How does Lyotard’s differend illuminate the project of faith in God’s providence?

One of the throughfares between The Consolation of Philosophy and “The Differend,” is a concern with illegibility.  The Consolation closes on Lady Philosophy’s final argument, in which she asserts that Boethius misinterprets God’s providence as pre-vision because he is bound to the human conception of linear time.  God, whereas, experiences all time at once. To try to comprehend God’s mode of being and experience of time as a human is to attempt to make simultaneous time legible to linear time: “What you think of as his foreknowledge is really a knowledge of the instant,which is never-passing and never-coming-to-be. It is not pre-vision (praevidentia) but providence (providentia), because, from that high vantage point, he sees at once all things that were and are and are to come” (Boethius, 171).  And it is in this distance between God’s actual experience of time versus the faulty human interpretation, where human apprehension of, and thereby faith in, God’s providence is lost.

Lyotard’s thoughts on illegibility become salient here.  He defines the differend as “the unstable state and instant of language wherein something which must be able to be put into phrases cannot yet be” (Lyotard, 13).  If we take God to be the ultimate witness, then it would seem that the instability of providence, as it occurs to humans, is the result of a kind of differend.  Further, Lyotard notes: “In the differend, something ‘asks’ to be put into phrases, and suffers from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases right away” (Lyotard, 13).  Notice the passivity of the phrase “not being able to be put.” Applying this to the Consolation would imply that it is in the hands of humans to put the referent, God’s providence, into the appropriate phrases and idioms, that the suffering as a result of the lack of comprehension of God’s providence is self-inflicted.  This also goes to underscore Lady Philosophy’s previous insistence that humans possess free will.  

Indeed, we might imagine that Lyotard would agree with this triangulation: “What is at stake in a literature, in a philosophy, in a politics perhaps, is to bear witness to differends by finding idioms for them” (Lyotard, 13).  This seems to be Lady Philosophy’s project in the final moments of the Consolation.


Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by David R. Slavitt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Translated by Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

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