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Sextus Empiricus
An ancient philosopher's criticism of astrology

Bart Koene

This article first appeared in Correlation 15(2), 26-34, Winter 1996/1997. For this version the abstract has been expanded and the notes have been incorporated into the text.

Abstract -- The book Against the Professors written by the Greek physician and philosopher Sextus Empiricus around 200 AD gives many arguments against astrology -- as-above-so-below sympathy does not exist, astrology cannot exist unless all things are destined, forecasting sure events is useless (they cannot be avoided), forecasting unsure events is useless (they can be avoided), why birth and not conception, birth time is uncertain (birth is a long process), birth time cannot be accurately known by the observer of the sky (who might be on a mountain peak), the sky cannot be observed in daytime or on cloudy nights, many people are born at every instant but none was equal to Plato or Alexander the Great, many people with different births nevertheless meet the same end, astrological analogies (Leos are brave like lions) are absurd, astrology is meaningless unless the same planetary positions produce the same result. Many of these arguments are still in use today. Interestingly they cannot be dismissed as the ravings of a practitioner of scientism, reductionism, materialism, or neopositivism, because Sextus was none of these. Instead he practised an early form of skepticism that resolved uncertainties by suspending judgement, a sort of ignorance is bliss. What is the nature of X? All we can know is how it seems. But what is its real nature? Suspend judgement, and thus achieve tranquillity! Nine references.

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