Boethius and Augustine and the Non-Existence of Evil

We agreed before that everything that exists is unitary, and that oneness itself is good. It then follows that everything, because it exists, is good. And it also follows that whatever falls from goodness ceases to exist, and that evil men cease to be what they were, having by their wickedness lost their human nature, although they still survive in the form of the human body (118). – Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

In this passage, Boethius, speaking through Lady Philosophy, equates goodness with existence and evil with non-existence. I was struck by this idea, as it reminded me of St Augustine’s conception of evil in his City of God (which I will paraphrase because I don’t have my copy of the text with me at the moment). Augustine deals with the problem posed by the existence of evil in world created by a good and omnipotent God by asserting that evil does not actually exist. Rather, creation is fundamentally good, and evil is merely the absence of good. Evil entered the world with original sin, which constituted a turn away from God, the highest good, and towards the human self, a lesser good (though still a great good insofar as it was created by God!). Thus, evil itself has no substance, but is merely a reorientation away from the supreme good that is God.

Similarly, Boethius holds that “God is goodness itself,” and that the order of the universe imposed by God is necessarily good as well (100). However, though Boethius was a Christian, The Consolation of Philosophy is not explicitly Christian in its conception of the divine. Thus, Boethius’s articulation of good and evil is more philosophical, while Augustine’s is highly theological and fundamentally concerned with the question of original sin. Nevertheless, they clearly share a very similar conception of good as being/existence/substance/etc. and evil as non-being, which I find to be a very interesting, and non-intuitive (at least from a modern perspective), way of grappling with the existence of evil.

-Gwyneth (Group 7)


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by David R. Slavitt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.


Image: Saint Augustine in his Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1494 (public domain)

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