Why Astrology Is Pseudoscience Paulthagard Essay

4383 words - 18 pages

Why Astrology Is a Pseudoscience
Paul R. Thagard
FROM P. Asquith and 1. Hacking, eds., Procceedings of the Philosophy of
Science Association Vol. 1 (East Lansing, Mich.: Philosophy of Science
Association, 1978), 223-34.

Most philosophers and historians of science agree
that astrology is a pseudoscience, but there is little
agreement on why it is a pseudoscience. Answers range
from matters of verifiability and falsifiability, to
questions of progress and Kuhnian normal science, to
the different sort of objections raised by a large panel of
scientists recently organized by The Humanist
magazine. Of course there are also Feyerabendian
anarchists and others who say that no ...view middle of the document...

The moon and
the planets (of which there are five or eight depending
on whether Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are taken into
account) are also located by means of charts on one of
the parts of the Zodiac. Each planet is said to exercise an
influence in a special sphere of human activity; for
example, Mars governs drive, courage and daring, while
Venus governs love and artistic endeavor. The immense
number of combinations of sun, ascendant, moon and
planetary influences allegedly determines human
personality, behavior and fate.
Astrology is an ancient practice, and appears to
have its origins in Chaldea, thousands of years B.C. By
700 B.C., the Zodiac was established, and a few centuries later the signs of the Zodiac were very similar to
current ones. The conquests of Alexander the Great
brought astrology to Greece, and the Romans were

exposed in turn. Astrology was very popular during the
fall of the Republic, with many notables such as Julius
Caesar having their horoscopes cast. However, there
was opposition from such men as Lucretius and Cicero.
Astrology underwent a gradual codification
culminating in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos [20], written in the
second century A.D. This work describes in great detail
the powers of the sun, moon and planets, and their
significance in people's lives. It is still recognized as a
fundamental textbook of astrology. Ptolemy took
astrology as seriously as he took his famous work in
geography and astronomy; this is evident from the
introduction to the Tetrabiblos, where he discusses two
available means of making predictions based on the
heavens. The first and admittedly more effective of
these concerns the relative movements of the sun, moon
and planets, which Ptolemy had already treated in his
celebrated Almagest [19]. The secondary but still
legitimate means of prediction is that in which we use
the "natural character" of the aspects of movement of
heavenly bodies to "investigate the changes which they
bring about in that which they surround" ([20], p. 3). He
argues that this method of prediction is possible because
of the manifest effects of the sun, moon and planets on
the earth, for example on weather and the tides.
The European Renaissance is heralded for the rise of
modern science, but occult arts such as astrology and
alchemy flourished as well. Arthur Koestler has described
Kepler's interest in astrology: not only did astrology
provide Kepler with a livelihood, he also pursued it as a
serious interest, although he was skeptical of the
particular analyses of previous astrologers ([13], pp.
244-248). Astrology was popular both among
intellectuals and the general public through the
seventeenth century. However, astrology lost most of this
popularity in the eighteenth century, when it was attacked
by such figures of the Enlightenment as Swift [24] and
Voltaire [29]. Only since the 1930's has astrology again
gained a huge audience: most people today know at least

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