Why list astrology as a science?

Something about Leviathan that may strike a first-time reader, is that it takes a long time to get to the meat of “the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill” as Hobbes first had to rewrite the whole of western philosophy, without which there would be no firm basis on which to build the rest.  Within it, he provides a table of the arms of science, and within it appears ‘Astrology’. This is jarring as that ‘science’ is a nonsense , so why include it?

Hobbes knew that astrology is a nonsense, In Leviathan it is mentioned just twice: in the list of sciences and in a description of heathen superstitions practised by the Romans (‘and esteemed a part of judiciary’), along ‘Necromancy, Conjuring, and Witchcraft; and is but juggling and confederate knavery’. Its appearance in a table of the sciences has a sound basis though. It is not the only fraud to appear in the list either.

Hobbes classifies science according to consequences looked for. Thus “Consequences from the Motion, and Quantity of the great parts of the World, as the Earth and Stars” are “Cosmography”, of which come Astronomy and Geography; while “Consequences from the Motion of Speciall kinds, and Figures of Body” can be subdivided to include “Mechaniques, Doctrine of Weight” from which come the Science of Engineers, Architecture, Navigation.

Next we come to “Consequences from the Qualities of Bodies Transient” and “Consequences from the Qualities of Bodies Permanent”, the latter divided into “Consequences from the Qualities of the Starres” (which is today the cutting edge of astronomy), and within this a subdivision “Consequences from the Influence of the Starres” is Astrology.

Hobbes knew as well as we do that there are no consequences from the influence of stars. However it was a genuine field of study. Many apparently intelligent men spent their lives in this study. Therefore it has a place in the list. These days ‘critical race theory’ and ‘intersectionalism’ (unknown in the Stuart Era, and destined to be unknown after our day) are listed amongst the sciences, as they should be, though they are just as fallacious as astrology.

(I am aware that Dara Ó Briain performs a long comedy sketch on the theme ‘astrology is worse than racism’. He is right in terms of science, but it was a comedy sketch, and astrology has not caused wars, mass-slaughter, slavery and the mistreatment of whole populations the way racism has and the way intersectionalism can, or to be more accurate it has not done so in Europe since Roman times nor in India since the Raj.)

There have been, counter-intuitively, scientific advances made from the study of astrology. The centuries spent in study proved no consequences at all from the alleged influences of the stars, with two consequent effects: the study proved that the idea is nonsense such that field was closed down for all but idle entertainment, and all the data collected over the ages supplied the science of astronomy, and from that came Newton’s Laws of Gravitation.

Kepler (whose work was known to Hobbes) dabbled in it, but apparently just to make a living to enable him to carry on his serious work. To the extent that he did believe there was anything to it, it was a failure in his discernment or an unwillingness to discard an area of study, and evidence of how late this idea lasted in respected circles. This does not detract from Kepler’s genuine achievements, which Hobbes considers in De Corpore, but in noting his dabbling we learn the lesson that no scientist or philosopher however great should be taken as infallible.

It is recognised that the fruitless work of alchemists created the science of chemistry, on which our modern world is wholly dependent. Study of an error is still study, and the student may by endeavouring prove a great truth, if he is honest enough to accept that experiment is not to prove a pet theory but to test it, and perhaps to disprove it. It may reveal more, that was unexpected.

‘Knock-knock – Wh-neutrino-o’s there?’ A study of the apparently faster-than-light neutrinos made for improvements in measurement, and a reaffirmation of Einsteinian theory. The study of ‘race science’ sought to prove a Darwinian scale of evolution between races, but in fact proved the opposite, which was a valuable outcome of scientific research.

All this considered, in our day we could not list astrology as a branch of science because it is not studied, the study is complete and wound up and no one serious believes there are ‘Consequences from the Influence of the Starres’. It is right the that in his time Hobbes listed astrology as a science because it was an actual field of serious study (while ensuring his contempt for it is clear), and it is right that we do not so list it today. Likewise it is right today to list intersectionalism and Marist analysis as sciences, and to study and test them to the proof of their nullity: in a later age they will come off that list, condemned with Kepler’s last folly.

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Author: LittleHobb

Solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short