Boethius on the “Supreme Good,” or on the Life of the Philosopher

Since in every kind of being there is a supreme possible good, and since man too is a certain species or kind of being, there must be a supreme possible good for man, not a good which is supreme in the absolute sense, but one that is supreme for man. The goods which are accessible to man are limited and do not extend to infinity. . .

The supreme good for man should be his in terms of his highest power, and not according to the vegetative soul, which is also found in plants, nor according to the sensitive soul, which is also found in animals and from which their sensual pleasures arise. But man’s highest power is his reason and intellect. For this is the supreme director of human life both in the order of speculation and in the order of action.

Therefore, the supreme good attainable by man must be his by means of his intellect. Therefore, men who are so weighed down by sense pleasures that they lose intellectual goods should grieve. For they never attain the supreme good. It is insofar as they are given to the senses that they do not seek that which is the good of the intellect itself. Against these the Philosopher protests, saying: “Woe to you men who are numbered among beasts and who do not attend to that which is divine within you!” He calls the intellect that which is divine in man. For if there is anything divine in man, it is right for it to be the intellect. Just as that which is best among all beings is divine, so also that which is best in man we call divine.



The featured image to this article was taken from

The featured image to this article is Gustav Adolph Spangenberg’s Aristotle’s School (1883-1888)



  1. This passage was taken from Medieval Philosophy: From St. Augustine to Nicholas of Cusa, ed. John Wippel and Allan Wolter (Free Press: 1969), p. 369.

2 thoughts on “Boethius on the “Supreme Good,” or on the Life of the Philosopher

  1. A. J. says:

    Could Boetius of Dacia be qualified as a pantheist for suggesting that man’s intellect is divine? Or could this simply mean that he in some way recognized the Imago Dei in man?

    1. Steven Dunn says:

      I don’t know much of the personal works of Boethius of Dacia, but he certainly was no pantheist. He was a staunch Aristotelian and Averroeist. If he said that “man’s intellect is divine,” he probably meant to suggest some kind of neo-Aristotelian interpretation to the idea that man’s capacity to contemplate eternal objects (Forms, etc) makes him (somehow) able to participate in the mind of God.

      According to my copy of Copleston’s little book on Medieval Philosophy, he says that we aren’t given any clear indication whether in his defenses of Aristotle he is suspending his views of Christianity in favor of philosophical truths, or if he somehow trying to support the two. However, probably given his association Averroes and the doctrine of “double truth,” it’s probably the first interpretation.

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