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Aquinas And Boethius Free Will And Divine Foreknowlegde Philosophy Essay

This philosophical inquiry is without doubt a major one owing to the very fact that it touches a very significant area of philosophy that has been addressed by a big number of great philosophers; the conception of free-will and divine foreknowledge as addressed by Boethius and St. Thomas of Aquinas. These two philosophers have contradicting views regarding the concepts under consideration and it is therefore important to make a clear understanding of them both but with an emphasis on Thomas who seems to give appealing conclusions compared to Boethius.

The paper will be structured in a very clear and concise manner, with part one starting with the introduction to the two philosophers. Then afterwards, will be addressed the concept of free will as discussed by Thomas Aquinas. This emphasis again is not accidental but well calculated owing to the fact that the views of St. Thomas are by far better and reasonable compared to those of Boethius. Like any other superb philosopher, Aquinas pays strong attention to logic and this is going to be observed in the manner that he presents his work. He ensures that he does not end up in self-contradiction, or self-deception.


St. Thomas Aquinas was an Italian priest of the Catholic Church in the Dominican Order.He was born in Aquino c.1225, and was an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus (the Angelic Doctor) and Doctor Universalis (Universal Doctor). [1] He is frequently referred to as Thomas because ‘Aquinas’ refers to his residence rather than his surname. He was the foremost classical supporter of natural theology, and the father of the Thomistic school of philosophy and theology. He considerably influenced Western thought, with much of modern philosophy being as a reaction against, or in agreement with his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law and political theory.

His works include the Summa Theologica and the Summa contra Gentiles. St. Thomas is one of the 33 Doctors of the Church, and the greatest theologian and philosopher of the church. Pope Benedict XV declared: “The Church has declared Thomas’ doctrine to be her own.” [2] 

Thomas joined the Dominican Order at the age of 13, an issue that did not please his family who had expected him to become a Benedictine monk. [3] Family members became desperate to dissuade Aquinas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers hired a prostitute to seduce him, but he drove her away, wielding a burning stick. According to legend, that night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate. [4] 

Aquinas was sent to study at the University of Paris’ Faculty of Arts in 1245, where he most likely met Dominican scholar Albert Magnus [5] . In 1252, he returned to Paris to study for the master’s degree in Theology.Aquinas was more a theologian than a philosopher, and his references regarding philosophers rather refer to pagan rather than Christians. [6] 


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius is his full names. He was born about 480 CE to an aristocratic family that was of Christian foundation. He studied under the influence of the Neo-Platonist Proclus and his disciples for thirteen years. Proclus died in 485, and then shortly his father died. Consequently Boethius lived under the care of Symmachus from whom Boethius married his daughter Rusticiana. [7] 

Boethius’ lifetime goal was to translate Aristotle’s complete works, as well as Plato’s dialogues, wherefore he considered that the two could be harmonized due to their agreements on major philosophical points. In 510 he became consul under the Ostrogoth Theodoric who was by then king of Italy. At 520 Boethius was appointed master of the offices, heading all the government and court services, and at 522 both his two sons too, became consuls.

Boethius’s work conception of free-will and divine foreknowledge can be found in his work, The Consolation of Philosophy which is actually a work of literature that is written in a form of prosimetrical apocalyptic dialogue…and contains five Books, which are written in a combination of prose and verse. [8] 

Aquinas’ Epistemological view:

Aquinas believed “that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.” [9] However, he believed that human beings have the natural capacity to know many things without special divine revelation, even though such revelations occur from time to time, “especially in regard to faith.” [10] 

The Question of Free-will

Does man have free-will?

What is free-will –a power, an act, or a habit?

If it is a power, is it appetitive or cognitive?

If it is appetitive, is it the same power as the will, or distinct?

Thomas argued that man possesses free-will for without it“counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain.” [11] He logically proceeded to expound on this by first observing how some things acted devoid of judgment; a stone moving downwards, similarly those things too that don’t have knowledge. Additionally, in Thomas’ view some agents act from judgment, but their judgments are not free, such as a brute animal. Thomas, while expounding on this assertion gives an example of a sheep, which upon seeing a wolf, judges that it is a thing to be avoided, an act that is from natural and not free judgment, since it makes this judgment from natural instincts and not from free judgment. Man on the other hand, acts from judgment, due to the fact that by his apprehensive command“he judges that something should be avoided or sought.” [12] Therefore, Thomas’ view is without doubt, correct when he continues to emphasize that man acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things because this judgment, contrary to that of brute animal that originates from natural instincts, it results from a process involving comparison in the reason.

However, can we say that man’s free will is power? This is a question posed by Thomas in his discussions regarding free-will. In answering this he notes rightfully that even though free-will strictly speakingsignifies an act, commonlyThomas calls it free-will, “that which is the principle of the act by which man judges freely.” [13] It is arguably, in the light of Thomas, that in humans the principle of an act is both a habit and a power due to the fact that when we say that we know something, we do so by knowledge and by the intellectual power. Hence free-will has to be“a power or a habit, or a power with a habit.” [14] This affirmation is considered in two ways.

First, if free-will is a habit, then it has to be a natural habit; this is because, for man it is natural to have a free-will. For things that come under free-will, there is no natural habit since we are inclined naturally to things that have natural habitsTherefore; it is not a habit in any way. Secondly, habits are defined as that "by reason of which we are well or ill disposed with regard to actions and passions" [15] ; since by temperance;

…we are well-disposed as regards concupiscences, and by intemperance ill-disposed: and by knowledge we are well-disposed to the act of the intellect when we know the truth, and by the contrary ill-disposed. But the free-will is indifferent to good and evil choice: wherefore it is impossible for free-will to be a habit. Therefore it is a power. [16] 

Thomas, regarding free-will as an appetitive power, asserts that the appropriate act of free-will is choice. This is because of the fact that we can decide to take one thing and refuse the other. It is thenceimportant that we deliberate the nature of free-will, by analyzing the nature of choice. Regarding choice, there is a strong agreement between two things; one on cognitive power, and the other on the appetitive power.Concerning the cognitive power part, there is needed to have counsel, through which according to Thomas“we judge one thing to be preferred to another” [17] . Concerning the appetitive power, Thomas asserts that “it is required that the appetite should accept the judgment of counsel.” [18] It is in this respect that Thomas counters the Aristotelian conception of choice; that it is not clear whether choice belongs in principle to the appetitive power or the cognitive one because according to him choice is either "an appetitive intellect or an intellectual appetite." [19] However Aristotle inclines to its being an intellectual appetite in the process of describing choice as "a desire proceeding from counsel." [20] This follows from the reasoning that the means to an end is the proper object of choice. Additionally, then, choice is what Thomas refers to as the nature of the good; the useful: this follows from the premise that since good is considered to be the object of the appetite, then it is logical that principally choice is an act of the appetitive power; hence free-will is an appetitive power.

Consequently, can we say that free-will is a power distinct from the will? It is rightly argued in the light of Thomas that intellectual apprehension takes into consideration both the intellect and reason, and with regard to intellectual appetitive, we will have free-will which is actually the power of choice as correctly explicated in Thomas’ Summa. This connection is correctly observed in both the objects and respectful acts.

Thomas gives an illustration of what it means to understand when he continues to note that “‘understanding’ implies the simple acceptation of something (whereby) we say that we understand first principles, which are known of them without any comparison. [21] However, regarding reasoning, as Thomas points out, means “to come from one thing to the knowledge of another: wherefore, properly speaking, we reason about conclusions, which are known from the principles.” [22] 

Divine Foreknowledge by Boethius and Thomas Aquinas

The issue of the foreknowledge of God is a mystery that St. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Boethius all struggled with. Divine foreknowledge involves the idea that the will of God enunciated itself most expansively in divine foreordainment, whence the plan of salvation is an essentialportion. Consequently, Christ was, apparently, predestined. This, of course, means that God discerned that evil would come into the world and that Jesus had to redeem mankind. Nonetheless, while God knew that evil would come into the world, he also willed an end, and in this his action can be seen as perfect. To safeguard his own freedom, God caused events contingently, without necessity, implying that he had free causation. God, therefore, predestined contingently. In this way, we can understand that God was not the captive of his own action, but remained free. [23] 

Boethius’ Consolation, Freedom and Divine Foreknowledge

Regarding divine foreknowledge, initiallyproposes the problem of divine foreknowledge as anissue for further philosophical debate. In this case, hequestions on how God happens to have dependable foreknowledge concerning contingent future events as knowledge requires necessityIn reference to Boethius, if God necessarily knows that an individual will excel in school at some future time, then it seems that the individual in question cannot fail to excel, implying that he is devoid of free-will and that excelling is not contingent. However, it is outrageous to repudiate the freedom of the will in Boethius’s view, since this could signify the absence of vices and virtues. [24] 

This problem has been philosophically addressed in chapter VI which involves a distinction between simple and conditional necessity. First, in the case of simple necessity there is a connection between it and nature henceat this point it is a necessary truth meaning that “man is a rational animal.” [25] On the other hand, conditional necessity is not tied to the nature, but rather to some contingent state of affairs and on a particular moment. As an example, if for instance, I saw Johnstanding. Upon seeing him, it is conditionally necessary that he bestanding because he is standing at that time, but there is nothing in his nature that forces him to be standing. A moment later he can choose to seat. This conditional necessity is sufficient for me to have knowledge that John is standing. Thus my present knowledge and John’s contingent willing to stand are thus perfectly compatible.

However, there arises a problem with define foreknowledge in the sense that it asserts a conditional necessity of both present and future state of affairs. Thus, for philosophyto resolve God’s infallible foreknowledge with future contingents, it proposes a widely significantexplanation of eternity. Accordingly eternity is “the whole, simultaneous and perfect possession of boundless life, which becomes clearer by comparison with temporal things” [26] 

Philosophy expounds on eternity by basing the conception of divine experience of time in divine simplicity.Under this understanding, it is correct to note that when it comes to God’s experience, there is no past, present and future of time;instead all temporal events are present concurrently to God’s simple knowledge. Thus, correct reasoning says that “if you should wish to consider his foreknowledge, by which he discerns all things, you will more rightly judge it to be not foreknowledge as it were of the future but knowledge of a never-passing instant” [27] . God can have infallible knowledge about what James will do in the future, because God, in his simple eternal knowledge, already sees James doing it. Thus, the infallibility of God’s knowledge is established on a conditional necessity, which preserves the contingency and freedom of James’ willing and choosing.

Moreover, prayer and human morality remain necessary as acts of free human creatures. One can be punished for acting wrongly most likely because one had the freedom to do the alternative. Similarly, it is possible to petition God; this does not mea God’s mind about what he has already decreed to do in the future changes, but just because God does things simultaneously - that is from his point of view - with seeing our prayers in the present –from the human perspective. Thence, this also leaves open the possibility of an Augustinian free-will theodicy, since God’s knowledge of future evil choices does not imply that God causes the wicked to be wicked. [28] 

However, the Boethian solution contradicts the first premise of the rudimentary argument: (1) Yesterday God infallibly believed X. What Boethian solution denies is not that God believes infallibly, and not that God believes the content of proposition X, but that God believed Xyesterday. Boethiuscontended that God is not in time and that God has no temporal properties, so God does not have beliefs at a time. This argument unfortunately therefore unfortunatelynotes that God had beliefs yesterday, or has beliefs today, or will have beliefs tomorrow. God cannot be taken to have believes on certain moments, the way humans tend to do. And thus, the way Boethius describes God's cognitive grasp of temporal reality, all temporal events are before the mind of God at once. To say “at once” or “simultaneously” is to use a temporal metaphor however on the contrary Boethius is clear that it illogical to think of the whole of temporal reality as being before God's mind in a single temporal moment.

But a more concise and logical argument comes from Aquinas who, though adopted the Boethian solution as one of his strategies out of theological fatalism, using some of the same metaphors as Boethius. As an example to this, we have metaphor of circle analogy, in which the way a timeless God is present to each and every instant is matched to the way in which the center of a circle is present to each and every point on its circumference. In contemporary philosophy probably the most well-known defenders of the idea that God is timeless are Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (1981), who apply it explicitly to the foreknowledge dilemma (1991).

Most objections to the timelessness solution to the dilemma of foreknowledge and freedom focus on the idea of timelessness itself, arguing either that it does not make sense or that it is incompatible with other properties of God that are religiously more compelling, such as personhood. I have argued that the timelessness move does not avoid the problem of theological fatalism since an argument structurally parallel to the basic argument can be formulated for timeless knowledge. If God is not in time, the key issue would not be the necessity of the past, but the necessity of the timeless realm [29] 


From the above analysis is very important to conclude with an affirmation of the philosophical concepts as advanced by Thomas. The Thomistic philosophy offers superior reasoning in terms of freedom and knowledge. The arrangement is logical and devoid of contradictions as it has been observed in other philosophers, Boethius being no exception. I therefore conclude this paper with an affirmation that men have free-will but this free-will doesn’t dispute God’s omniscience because God’s perspective is not man’s perspective, due to His Supremacy.

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