Volume 78, Issue 2, Spring 2004
Boethius on Modality and Future Contingents
In The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius addresses two main problems posed by the problem of future contingents that shed important light on his conception of necessity and possibility: (1) a logical problem that alleges that if propositions about the future are true now then they are necessarily true, and (2) a theological problem that centers on a supposed incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and a contingent future. In contrast to established readings of the Consolation, I argue that a proper understanding of Book V requires understanding the modal concepts employed there in atemporal terms. This interpretation requires revising our traditional understanding of the two problems present in the Consolation text, particularly in seeing how timeless knowledge or truth could be conceived as a threat to human freedom. It also stresses the importance of a strategy used by Boethius to disambiguate the scope of modal operators used in his opponent’s arguments and how that strategy unifies his discussion in Book V.