Astrology as a Traditional Science, Part I: The Origins of Rationalism

An interesting discussion emerged in the comments for one of my previous articles, The Outer Planets: A Theory.  As a result of this discussion, Cure Tadashiku wrote an article discussing Traditional Cosmology, which may be a bit challenging for modern Western practitioners of Classical Astrology.  The article is here.  I would posit that this is the challenge of restoring astrology as a true traditional science, rather than succumbing to the temptation of trying to force our art and craft into the mold of modern science.

In this blog, I have used the term traditional science, but I have not defined its meaning. A traditional science is a study which applies metaphysical principles in a practical way to our material and physical lives. Until the Enlightenment in the West, all science was traditional science. This is the reason why the Roman Catholic Church concerned itself with the teachings of Galileo. It is hard to see this today because modern science has divorced itself from matters of metaphysics, theology, and religion. While there are modern scientists that are deeply spiritual and religious, there has been a “Chinese Wall” that has been built between science and religion that is strengthened and supported by both sides.

Plato and AristotleWhile the so-called “Enlightenment” was the beginning of the final stages of this movement, its roots in the West go very deep. The “Enlightenment” was really started by the nominalist movement who had proponents such as William of Ockham, but even this movement has deeper roots. When I began my studies of essentialist metaphysics, I found myself in disharmony with my teachers as I was trying to place what I had learned in Classical Astrology into essentialist teachings. It was not until I read this article by Robert Hand that I understood why. It all began as a  disagreement that Aristotle had with his teacher, Plato, on the nature of Perfect Form. If I understand the nature of this disagreement correctly, Aristotle taught that all Forms must manifest on the material plane, so that if a Form did not exist on the material plane, it could not exist on the metaphysical level as a Perfect Form. It seems to me that this was the idea that eventually led to modern substantialism.

This notion added a corollary to the axiom, “as above, so below,” teaching “if not below, than not above.” This created the false dichotomy between science and religion, because now, if something was discovered on the material plane that did not match theology, metaphysics, and philosophy, this discovery called into question the doctrines of these disciplines.  This led to a new corollary, “as below, so above.”  The doctrine of nominalism takes this a step further teaching, “there is no above, there is only below.”

It is against this backdrop that the “Enlightenment” became possible, and this is the backdrop against which all Western astrologers must attempt to practice their craft.  With the understanding of Ideal Form having been dismissed and lost, astrologers were left to explain and practice their craft in a world where the fundamental principles of the science were no longer taught or believed.  Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that astrologers themselves began to confuse the actual physical bodies of the planets for what they represented.  It is also not surprising that the “discovery” of new planets and astronomical bodies would lead astrologers to doubt their forerunners, as the true understanding of their craft had been long lost and disregarded by Western society.

In order to reclaim astrology as a true traditional science, I would posit that we must turn back the clock and develop an understanding of the essentialist metaphysical principles upon which this craft is based.

Astrology as a Traditional Science, Part II:  Angels and Archetypes

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4 thoughts on “Astrology as a Traditional Science, Part I: The Origins of Rationalism

  1. Philemon says:

    Thank you for this succinct outline of the movement towards naturalism. Although there have been many attempts since classical times to reconcile Plato and Aristotle, there do seem to be fundamental differences between them. Notably, Aristotle held the soul (considered as characteristic of any living being) to be defined as the “form of the body”. From this, and from the principle that forms are always embodied, it appears to follow that once a body has died, there is no animating soul.

    It’s also of interest that the movement from Plato to Aristotle was repeated in the history of Western Civilization in the movement from the Platonic theology of philosophers such as Scotus Eriugena to the (quasi) Aristotelean theology of Saints Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas.

  2. james says:

    hi. thanks for the article. i hadn’t read the robert hand article that was some of the inspiration for you, so thanks for that too! i like what he said at the end of the article “We believe that the philosophical foundations of the sciences have many deficiencies, that whatever the merits of the sciences as a set of practical procedures may be, it tells us absolutely nothing about the essential nature of true being. It is therefore not practically useful in regard to these questions; it is also a philosophy which exalts death above life.”

    my focus is on astrology, not the history of philosophy, but i do believe astrologers need to have some sort of philosophical position to base their ongoing interest and work with astrology on.. for me personally – i think bringing things down to the personal is helpful in so far as the personal can reflect the universal), either an idea has some ‘truth’ to it (to repeat a word that cure likes to use) or it doesn’t.. i maintain that much of astrology is subjective in nature. this isn’t to say that it can’t be quite objective in describing a situation, but that ultimately it goes back to giving meaning to a persons inner world – which is the way i am using this word – subjective.

    whether one thinks of the planets are physical objects, or metaphysical objects does matter in so far as it is a reflection of their world view and philosophy on the nature of their place in the universe.. in my own experience observing astrology i see all planets and astronomical bodies around our solar system as having some relevance regardless if an astrologer only wants to incorporate only some of them.

    i admit it is more challenging attempting to understand astrological literature from the past as i am unable to get inside of the mind of those of the past in the same way that i could if i lived in the past.. i live in the present moment and culture.. i believe i share in the same spirit what those astrologers from the past shared in which was/is an interest in making a direct connection between the patterns in the surrounding sky with the patterns on earth, whether involve people, or countries.

    i am not a fan of rationalism in so far as it puts logic up on some type of alter and closes the door on alternative ways of perception. i am reminded of the castenada literature and what the character don juan had to say on the limitations of logic and reason in connection with perception.. i presently think that astrology and those who practice astrology do have a philosophical position that is much too broad to be described easily. i would like to think it is more metaphysical in nature, and that getting caught up in justifying or rationalizing our involvement in it for the sake of science is a waste of time. i go back to what robert hand said in his final remarks in the article you linked to. thanks for the conversation.. i would like to leave with a philosophical quote that has always remained with me from herakleitos – ‘one cannot step twice into the same river, for the water into which you first stepped has flowed on.’

  3. Philemon says:

    As a follow up comment, I note that Mr. Hand’s article addresses Aristotle’s doctrine of the soul in detail, and is, as you recommend, well worth reading.

    Also of note in the illustration above from Raphael’s School of Athens, Plato is pointing up, while Aristotle is pointing outwards. Raphael was very well versed in traditional symbolism. The gestures of the two philosophers form a cross, the meaning of which is amply covered in Monsieur Guenon’s Symbolism of the Cross.

    • Thank you so much for your comments. I apologize for not replying in detail to your comments. I am working on the next parts to this series, and your observation regarding the Symbolism of the Cross is quite astute.

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