what confers happiness.