Boetius of Dacia (c. 13th Century)

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(c. 13th century)

Boetius of Dacia was an Aristotelian and Averroist philosopher of the thirteenth century, sometimes called Boetius of Sweden, after the country of his birth. Born during the first half of the century, he was probably a secular cleric and canon of the diocese of Linköping. He was an associate of Siger of Brabant as a teacher of philosophy in the faculty of arts at Paris and, as a leader of the Averroist movement, condemned in 1277 by Stephen Tempier, bishop of Paris. With Siger, Boetius fled the city after the condemnation and appealed to the pope. After detention at the pontifical curia at Orvieto, Boetius joined the Dominican order as a member of the province of Dacia. The date of his death is unknown.

Boetius wrote works on logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics. Some of these are lost; only a few have been edited. A complete edition of his extant works is now in progress.

Boetius philosophized in a rationalistic spirit, defending his right as a philosopher to discuss any subject falling within the competence of reason and to come to whatever conclusions reason dictated, even though they might contradict Christian faith. He taught, for example, that philosophizing is the most excellent human activity, that philosophers alone are the wise men of this world, that creation ex nihilo is impossible, that the world and the human species are eternal, and that there can be no resurrection of the dead. His treatise On the Highest Good, or On the Life of the Philosopher contains one of the most glowing and optimistic descriptions of the life of pure reason written in the Middle Ages. Setting aside the teachings of faith, Boetius inquires what reason tells us about the ultimate purpose of human life. Following Aristotle, he defines man's supreme good as the philosophical contemplation of truth and virtuous living according to the norms of nature. The philosopher alone, he concludes, lives rightly and achieves the ultimate end of human life.

Despite his rationalism, Boetius did not abandon his Christian faith but sought an ultimate reconciliation with it. Philosophy, in his view, is the work of human reason investigating the natural causes and principles of the universe, whereas the Christian religion rests on supernatural revelation and miracles of God. Because the teachings of faith have a higher source than those of philosophy, in cases of conflict the latter must give way to the former. Human reason is fallible and often comes to only probable conclusions. Even when its conclusions seem necessary, if they are contrary to revealed doctrine they are not true. In these cases truth is on the side of revelation and not on the side of reason. For example, the philosophical conclusion that the world is eternal must give way to the revealed truth that the world was created in time.

Boetius was condemned for speaking as though there were a double truth, one of faith and another of philosophy. But he carefully avoided calling true a philosophical conclusion contrary to faith.

See also Aristotelianism; Averroism; Logic, History of; Medieval Philosophy; Rationalism; Siger of Brabant.


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Gilson, Étienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. New York: Random House, 1955.

Grabmann, M. "Die Opuscula De Summo Bono sive De Vita Philosophi und De Sompniis des Boetius von Dacien." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 6 (1931): 287317.

Grabmann, Martin. Mittelalterliches Geistesleben, 2nd ed. Munich, 1936. Vol. II.

Grabmann, Martin. Neuaufgefundene Werke des Siger von Brabant und Boetius von Dacien. Munich, 1924.

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Sajó, G. "Boetius de Dacia und seine philosophische Bedeutung." In Miscellania Mediaevalia, Vol. II, Die Metaphysik im Mittelalter. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1963.

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Armand A. Maurer (1967)