Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

(c. 480 - 524 CE)

Late Roman, early Medieval Neoplatonic philosopher.

While Boethius wrote original works on Logic and Mathematics as well as important commentaries on the surviving works of Aristotle, he is most well known for his work De Consolatione Philosophiae (“The Consolation of Philosophy”) in which he attempts to resolve the problem of Determinism from a Neoplatonic perspective.

Boethius’ resolution of the problem of Determinism rests on a strict interpretation of divine eternality so that while it is true that God knows what will happen in our future, His knowledge does not cause those future events to happen.

This attempt to resolve the tension between human free will and divine foreknowledge is generally thought to fail. Indeed, even Boethius himself admits that God’s knowledge of future contingent events creates a kind of necessity that is fundamentally contrary to genuine free will.

The problem of Determinism is not, as is often mistakenly thought, dependent on who has knowledge of the future, but rather on the fact that as knowable events, the future would be unalterable by any preceding “causal” events. The problem is not that since God knows the future God is causing or desiring or in any other way responsible for those events. Rather, since they are events in the future (i.e., facts), they cannot not happen. And, if they cannot not happen, there is no way for us to choose anything other than what God knows we are going to choose before we choose it. Therefore, human free will is an illusion. And, of course, if free will does not exist, there is no possible just form of punishment that can be meted out in response to those acts.

Read more about Boethius.

Read a more detailed analysis of Boethius’ life and work from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.