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The Problem of
by Robert Schmidt

In recent years, I have been writing and talking a lot about the problem of astrology, and
proposing that the astrological community undertake a serious and large-scale investigation
into this problem. And very frequently now I am being asked the question "Can you define
this problem for us?" Now, my short answer to this question is, "No, I cannot state exactly the
problem of astrology, for I cannot yet define what astrology itself is, let alone specify the kind
of problem that it poses for us."
To even specify this problem completely, I would have to answer several interrelated
questions: what kind of problem astrology poses for us, who or what is proposing the
problem, to whom is it addressed. So what kind of problem does astrology poses for us -- that
is, how it is thrown forward in front of us (which is what the word problema means in Greek).
Is it a challenge, a temptation, a provocation, a ruse, a distraction, a humiliation?
And who or what is proposing the problem. Modern astrology? The dead hand of the
tradition? The gods? The truth itself? Some phantasm in my own mind? And to whom is it
addressed? The astrological community? The sciences? Humanity at large? Anyone who has
ears to hear?
I am not yet in a position to answer any of these questions. However, I believe I can -- even
at this preliminary stage -- DESCRIBE the kind of problem that astrology poses us, and also
establish its rank and importance as a problem in the modern world.
First of all, I would say that the problem of astrology is one of the most persistent of
problems. It has been around for more than 2000 years now, as an itch that consciousness has
never been able to satisfactorily scratch, although the ancient defenses and attacks of
astrology may now seem antiquated and irrelevant. Astrology exists like an indigestible lump
in modern consciousness, and we would be hard put to point to anything more incongruous to
modern thought. It is not easy to formulate hypotheses from philosophy, science, or
epistemology that seem adequate to what astrology is, which do not denature it in the process
of either attacking or defending it. And I think that anyone who is clear-headed and takes a
long honest look at the arguments that have been presented for and against astrology will
conclude that the attacks on astrology have been ignorant and trivial, while the defenses put
up by astrologers to validate or justify astrology have themselves been pitiful.
Astrology seems to exist in modern consciousness in some place where it is not easily
accessible. It is almost as if exists in our blind spot. Now this could be because the
astrological phenomena themselves, or astrology as a discipline, are somehow just too
brilliant for us to see. This is also a classical metaphor -- the higher things are so bright and
so brilliant that our limited consciousnesses can somehow not take them in, we are literally
blinded by the light. On the other hand, it could be the case that the reason we cannot access
astrological phenomena from a scientific point of view or from any accepted modern

standpoint is because the astrological phenomena are in some way occulted by those very
modern disciplines. The modern sciences themselves may in some way be preventing us from
having access to astrology as a legitimate phenomena. Or to use the eclipse metaphor
differently, maybe astrology exists in the shadow of science, that twilight area which is the
dumping ground of science and represents all the issues and problems it is unwilling to come
to terms with. It may even be the case that, metaphysically speaking, astrology is a repository
or point of accumulation for everything we don't know, everything that is not present to us.
After all, in a practical context astrology is supposed to deal with the past and future. Now I
find that very fascinating, that there could be one area, one purported discipline, one set of
practices which in some way might sum up everything that we don't understand. If any of the
above truly characterize the problem of astrology, then it would be no ordinary problem. In
fact, it would be the mother of all problems, the problem of problems.
Unfortunately, the problem of astrology has been around for so long that even the
formulations of special astrological problems have grown stale. One often hears in the
astrological world the statement "Who cares about all this theoretical and speculative inquiry.
Astrology works for me, and that's all that matters." But that very familiarity may be the
strongest indication that astrology is a problem that very much needs to be addressed. For
isn't it the case that the familiar, what we have taken into our own household, so to speak, is
what we constantly overlook? What we can no longer look over? We have to find a way of
making the problem of astrology fresh and exciting again.
Let me try to make an analogy here that I hope will further characterize the problem of
astrology and speak further to its rank as a problem. There was a time in the Greek world
where a number of people were pursuing something that they called philosophy, a word that
simply meant the love of wisdom. This word originally applied to anyone who was thinking
seriously and deeply about fundamental questions in any discipline, such as mathematics.
Thus, these first philosophers were primarily characterized by their attitude toward inquiry.
The earliest philosophers were inquirers into nature -- the original physicists -- who believed
that they could understand the world by looking intently at it and thinking about it. They
wrote up their insights in the form of pithy, enigmatical aphorisms. Later philosophers, such
as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle developed special skills in the use of logos (or language), and
they believed that their dialectical tools could give them access to any subject whatsoever,
whether in the natural world or the human world.
But early on Plato and Aristotle began to treat of something they called prote philosophia,
or the primary love of wisdom. So the question naturally arose, What is Philosophy? And
what is the paradigmatic or primary Philosophy? We might say that they had begun to
confront the problem of philosophy. Was philosophy simply an attitude toward wisdom (what
we might call a mindset)? Was it a kind of inspired madness? Was it the skilful use of the
tools of language in their application to any subject whatsoever, and thus a kind of craft? Or
was it knowledge of a kind (we would say a science), either possessing its own proper object
of inquiry, or instead being a special way or regarding any object whatsoever? How did the
primary philosophy relate to the knowledge accessible through the special disciplines, such as
mathematics and astronomy? And so forth.
I think that you see the analogy with the problem of astrology. Later on in this talk I will
say some more about the connection between astrology and metaphysics. Suffice it to say
here that these Greek thinkers did not try to define philosophy ahead of time. It is also
pertinent to say here that as a result of their inquiry they shifted later attention to the question
of Being -- namely, what is that which is -- as the proper object of philosophical inquiry, and
that question has dominated metaphysics ever since.
The problem of philosophy was originally the problem of greatest rank in Greek times, and

to some degree the question of Being has maintained that rank until modern times. The
Greeks clearly believed that it was the central problem for all times. But have you ever
watched some of those TV programs with Mortimer Adler or Bill Moyers or other thinkers
where they are discussing the most exalted philosophical issues, including the question of
Being? Now, I don't know about you, but I have never been able to watch these programs
without an acute and keen sense of embarrassment -- this despite the fact that I have spent
almost all my adult life studying philosophical texts. And I have tried to analyze what it is
that embarrasses me. It's not that these people are stupid and I am embarrassed for them. It's
not that I think the issues they are discussing are unimportant. It is something more subtle
than that. It's that they are dealing with questions of weight that are not really their questions;
in some very real sense they are not entitled them. Thus their serious and studied air seems to
me to be a kind of metaphysical affectation. And this embarrasses me -- in a metaphysical
sort of way.
The question of Being became the central question for the Greeks. Is it the central question
for our time? Maybe we should conduct an inquiry into the problem of philosophy all over
again, bearing in mind the strange place and function astrology seems to have in modern
consciousness. Doesn't astrology involve the love of wisdom, too? Maybe a modern inquiry
into the problem of philosophy would no longer reduce itself to the question of Being, of
what always is, of what is eternally present. When Aristotle says that the question of being
was, is now, and always will be the central question, isn't that a prediction, in some sense an
astrological judgment? I keep thinking that astrology has to do with what is in some sense
absent, what will be or what has been, with what is inaccessible to the present. Again, the
Hermetic tradition tells us that astrology can be a tool to dispel ignorance, agnoia? But isn't it
the purpose of wisdom to dispel ignorance? And if it is true to say that in modern times
astrology is the focal point of all our ignorance, wouldn't it show our love of wisdom, that is,
wouldn't we be the true philosophers of modern times, if we undertook to investigate the
problem of astrology?
For some reason, I don't find myself embarrassed when speaking about the problem of
astrology. Someone is bound to ask, "How can you hope to inquire into the problem of
astrology if you can't first define what astrology is?" I assume that what is asked here is not
simply a definition of the word 'astrology', but a definition of the thing that the word refers to.
There is a difference. We might define the word 'man' as a 'human being'; but the entity man
as been variously defined as "a rational animal," "an animal that uses tools," somewhat
facetiously as "a featherless biped with flat nails," (in order to distinguish a man from a
plucked chicken), and in other ways.
Now, even the definition of the word 'astrology' -- what is called the nominal definition -would be difficult enough, for we would have to give an adequate description of what
astrologers do and what they study. One of my dictionaries says "the divination of the
supposed influences of the stars upon human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions
and aspects." I am sure that most modern astrologers would violently disagree with this word
definition, saying that astrology has nothing to do with planetary influences per se, but rather
uses the stars "synchronistically" as a timing-mechanism; many would disagree that it is a
form of divination, preferring to think of it as a science, or perhaps a craft. In order to define
astrology as a word, we would have to completely and adequately describe what different
astrologers in ancient and modern times have studied, and take my word for it, it would be
very hard to find any common denominator here. In any case, the mere nominal definition
would not take us very far in our inquiry into the problem of astrology, although we definitely
think it valuable to be fully acquainted with what astrology is for different modern astrologers
and what it has been for the ancients.
Much more difficult is the essential or "real" definition of astrology as a pursuit that human

beings are concerned with, for then we have to mark off astrology from the other things
human beings do and pursue and demarcate it according to some exact principles. Such a
definition is not merely descriptive as the nominal definition is; it actually purports to say
what something "really" is. In the case of astrology, the essential definition leads us
immediately into a snarl of theoretical issues, which I will try to hint at in a moment. In
ancient times, it was the role of philosophy itself to provide us with the essential definitions
of things.
But SHOULD I attempt to exactly state the problem of astrology -- which obviously
presupposes some definition of astrology itself -- before entering into an investigation of
astrology itself? Now, from a classical point of view -- by which I mean the tradition of Plato
and Aristotle, and the dialectical inquiry in classical times -- it would be a methodological
error to try to define what something is before you begin to inquire about it. At least this is
true for a fundamental inquiry such as the one we are proposing. In fact, in ancient times, the
answer to the question what is something, its definition, was the very last thing obtained or
achieved in any inquiry. It may be first in the order of demonstration, but it is last in the order
of discovery.
Now, there are at least two reasons for this. First of all, it would be impractical. If we had
to agree on what astrology is before we began an inquiry, we would be in some endless
dispute with all modern astrologers, each of whom has a somewhat different idea of what
astrology actually is. We could never come to some agreement ahead of time. And if I took
matters into my own hands and proposed some definition of my own, and then proceeded to
argue my way to some position concerning astrology, then someone is bound to reject my
demonstrations on the grounds that he disagreed with my definition. So the attempt to
propose a definition ahead of time is also inefficient.
But the more important reason is that even if you should propose a definition that many or
even most astrologers agree upon, you will in fact be prejudicing the outcome of the inquiry.
In a very real sense of the word, the way in which a question is stated or a problem posed will
prejudice the outcome of that investigation. And this is something that I believe ancient
thinkers had a very profound understanding of, something that we are largely lacking in the
modern world.
By why can't we propose definitions of astrology and debate their merits? We moderns are
animated by what I would call a debate mentality -- we like to wrangle. We demand that the
contestants in a debate must first define their terms. They then respectively draw up their
arguments pro and con. The contestant with the more persuasive arguments wins. End of
The intention of a debate is to "establish" one side of an argument persuasively. This kind
of wrangling, a somewhat degenerate form of the ancient art of rhetoric, is often confused
with the ancient art of dialectic practiced in Platonic dialogues and Aristotelean treatises. This
is because dialectical argumentation also draws up arguments for and against some position.
But the two are actually miles apart. The intention of dialectical argumentation is not to
establish one side of an argument, but rather to deliberately bring the two sides into a
deadlock, bring the question itself to an impasse, what the Greeks called an aporia. The
reason for this was to systematically draw attention to something that had been overlooked in
the inquiry. As Aristotle said, the aporia or impasse in the intellect makes visible the knots in
the problem, and we cannot make progress in an inquiry if we do not know where the knots
are that are holding us back. We might call this an art of calculated confusion.
Thus, the intention of dialectic is to advance an inquiry. But in a very real sense the
rhetorical arts of persuasion and debate effectively stop the argument, bring the inquiry to a

close; for when we are persuaded we cease to inquire further. It is a terrible perversion of
language to use the rhetorical arts of persuasion in an inquiry into the truth.
Modern astrologers often like to think of astrology as a symbolic language of the stars, a
divine language, and I believe ancient astrologers would also have approved of this
characterization (which is not intended as a definition, by the way). But shouldn't this
celestial grammar, this celestial logic, then be the standard for our human languages? And
may it not be the case that the stars are trying to teach us the proper use of logos, of
language? Wouldn't it then follow that only the proper use of argumentation and dialectical
inquiry will provide us access to the problem of astrology itself?
So, to repeat, I cannot yet define what astrology is, nor should I at this point. But what
about taking a less ambitious approach and tackling some easier questions.
I could indeed draw up a loosely organized list of special questions and problems somehow
connected with THE problem of astrology: Is astrology an art or a science? If it is a science
or some kind of exact discipline, does it have its own proper subject matter? If so, is it about
time itself, human life, natural phenomena such as the weather? Or does it perhaps
encompass the whole breadth and depth of existence? And if, say, it deals with human life, is
it properly person-centered, concerned with our souls and personalities, or is it rather eventoriented, concerned with the events that befall us, or both? And if, say, the events that befall
us, then is it all of them or just a certain class that can properly be labelled astrological?
Again, does astrology use the stars as causes or as timers; or are the stars perhaps speaking to
us in a symbolic or even oracular language that we must interpret? Again, what are the
appropriate validation procedures for astrology? Are they statistical or otherwise
experimental? Again, were the rules of astrology discovered empirically through centuries of
observation or were they the insights of certain enlightened beings possessing a
consciousness beyond that of normal humans? And so on.
But if instead astrology is an art of interpretation, does it more resemble a fine art where
reading an astrological chart is like interpreting a piece of music in performance? Or is it a
craft that follows certain pre-established rules? Or is it perhaps divinitory in nature, requiring
some special intuitive gift on the part of the interpreter?
You get the idea. There are other difficulties. There are a great many surviving astrological
traditions. There is Western astrology, Hindu or Vedic astrology, and astrology as it is
practiced in China and the Orient. Now, in many cases these different traditions use
astrological methods that are virtually contradictory to one another. As a case in point, let me
only mention the Western commitment to a tropic zodiac (which begins the circle of
astrological signs at the vernal point, or point of intersection of the ecliptic and equatorial
circles) and the Hindu insistence on a sidereal zodiac (which divides the zodiac from some
privileged star); these two zodiacs are not coincident, yet the two different astrologies employ
many of the same methods which are dependent on the choice of sign, and they both claim
success in their applications. How can this be? Furthermore, even between and among the
various strata of the Western tradition itself there are many inconsistencies and
incompatibilities of concepts and methods. From the point of view of a fundamental inquiry
of the kind we are proposing, this must be admitted to be a truly sorry state of affairs.
Astrologers do in fact discuss and debate all the issues mentioned above, although I think it
fair to say that their opinions on these matters are at best educated guesses, and at worst are
simply reflections of their personal preferences. It is hard to say whether any of the problems
catalogued above qualifies as THE problem of astrology.

The Plan
In the problem of astrology we have a very special kind of problem. We have to make
inquiry into a subject without being able to define that subject ahead of time (or without even
knowing whether it is a subject matter instead of a method). The subject itself may be
obscured or occulted by the only investigative tools that we have at our disposal, whether
these are the tools of mathematical physics or the application of dialectical or speculative
reasoning. The approach must keep astrology center stage and not allow it to be reduced or
assimilated to one of the special sciences. It must help defamiliarize ourselves with the stale
formulations of astrological problems that have accumulated over the past two thousand years
or better, and which will also prevent us from coming to some artificial and superficial kind
of clarity. But at the same time this procedure has to take us forward to our goal of trying to
gain some initial access to the problem of astrology. Let me lay out the plan that I propose.
The first stage of this plan consists of "the restoration and the recovery of the practical
astrological tradition." The second stage concerns "the search for a theoretical foundation,"
and the third stage I call "the securing of the Metaphysics of Metaphysics". This division is
just a declaration of intention, in recognition of the requirements we have laid out above.
I will be explaining each of these stages in a moment, but I want to make a prefatory
remark. Even though I've laid these out as three stages, I don't mean that they are to be
followed sequentially. Rather, all three of these stages have to be pursued simultaneously. I
know no way of doing proper and responsible translations of ancient astrological writings
without coming face to face with theoretical issues. In my opinion, it would be foolish to
simply spend the next ten years routinely translating astrological writings and only then try to
confront the theoretical questions. For one thing, the translations would not be that good.
Unless we have grappled with the theoretical issues, we are in no position to translate even
the practical aspects of the ancient astrology correctly. In the very first Greek translations that
I did I found myself immediately in a nest of theoretical and metaphysical problems, and
without confronting those I don't think we would have gained much of the clarity that I think
we have gained in interpretation and use of these ancient methods.
I also know of no way of pursuing an inquiry into the theoretical foundations of astrology
that does not presuppose an extensive and prior familiarity with the entire practical
astrological tradition, and that does not immediately involve us in philosophical and
ultimately even esoteric concerns. In other words, the restoration of practical astrological
methods, the pursuit of theoretical foundation, and the attempt to understand the higher
philosophical and metaphysical implications of the astrological tradition itself -- all three of
these concerns implicate one another and cannot really in any way be done separately. We
have in fact been pursuing them simultaneously.
Now let me begin to talk a little bit about the first stage, the restoration and recovery of the
practical astrological tradition. This first stage has been officially underway for better than
four years now, going under the name of Project Hindsight. During this period of time we
have translated about 2/5 of the surviving astrological writings from Hellenistic times, and
made at least a dent in the large number of astrological works written in Medieval Latin.
One of the most interesting things we have discovered so far is that there is an incredible
stratification of the astrological tradition. It is not one seamless whole. It does not have what I
would call conceptual integrity. Before we can hope to understand the astrological tradition
on its own terms and in accordance with its own presuppositions, we must first try to resolve
the tradition into its component strata. Let me try to give you an idea of what we are up
against by briefly tracing the astrological tradition that developed in Europe and the Middle

The best evidence seems to indicate that astrology began with the Babylonians some time
during or before the 5th c. B.C.E. It quickly spread to Egypt, Persia, and India. Around 200
B.C.E. the astrology developing in Egypt was translated into Greek and made available to the
Mediterranean peoples, resulting in a tremendous flowering of astrology during the
Hellenistic era that lasted up until the 6th c. C.E. Beginning in the 9th c., the fundamental
Greek astrological texts from Hellenistic times were translated into Arabic. The Arabs also
drew directly on Persian and Indian sources and compounded these with the Hellenistic
material. In the 13th and 14th centuries, many Arabic astrological texts were translated into
Medieval Latin. As we enter the Renaissance, a revisionist attitude set in, and many
astrologers attempted to purge the Arabic-style astrology of the Latin west of its Arabic
influence using the Greek astrological writings of Ptolemy as the paradigm of a "rational"
astrology, unwittingly throwing out much of the legitimate Hellenistic tradition at the same
time. Toward the end of the 17th c. astrology begins to fade out. It barely survives for a
couple of centuries until we get up to modern times in the 20th century, where we have a kind
of astrological revival which is based originally on just little scraps of astrological knowledge
that have managed to survive through the intervening centuries. This revival is conducted
virtually in ignorance of all the earlier astrological texts except for Ptolemy, and even he is
poorly understood.
This should give you some idea of the kind of complexity of the astrological tradition as it
has come down to us. Now, there is something I want to emphasize because it has great
bearing on what we are trying to do with our translation program: The western astrological
tradition develops through an attempt to interpret written texts. Each successive generation of
astrologers going all the way back to Hellenistic times has tried to interpret the written texts
of their predecessors. There appears to have been very little continuity of oral transmission of
astrological doctrine as there supposedly is in India, where you have master/student
relationships and the astrological doctrine has been handed down through families for
Thus the foremost astrologers of the C.E., Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens, are all trying to
interpret the writings of earlier generations of astrologers, and ultimately the root text of
Hellenistic astrology, a work attributed to Nechepso and Petosiris, an Egyptian pharaoh and
his high priest, dated to around 200 B.C.E. This work does not survive intact, but only in
excerpts quoted by later astrologers. Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens often interpret key
passages in this root text in totally different ways. Now, even the writings of Ptolemy,
Dorotheus and Vettius Valens are not especially clear in many places so we have another
generation of astrologers who are basically compilers who are trying to study the work of
those three Greek astrologers and trying to understand what they have said, and there are
differences of opinion in the interpretation of these primary Greek astrologers whose writings
we possess in some state of completion. Then all this material is translated into Arabic, a
language very different than Greek, and you can guess at some of the problems Arabic
astrologers must have had with their Greek sources.
So, not only is the astrological traditions stratified but it appears that in many cases the
tradition was not transmitted intact. In my opinion, there have been numerous errors of
translation and misinterpretation, particularly as the astrological material went from Greek
into Arabic. What this means is that much of the astrological doctrine that survives into the
late Renaissance must be bracketed, you might say. If we can plausibly argue that some of
these astrological doctrines and some of these astrological concepts can be due to
misunderstandings or mistranslations, we must in some way treat them specially or treat them
differently. It doesn't mean that they are necessarily incorrect -- the history of thought is full
of creative misinterpretations of earlier traditions -- but it seems to me that such material
must be put into a separate category until it can be tested.

Once we have resolved the tradition into its component strata and diagnosed the errors of
transmission, and before we can hope to re-synthesize the tradition in a manner that will not
leave us with a lot of conceptual fault-lines that are bound to cause us trouble later, we have
the task of understanding each stratum without anachronism, that is, on its own terms and
from its own presuppositions. This is far from easy to do. Although modern astrological
concepts bear some resemblance to those of ancient times, they have altered in subtle ways.
The astrological vocabulary of the Greeks is in some ways very similar to our own, but in
other ways extremely different. Key concepts like the astrological word for a sign, the
astrological use of rulership, [house] all these kinds of things for the Greeks have a kind of
slightly different significance, or in some cases a very major difference from the way in
which we use these concepts in modern times. They make look familiar to us, but in fact they
are not. It takes a special art to defamiliarize ourselves from what we think we understand
about astrological concepts and confront the tradition afresh, and this is really what Hindsight
is all about.
[Goal to restore the lost work of Nechepso/Petosiris from its fragments.]
Yet at the same time, by studying an astrology which is still very different from us, even
though it has this suspicious air of familiarity about it, by studying these ancient writings we
can in fact get a kind of clarity about our own thinking and our own astrology that we would
not necessarily have if we simply sat down and tried to approach the problem of astrology
directly, stating the problem in modern terms and so forth. It is a commonplace that you learn
more about your own language by studying a foreign language, and the same thing applies
There is one point I would like to make clear. Despite all the time we have been spending
translating and restoring the tradition, we do not consider ourselves to be antiquarians. We are
not librarians trying to preserve the tradition out of mere historical interest. After all, these
ancient astrologers had their day; we are modern people and we have to create a modern
It is clearly valuable to study the astrological tradition for what it has to offer us.
Hellenistic astrology, for instance, is in many ways the source of all later Western traditions.
And we do find in this Greek astrology a greater integrity and coherence of astrological
concepts, and this can set standard for us in our effort to create a modern astrology.
However, even though we have been spending all this time with the Greeks, our intention
is really to basically to rid ourselves of the burden of the Greeks. It is very hard to get free of
the Greeks. It is very hard to do that scientifically, mathematically, philosophically and also
astrolo-gically. The Greeks haunt us. They always have. One might say that the reason they
haunt us is that we have never given them a decent burial. Their ghosts are ever present, and
even if we don't know it, Greek principles and Greek thinking are always pulling our strings
in ways that we are not always aware of. Our intention is to become aware of how those
ancient dead Greeks are in fact pulling our strings.
So we don't want to simply admire and return to an ancient time. We would like to take the
ancient writings, understand them on their own terms, and from their own presuppositions,
and get out of them what we can get out of them. And then, bury them so we can be free from
them at last. Now this may seem like a somewhat disrespectful attitude. In fact, I think it is
the most respectful attitude we can have towards past thought. In order to welcome the future
of any discipline we basically have to give the past, or give our ancestors, a decent burial.
And if we don't do that, we will be forever subject to various concepts, various procedures,
various ways of thought that the Greeks began that are not necessarily appropriate to our time
any longer. So when we study these ancient writings, it is always with an intention to

ultimately get free from them.

Let me move on to the second stage in our attack on the problem of astrology, the stage
that we call "The search for a theoretical foundation." Here our first task is to identify, isolate,
and critique all the theoretical frameworks, ancient and modern, that have already been
proposed for astrology, implicitly or explicitly. These are actually quite numerous. As far as
explicit ancient frameworks are concerned, let me here mention only Ptolemy's attempt to
reconceptualize astrology in terms of Aristotelean natural philosophy and the medieval
attempts to draw on an interesting doctrine called "light metaphysics."
But everywhere in earlier astrology we find the free use of scientific and philosophical
concepts, particular the Aristotelean distinction between form and matter, the classical
doctrine of the elements and the primary qualities, the intensification and relaxation of forms
(the classical concepts employed for the understanding of the variation of qualities), These
concepts are often used with great skill for the purpose of "deriving" delineations of aspects,
transits, dispositorship, etc. We should also mention the Stoic concepts of fate, their
epistemological concepts, and so forth.
You can imagine how the confusing manner in which these concepts are used at all stages
of the astrological tradition complicates the stratification problem considerably. We also have
to ask ourselves whether these concepts are integral to the astrological teachings, since they
have been either discredited or left behind by modern physics.
But there is also in ancient astrology, particularly in that of the Hellenistic period, evidence
of an implicit theoretical framework, and this may be of even more importance to us in our
search, because it may be one more intrinsic to astrology itself, if only we can disclose it.
This evidence is found in the Greek astrological vocabulary itself. All the key words of Greek
astrology seem to have been very carefully chosen so as to contain a deliberate and
characteristic ambiguity. Sometimes the words could belong either to the field of causal
thinking or that of oracular divination; other times it is hard to determine whether they are
referring to entities or images. And there are other equally fundamental dichotomies. But
more about this when we come to the third stage of our investigation.
What about the potential of developing a theoretical foundation for astrology out of
modern thought? You have no doubt heard many astrologers talk with great enthusiasm about
the most avant garde research of the modern sciences - quantum theory (which of course is
not simply avant garde any more) chaos theory, Bell's theorem, super string theory, the
morphogenic fields of Sheldrake, transpersonal psychology, God knows what -harboring the
belief that these new developments in physics will eventually pave the way for a true
astrological theory.
Now, in my opinion, astrology and physics are by no means on a convergent course. It is
comparatively easy to show, for instance, that in so far as chaos theory could make celestial
causation plausible, it would make astrological prediction impossible; and in so far as
astrological prediction is possible, chaos theory is irrelevant. Analogous things could be
shown for almost all the avantgarde theories of science, and we have already done quite a bit
of this work.
[Haven't even made a real attempt to investigate astrology in terms of classical physics.
Assume that astrological influence is anything wavelike, etc.]
In fact, I think it would be a terrible tragedy if astrology were conceptualized in terms of
physics, psychology, or any of the special sciences. In ancient times astrology seemed to have
a rank and a role nearly equal to that of metaphysics, in so far as it took as its province the
whole of reality. And if we were to define or conceptualize astrology in terms of any of these

special modern sciences, however powerful they may seem, we would not be doing justice to
the promise that astrology has always held out for mankind -- we would be selling it short.
But there is a more serious danger here. If we examine the methodology of the special
sciences, we will find that they can only deal with astrological phenomena -- or any
phenomena -- by taking these phenomena and turning them into something that they can deal
with, often times by leaving behind or denaturing what was characteristic about those
phenomena in the first place. In my opinion, the events that astrology studies are not
intrinsically objects of physics, psychology, or any other special discipline. I say this because
we have already been making a systematic attempt to formulate hypotheses from the special
disciplines intended to account for astrology.
In order to organize this particular part of the inquiry we have invoked the word "phase" -p-h-a-s-e -- which by the way is derived from the Greek word phasis, another of those
ambiguous astrological terms, and one very dear to my heart since it's a word that means on
the one hand "speaking" and on the other hand "appearing" and seems to give us access to all
manner of esoteric phenomena.
In any case, the word "phase" we understand to be an acronym for philosophy, history,
astrology, science and esotericism (or possibly epistemology, or possibly experience, all of
which we understand to be summarized under the letter "e"). From time to time we have even
flirted with the idea of putting an "r" on the end of this word, which might stand for
"religion", because certainly there is abundant evidence that astrology was central in many
ancient religions and there may have even been an astral religion at one point. But the
intention behind this particular acronym is to emphasize, by putting the "a" or "astrology" in
the very center, that we are in the first instance trying to understand astrology in terms of the
modern disciplines, philosophy, history, science, epistemology or experience, possibly
esotericism, if you can understand that to be a discipline.
We have seen that many of the concepts in these disciplines are not applicable to astrology
as they stand. Instead, they need to be stretched, modified, or as I like to say, rehabilitated,
before they can be applied to astrological phenomena. In many cases they have to be
modified almost beyond recognition. The attempt to honestly conceptualize astrology in
terms of the special disciplines invariably takes them to a frontier they were never designed
to explore.
Thus, this problem of astrology goes well beyond the astrological framework itself. It can
be an indirect way of studying and critiquing the modern sciences and other disciplines, and
in my opinion this is one of its greatest advantages. If we fail in our attempt to solve, so to
speak, the problem of astrology we will certainly find something interesting along the way, if
nothing else but the limitations and vulnerabilities of the sciences themselves.
As I mentioned a moment ago, we have already formulated several hypotheses concerned
with the meaning and workings of astrology. In fact, we have developed a hypothesis
corresponding to each of the letters in PHASE: The Hypothesis of a Temporal Field
reconceptualizes the field concept from physics so as to accommodate temporality and
consciousness and make plausible a kind of astrological causality. The Hypothesis of
Metaphysical Appropriation is a philosophical hypothesis, originating in the near-equivalence
of the Hellenistic concept of familiarization, which describes the way the signs are related to
the planets via rulership, and Heidegger's metaphysical concept of appropriation, which
describes the way in which Being and Man are related. The Hypothesis of a Celestial
Grammar deals with the issue of astrology as a symbolic language; it uses Greek grammar to
articulate both the rational and the oracular character of celestial communication. Finally, the
Hypothesis of Ritualistic Connection seeks to understand the sequential connection of the

astrological events themselves in terms of the defining moments in ritual, as an alternative to

causal and effect relations.
Now, these hypotheses are all very provisional and they are by no means intended to be
definitive. However, I do believe that they are exemplary in the sense that they indicate how
deep we may need to dig, and how deep down we may have to place our columns, in order to
begin to begin to support the true weight of astrological phenomena. Or understanding these
hypotheses themselves to be supports (the Greek word hypothesis simply means something
set underneath something else -- that is, a "support") we may begin to locate the grounding
bedrock upon which an astrological discipline may be erected.
Let me say something now about the third stage, what I've called "the securing of the
metaphysics of metaphysics." In the search for the theoretical foundation we are primarily
attempting to apply the special disciplines to astrology, but remember, with the expectation
that they would somehow fail. In the securing of the metaphysics of metaphysics we turn this
procedure around. We could still use the acronym "phase" but instead of trying to apply
philosophy, history, science and esotericism to astrology, we begin with astrology and we ask
the questions, "What type of philosophy is appropriate to astrology as it survives? What type
of historical hypotheses may be used in connection with astrology? What type of science is
really appropriate to astrological phenomena without in some way denaturing them, as
modern physics in my opinion most assuredly would? What type of esotericism really
belongs to the astrological tradition itself? In other words, in this stage of the project or of the
investigation what we do is keep astrology center stage and use it to redefine and reorganize
the modern disciplines themselves.
Why the title "Metaphysics of Metaphysics?" Now I chose that title very deliberately
because, in my mind, metaphysics has two completely different meanings. My background
being in the study of ancient and modern philosophy, when I heard the word metaphysics, I
always understood it to mean the study of Being, as it was for the Greeks. It was a great
surprise to me when I first went into a bookstore and looked for the metaphysical section
expecting to find some new books on Aristotle, and found instead books on crystals, out-ofbody experiences, meditation, occultism, and astrology. This was long before I was involved
in the astrological world, by the way.
So what am I trying to get at by this little phrase here, the "metaphysics of metaphysics."
There is a statement by a Neo-Platonist philosopher named Iamblichus in a strange book
called On The Mysteries. In this book another neo-Platonist Porphyry (of Porphyry house
fame, for the astrologers here) is directing a number of questions about the Egyptian religion
to an Egyptian priest. In the course of the answering of these questions the priest says that the
men who translated the Egyptian sacred writings into Greek -- and these sacred writings
included the their magical, alchemical, and astrological writings, all generally attributed to
one of their sages names Hermes -- the men who translated these sacred writings into Greek
were men who were trained in Greek philosophy, presumably the philosophies of the
Athenian Greeks Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.
Now, this is a very astonishing statement and it made a great impression on me. If we take
it seriously (it is several hundred years after the fact), it means that in Hellenistic astrology
we may have an absolutely unique event, something that had probably never happened before
and has not happened since. We may have a deliberate and unprecedented fusion of what we
might call the straight Athenian philosophical tradition and the esoteric traditions of the
Middle East.
Now, I think that we have already found abundant evidence of this fusion in the Hellenistic
writings, but whether or not this turns out to be valid, the term metaphysics of metaphysics

reflects that goal, the goal of somehow bringing the straight philosophical tradition together
with the esoteric tradition, and this without reducing the one to the other, the goal of showing
the esoteric implications of philosophy and the philosophical import of esotericism.
I keep thinking of the Harranian Sabians, that strange cult in the Arab world who
considered themselves the heirs to classical antiquity, but who had the goal of arranging and
articulating all the sciences and disciplines from the Greek world underneath the master
disciplines of astrology, alchemy, and magic. Even the metaphysics of the Greeks became a
handmaiden to the esoteric disciplines.
As I hinted earlier, doesn't the problem of astrology give us a golden opportunity to rethink
metaphysics from the ground up. We propose to ask anew the question: what is the primarily
love of wisdom, for don't we all think that astrology has something to do with wisdom?

To cite this page:

Robert Schmidt: The Problem of Astrology
----------------------All rights reserved 2000 Robert Schmidt




Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie

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