My current philosophical views on astrology
My own views on astrology have been drifting towards a more Platonic and Stoic model of astrology since I started attending Kepler College a few years ago. At some point in Nick Campion’s book Astrology, History and Apocalypse he points out that astrologers have historically tended towards either a sort of Aristotelian causal model of astrology or a more Platonic symbolic or archetypal model of astrology.
I like the Platonic notion of an animate or conscious cosmos that speaks to itself as derived from the Timaeus , combined with Jung’s modern conceptualization of the idea of cosmic sympathy in his theory of synchronicity. If the stars and planets represent the cosmic cognitions, speech, or logos of the cosmic animal then this would fit perfectly within Jung’s notion of an acausal connection between celestial and earthly events because this internalized celestial logos wouldn’t necessarily be causal in nature. That is to say, telling someone what is going to happen or overhearing something doesn’t necessarily mean that that has actually caused what is going to happen. Astro-logos, then, would be a rational construct for interpreting the cosmic cognitions of the cosmos and the thoughts that it entertains relative to mankind or earthly matters in general.
Geoffrey Cornelius makes a good case for the implausibility of astrology being causal in his book The Moment of Astrology, although his overall argument carries several fundamental flaws and he takes his conclusions to a bit of an extreme position that seems unnecessary. Cornelius built his argument on the assumption that horary existed in the Hellenistic tradition and in order to substantiate his case that astrology is inherently divinatory and entirely subjective he was forced to contrive the meaning of the fundamentally important Greek term katarche by switching to a different language and seeking derivatives in Latin. Ultimately this attempt to divorce the term katarche from the notion of what he calls ‘moments of origin’ was unconvincing and his insistence on blaming Ptolemy for this notion ignored the evidence that astrology has been founded on the notion of specific temporal moments of origin since at least the 5th century BCE when Mesopotamian astrologers started casting charts for the moment of the birth of the native. For me Cornelius’ work inadvertently underlined the importance of the fact that horoscopic astrology is built on this notion of temporal moments of origin where celestial events correlate with terrestrial events, and the existence of any earthly system can be studied by observing that placement of celestial bodies at the moment of its symbolic ‘birth’. I think that the fact that we are dealing with mathematically fixed and predictable astronomical bodies does introduce a substantial degree of objective and tangible reality into astrology, and the notion that it only has a merely subjective and relative truth is, in my subjective opinion, false.
If there is a sort of objective truth to astrology then I think that Stoicism as a philosophical model for astrology was a a logical progression or application that was necessitated by the fundamental astrological premise and the subsequent elaboration of the system. This isn’t a very popular position with some of my friends and co-workers at Project Hindsight, and in the astrological community in general, but it seems like a natural progression to me. There are these three questions that I’ve been asking every astrologer that I meet for a few months now that are designed to elicit a response that would implicate Stoicism as the logical model for dealing with the question of fate within the context of astrology. They are yes or no questions.
1. Do you agree or disagree that the planets and the stars, or celestial bodies in general, influence or correlate with earthly events, i.e. major events in people’s lives, general psychological makeup, natural events, political events, etc.? (This is the basic astrological premise. Notice that the question of the planets causing or signifying is sidestepped or taken into account and room is left for each individuals own notion of the astrological mechanism. Also the ability of the astrologer to predict these things is taken out of the equation. This is merely a question about if such correlations do exist irregardless of if an astrologer is able to predict them ahead of time.)
2. Do you agree or disagree that the planets and stars, or celestial bodies in general, cause or correlate with not only major events and things in a person’s or a system’s life, but also with seemingly small or miniscule things, like running into a person on the street who later turns out to be important, or perhaps bruising your knee, or getting into a slight argument with someone, or feeling depressed or irritable one day, etc. (this question is designed to see if the person thinks that astrology involves major events and lesser or seemingly unimportant things. That is, does the astrological principle extend to just about everything. This question also disregards the human element and the ability of the astrologer to accurately predict the ‘effect’ of such minute correspondences ahead of time.)
3. Do you agree or disagree that the astronomical positions of the planets were set into motion long before the birth of any of the people or systems that can be studied through astrology, and that their astronomical positions are essentially fixed and predictable. (This is simply an astronomical question designed to elicit a reasonable response that the astronomical positions of the planets are for all intents and purposes fixed and predetermined.)
Presuming that all of these questions are answered in the affirmative, which pretty much every astrologer that I have talked to did, it would seem like a more Stoic conceptualization of fate would be logical. A type of predestination is inherent in the basic premise of horoscopic astrology. Not in a negative sense per se, but in a way that is sort of beautiful and elegant. Contrary to some contemporary arguments, it seems to me that this perspective may actually be more called for with an acausal view of astrology though because in the causal view where the stars actually influence or control lives and events and it would seem to actually leave open more room for redirecting or harnessing those ‘influences’ somehow, while the acausal view has more of an objective clockwork connotation. This is what Geoffrey Cornelius refers to disparagingly as the ‘Machine of Destiny’ position. I think that this largely depends on your perception of Stoicism and the notion of a fixed and essentially unalterable fate though. It seems like Stoicism often gets a bad rap in our modern, more humanistic society and even most astrologers have a very negative knee-jerk reaction to the very thought of such a position as a result of the conditioning that we receive in our modern western humanistic society. It seems like little thought is given to the apparent contradiction between the fundamental unspoken premises that we base our astrological practices on and our more humanistic statements of some sort of unlimited capacity for free-will at any given moment in time. Hans Jonas has a few interesting statements about Stoicism in his book The Gnostic Religion which portray it in a quite different light:
…the Stoics later advanced the proposition that freedom, that highest good of Hellenic ethics, is a purely inner quality not dependant external conditions, so that true freedom may well be found in a slave if only he is wise. (Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 1963 edition, pg. 6.)
Later in the book he writes
Stoic philosophy strove to integrate the idea of destiny as propounded by contemporary astrology with the Greek concept of harmony: heimarmene to the Stoics is the practical aspect of the harmony, i.e., its action as it affects terrestrial conditions and the short-lived beings here. And since the stellar movements are actuated by the cosmic logos and this logos functions in the world-process as providence (pronoia), it follows that in this wholly monistic system heimarmene itself is pronoia, that is, fate and divine providence are the same. The understanding of and willing consent to this fate thus interpreted as the reason of the whole distinguishes the wise man, who bears adversity in his individual destiny as the price paid by the part for the harmony of the whole. (Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, pg. 259.)
The big question that I am wrestling with at this point, and the real purpose behind the previous line of questioning, is ‘what is the purpose of astrology within a Stoic conceptualization of fate?’ Is it just to know? To become free inwardly of ones life in all of its good and bad times? Maybe so. I suspect at this point in my life that this may be the only really consistent approach to dealing with astrology and that it may be the way to go for astrologers in general, but on the other hand it may not be appropriate for consultations and dealing with clients on an individual level in a modern society. I guess that the catch is that even if everything that we do is already predetermined or fated in some sense, we still experience life through the act of making choices on a day to day basis and this conceptual model that we have for interpreting fate does not change the necessity of making those choices. So I guess that the best approach to take is to live your life as if you have “free-will”, even if you do believe that everything has already been mapped out ahead of time.