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Free Will Ain’t Freefreedom 1

During the middle ages one of the complaints raised by the Catholic Church against astrology was that it threatened free will. The Church needed free will. It just didn’t seem right that a just God would condemn a person to eternal damnation if what they did was determined by their horoscope. In response to this complaint, and to avoid being burned at the stake, astrologers began incorporating free will into their use of astrology.

Psychological astrologers in the 20th century revived this practice. They decided that astrological indicators only provide the psychological motivation for certain behaviors. It was up to the individual to choose how to direct that motivation. “The stars incline but do not compel” was their motto. This trend has persisted and it remains a central theme for most western astrologers, including myself.

With this in mind, you can imagine how shocked I was when I read that modern philosophers have ruled that free will doesn’t exist. The basic idea, as expressed by contemporay philosopher Galen Strawson, is that you do what you do because of the way you are. The way you are is the product of genetic and environmental factors over which you have no control. Therefore, you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do. You cannot presume to have free will.

Strawson is approaching the question of free will from a rationalist and materialist point of view. He excludes the possibility of reincarnation, mysticism and astrology. However, if he had asked he would have found that some astrologers, particularly those from the Hellenistic or Indian schools, actually agree with him. They also see free will as an illusion. For these astrologers the horoscope is the map of your fate. It can’t be changed. You might be able to ameliorate the worst of it with chants and precious stones but you are basically locked in to what the chart tells you.

When you really think about it, the combination of astrology, environment and genetic doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for free will. I can say that your choices make a difference but if your choices are determined by “the way you are”  is that really true? After all, it isn’t like a wiser version of you is going to swoop down and make the choice for you. The “you” making the choice will always be the “you” with your particular genetic and environmental makeup. It is always going to be the “you” described in your natal horoscope and the “you” impacted by current transits and progressions.

Strawson is one of many philosophers who advances this determinist theory. However, he admits that he has trouble living by it. When a colleague or friend does something praiseworthy, he congratulates them as if they were responsible for “the way they are,” and when he makes a mistake he blames himself as if he were responsible for “the way he is.” Even though his philosophy is based on determinism, he conducts his day-to-day life as if he and everyone else had free will.

This may be the ultimate truth. Even if free will is an illusion, it is a necessary illusion. In order to live a full and meaningful life we need to believe that our choices matter and that we make those choices freely. We also need to believe that we are ultimately responsible for the outcome of those choices. To live any other way is to surrender a big chunk of our humanity.

I’m holding on to my belief in free will and I’m going to continue to make it a large part of the way I do astrology. I might be wrong. I might be going against the prevailing winds of modern philosophical thought, but I’m willing to take that chance. After all, to people like Galen Strawson, believing in free will might be nuts, but it isn’t any more nutty than believing is astrology.


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