Woojin Park The differences in Outlook on Education between Augustine and Boethius In St. Augustine’s Confessions, Augustine views education as a tool which could be used for good or for wickedness. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius sees education as a tool to conceive of knowledge of God that comes from within. I argue that two writers differ in their beliefs regarding the connection between education and happiness. St. Augustine views the good and evil duality of education while Boethius focuses on the positive aspect of education and the education in the form of the study of philosophical thought and reflection.
First of all, St. Augustine believes that education can be used for either virtuous or sinful purposes. Essentially, he believes that education is merely a method to learn how to read and write in order to understand the teachings of Catholicism. Beyond that, it is up to the educated men to either use it to gain spiritual enlightenment or worldly possessions and success. He criticizes the established educational system by saying, “This is the school where men are made masters of words. This is where they learn the art of persuasion, so necessary in business and debate” (St. Augustine 36).
He argues that most people attend school and educate themselves in order to gain success in business and become skilled orators. St. Augustine finds fault in this purpose of education because it is focused on gaining worldly possessions and pleasures, which eventually leads people away from God. Speaking of worldly pleasures he writes, All these things and their like can be occasions of sin because, good though they are, they are of the lowest order of good, and if we are too much tempted by them we abandon those higher and better things, your truth, your law, and you yourself, O Lord our God (St.
Augustine 48). Therefore, St. Augustine does acknowledge that some worldly pleasures can be seen as “good. ” Nevertheless, these things are deemed as the “lowest” level of good and can easily lead people astray from the higher truth. He then goes on saying that ultimately these worldly pleasures and aspirations are a distraction from following the truth of God. St. Augustine also stresses that schools which teach literature, especially fiction, are also major distractions from following the truth of God and the main cause for sinful life and immorality.
He describes how he was forced to learn Greek mythology which he argues served as a distraction from following the truth of God. The role of institutions as a core distraction described above is well-portrayed in the following text. But in the later lessons I was obliged to memorize the wanderings of a hero named Aeneas, while in the meantime I failed to remember my own erratic ways. I learned to lament the death of Dido, who killed herself for love, while all the time, in the midst of these things, I was dying, separated from you, my God and my Life, and I shed no tears for my own plight (St. Augustine 33).
Moreover, St. Augustine says that he was provided a method to ignore his own sins because he was required to focus and empathize the characters ,who sinned, of the tales of Greek mythology. Ultimately, the works of fiction and mythology led him to embrace a life without God. He continues to rebuke schools which teach literature by attacking the supposed reverence given to these educational institutions. He expresses this when he writes, “It is true that curtains are hung over the entrances to the schools where literature is taught, but they are not so much symbols in honor of mystery as veils concealing errors” (St.
Augustine 34). This description of schools teaching literature suggests that these educational institutions are not only missing the truth, but are in fact concealing the truth. The word “curtains” in this context are fictional stories, which distract the reader and students of the schools from God’s truth. Distracting people from the truth of God keeps people in anguish, because true happiness is connected to a search for truth, according to St. Augustine.
The writer explains this when he writes, “I had an inner sense which watched over my bodily senses and kept them in full vigor; and even in the small things which occupied my thoughts I found pleasure in the truth” (St. Augustine 40). St. Augustine believes that finding truth brings about happiness, indicating anything which hides the truth brings about misery. In this context, the schools teaching literature that conceal truth are in fact causing misery. St. Augustine moves from suggesting that truth is the path to happiness to proclaiming that true happiness comes from the ultimate truth, which is a love for God.
He says this when he writes, “How long it was before I learned that you were my true joy! ” (St. Augustine 43). Since God is the source of true joy, St. Augustine is saying that God is the source of ultimate truth. Therefore, education that veers away from this truth can only lead people away from true happiness. However, if education is used to find God, then it can be the path to spiritual enlightenment. In other words, education can be used for either virtue or sin. Some people might argue that Boethius’ view of education is similar to St.
Augustine’s view in that he believes that knowledge can lead one to God’s truth. He expresses, like St. Augustine, that education and knowledge should lead to relinquishing attachment to the physical world in order to reach true happiness through God. The idea that true knowledge is not connected to the physical world is first expressed when Boethius writes, “Look at this dreadful cell! Does it resemble that cozy library where you used to visit my house, where we would sit and discuss all kinds of interesting matters, both human and divine? (Boethius 10). In this passage, Boethius has confused true knowledge with its physical manifestations of books in his library. Philosophy responds to Boethius by pointing out that he does not need books in his library since knowledge lies within him. This inner knowledge and self-education are the foundation of how Boethius’ works show the reader how true education is meant to free people from attachment to worldly possessions and pursuits and find true happiness in God. However, unlike St.
Augustine’s view of the good and evil duality of education, Boethius’s view focuses on the good nature of education and the education in the form of the study of philosophical thought and reflection. For example, Philosophy teaches Boethius how happiness does not come from worldly possessions by showing how wealth makes people more dependent on other people. She expresses this by saying, Every day, somebody stronger takes wealth away from someone who is weaker… So a man needs help, even from outside his family, to protect his money and keep it safe…
Wealth was supposed to make a man self-sufficient, but it actually makes him dependent on the help of others (Boethius 67). Through this passage, Philosophy shows Boethius how wealth cannot help him find true happiness, because it does not provide self-sufficiency. Philosophy then teaches Boethius how power is also a fruitless pursuit which is based upon worldly pursuits and desires. Philosophy tells Boethius that power is fleeting and impermanent since power is earned only by appealing to the people who have the ability to grant it. After gaining power, people are usually preoccupied with doing what they can to hold on to their power.
Philosophy teaches Boethius this truth when she says, “So what good is power if it is a source of constant worry and fear? Like any of the rest of us, kings would surely prefer to live out their lives without these worries, but they cannot” (Boethius 72). Namely, people cannot really own any power since it is only temporary and will eventually be taken away in life or in death. Therefore, not only does power not bring happiness, but it can also cause misery and worries. In addition, Boethius learned how physical beauty also does not bring about happiness.
Lady Philosophy explains this when she says, “It isn’t the human body, then, that is attractive, but only the weakness of human vision that makes it seem so” (Boethius 78). What human beings conceive as beauty is not true beauty because it is people’s inability to detach themselves from worldly pursuits and desires which make them admire physical beauty. Philosophy then continues her comments on physical beauty by saying, “And anyway, however beautiful a human body may be, that beauty can be utterly destroyed in the course of a three-day fever” (Boethius 78). Physical beauty is merely an illusion since it can be taken away at any moment.
Since worldly desires and possession do not offer true happiness, physical possessions are of the lowest order of good, according to Philosophy. She tells Boethius that the highest good, which she says is God, will bring about true happiness. She explains this when she says, “There is no question, then, but that the author of all things is inherently and in his substance the highest good” (Boethius 88). Therefore, she establishes that God is the highest good in existence. She then continues by saying that human beings naturally want to find happiness, which can only be found through the highest good.
Philosophy says, “Since men want happiness, and since happiness is in itself divinity, then it follows that men in the pursuit of happiness are actually in the pursuit of divinity” (Boethius 89). Ultimately, what Boethius is saying through his writing of the story is that only education aimed at finding God will lead to true happiness. Ultimately, both St. Augustine and Boethius consider God as the path to true happiness. They also both express that education or gaining knowledge can help lead to God and therefore happiness. Nonetheless, St.
Augustine focuses more on how education can be misused to mislead people to focus on attachment to worldly success and possessions. Boethius also believes attachment to worldly desires is not the path to happiness; however he does not focus on how education can be misused in this fashion. He simply shows that education or knowledge can come from within without the physical objects of books in his library. Namely, it means he has already gained the knowledge from the books and no longer needs their physical presence to access the knowledge.
Furthermore, the difference in their opinions is in the emphasis on formal education. Boethius quickly mentions formal education whereas St Augustine tended to dwell on it for longer. Augustine directly mentions the correlation between education and happiness; Boethius hardly talks about education and happiness, except for the study of philosophy, which can be done outside of the formal education system. Based on these two different ideas, they both have great insight we can learn from even though each writer puts emphasis on different views.