history and philosophy of astrology

Fate, Free Will and Determinism in Astrology

I’ve been of the opinion for a while now that astrology is fundamentally deterministic, and that the majority of astrologers approach the subject with a more or less deterministic mindset, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.

In fact, the vast majority of astrologers seldom even realize just how deterministic their unspoken assumptions about astrology actually are, and these assumptions are in conflict with their consciously stated views about the subject.

A member of the Horoscopic Astrology group on Myspace posed a question along these lines on the forum today:

When we feel and understand the potential of a planetary (whole sign) ingress, maybe its possible to harness the energy to put us in the driving seat. If we don’t harness it, it will harness us. Can awareness make us the master rather than the slave?

I decided to approach my answer to this question from more of an explicitly Stoic perspective. Here is a modified version of my response:

The early founders of Stoicism, Zeno and Chrysippus, used an interesting example to illustrate a point along these lines, according to a later author named Hippolytus:

They too affirmed that everything is fated, with the following model. When a dog is tied to a cart, if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case. So it is with men too: even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any case to follow what is destined. (Long & Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, 62 A.)

The important point here for the Stoics seems to be the degree to which a person can realize and accept their own fate, and how they subsequently choose to work with it. Within this context the Stoics also introduced additional ideas about the notion of co-fated events and the doctrine of assent, since the choice to accept and “trot alongside the cart,” so to speak, or to not accept and be dragged, is a choice in it of itself. Theoretically, if we understand our fate then the more appealing option is obvious.

Hence he says in book 2 that it is obvious that many things originate from us, but that these too are nonetheless co-fated along with the government of the world. And he uses certain examples, like the following. That the cloak should not perish, he says, was fated not absolutely but together with its being looked after. Someone’s escaping from the enemy was fated together with his running away from the enemy. And having children was fated together with wanting to have intercourse with a woman. For just as, he says, if someone said that Hegesarchus the boxer would come out of the fight without sustaining a single punch, it would be ridiculous to expect Hegesarchus to fight with his hands by his sides on the ground that he was fated to come out without sustaining a punch, since the person making the denial said it because of the man’s superior guard against being punched, so too it is with other matters. For many things cannot come about without our wanting them and applying the most intense determination and efforts over them, since it is together with this, he says, that they are fated to come about. (Long & Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, 62 F.)

So, even the most deterministic philosophers of antiquity thought that you still have to make a choice, even if that choice itself is essentially fated in some sense based on your own internal dispositions and such. The Stoics also used this metaphor of a cylinder being pushed off the top of a hill and subsequently rolling down the hill in order to explain their notion of an internal type of fate that works in tandem with an external type of fate, and I always thought that this was a beautiful metaphor for astrology. In the cylinder model the internal fate of the cylinder is the fact that it is cylindrical, and thus it is predisposed towards rolling. This is the internal fate of the object. However, at some point the cylinder receives a push and then it begins rolling down the hill, and this is the external fate of the object. (For more on this see Keith Seddon’s excellent article Stoics on Determinism.)

I think that this cylinder metaphor is applicable to astrology, especially when you view it within the context of a natal chart and the transits to the natal chart. The internal fate of a person would be their natal chart itself with all of the planetary positions therein, which shows all of the native’s predisposition and characteristics, just as the internal fate of the cylinder was simply the fact that it is cylindrical. The external fate, then, would be the transits, which in some sense activate the internal predispositions in the natal chart at various points in the native’s life, in the same way that the cylinder is pushed at some point and given the external impetus to role down the hill.

An important point to make with respect to transits to a person’s natal chart is that they do not only represent internal character traits and psychological states that are being activated or experienced during a given transit, as some modern astrologers argue, but transits also correlate with concrete external events and circumstances that occur in the life of the native at fixed periods. While we may have a certain amount of leverage as to how we react to the internal psychological states that we experience during a given transit, some of the external events that occur in tandem with the transits are frequently out of our control in a concrete sense. With these concrete external events we are still in a position of being able to slightly modify our perception or internal reaction to these events though. However, the argument could be made that even our ability to modify our reaction to external events may be fated or predetermined as well, since that too depends on our own internal dispositions and character traits at a given point in time, and all of this is contained in our natal chart. Of course, our internal reaction to events changes over time as we grow and develop, and this is largely what the study of transits is all about.

So, I don’t think that awareness can make you the master rather than the slave, but I do think that it can give you greater control over your perception of events, and this awareness makes you more of a willing participant or co-creator with you own fate, rather than someone who is simply being dragged along for the ride.

6 replies on “Fate, Free Will and Determinism in Astrology”

Hello Chris, Having awareness would also be inherent in one,s chart, so once again, to be aware or not, is one,s fate, so are we not also being carried along for the ride. Awareness itself can also be an illusion that changes over time, even the concept of fate or freewill. TIME ITSELF, is what? does it realy exist? I rather think not. Off I go rambling along, everything seems to interconnect. Regards barbara

[…] Chris Brennan是一個很年輕的占星學家,子辰曾經上過他的課,對其運用希臘哲學史觀來解釋占星學深深感佩。他前陣子寫了一篇「Fate, Free Will and Determinism in Astrology」的文章,我認為很值得參考。他說絕大多數的占星家都大致同意占星學是建立在命定論(Determinism)的基礎上,然而卻不太瞭解命定的含意。他引了一段希臘思多益學派(Stoicism,註)創始成員Zeno與Chrysippus的說法: …所有事物皆遵循命運的軌跡,命運就像一條狗被綁在車子上一樣,如果狗兒決定追隨車子,即便出於自願,它還是會被拉著走。如果它不跟著車子,它也是會被拉著走。人也一樣,即便很多事非出於自願,結果還是逃離不出命運的軌跡…(Long & Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, 62A) […]

I feel each one has a chance to gain at least partial degree of awareness even with a simple chart but sure there are those with the thirst for knowledge especially self knowledge that are more likely to enter the journey of being the masters of their lives and usually they have more options in the map to create changes

Hi Chris

While I totally agree that “awareness can give you greater control over your perception of events, and this awareness makes you more of a willing participant or co-creator with you own fate”, accepting the these influences and positively blending them in one’s life is a different thing.

Astrology alone is little helpful, unless it is merged into a greater system of higher knowledge. Astrology seems to offer only some input data, but in order to “take control” of one’s fate (an inappropriate expression) one needs to understand more than that. Deep spirituality should be accompanying astrology into what may be called “the art of living”.

I was just having a talk with my roommate yesterday. He doesn’t really follow astrology, because his mind operates through a most universal way, apparently, one that doesn’t involve the planets, but the moreso the galaxies as they circle the universe. That term, universal, is easy to overlooked if one hasn’t experienced it: enlightenment. I mean to say that my friend is constantly creating what he needs all around himself, as if by magic, and helping his fellow man in a way that is beyond this world entirely; I swear to you, some sort of divine light passes through him where ever he go. It is brighter than the Sun. I wanted to do his natal chart, for my own selfish reasons and limited perceptions, as if my judgments of this divine being could mean anything beyond their weak forms, and so I asked him when he was born, and he said to me, “I was never born.”