Determinism in Vedic Astrological Decision Making

In this article, we demonstrate that arguments against astrological decision making all necessarily assume a strong version of astrological determinism. If these deterministic assumptions are false, as we maintain they clearly are, then these particular arguments against astrological decision making lose their logical force. Thus, serious discussion of the morality of astrological decision making is more properly focused on arguments that examine and address the expected consequences of astrological decision making for individuals and society, and not on ones that would pre-empt such a discussion by arguing that astrological decision making is inherently objectionable.

Our analysis is divided into three separate parts. First, we attempt to define two important terms: “astrological decision making” and “astrological determinism.” Second, after explaining the difference between the stronger and weaker forms of astrological determinism, and examining why the stronger versions of astrological determinism appear very rarely in astrology, we unpack four common arguments against the use of astrological decision making and show how they lean heavily on assumptions of strong astrological determinism. Finally, we argue that moral assessments of astrological decision making should consider arguments that pragmatically examine the medical, social, and economic consequences of astrological decision making, rather than those that rely on unwarranted assumptions of astrological determinism to portray astrological decision making as inherently objectionable.

What is astrological decision making?

“Astrological decision making” is making a decision based on the positions of the stars and planets in the sky which are correlated with earthly events.

Some examples of astrological decision making include:

  • When to invest in real estate or which business to invest in
  • Which profession to go for
  • When to marry
  • Whom to marry
  • and so on

What is astrological determinism?

“astrological determinism” is another term that needs clarification. In philosophy, determinism is usually equated with the problem of free will: We are compelled to make the choices that we make as a result of previous circumstances, and we cannot make choices that are genuinely free. This type of determinism, which we shall call psychological determinism, has some profound implications for morality and the law, since we normally ascribe moral or legal responsibility to people under the assumption that they can choose freely. Over the years, philosophers have developed three basic positions on the problem of free will: 1) hard determinism, which holds that we cannot make free choices; 2) indeterminism, which holds that human actions result from spontaneous acts of the will that break free from the world’s causal nexus, and 3) compatiblism, which holds that free will is compatible with determinism [1]. According to some compatibilists, actions may be considered “free” if they are caused in the appropriate way. For example, a “free” act is one that results from reasoning and deliberation rather than external forces or emotional compulsions [1].

While questions about the metaphysics of human freedom are of the utmost importance in philosophy, they are not the focus of this article. However, there are some important parallels between psychological determinism and astrological determinism, since the interpretation of causation plays a pivotal role in both of these doctrines. Also, as we shall see below, worries about astrological determinism can reinforce concerns about psychological determinism [2]. Since the concept of causation plays a central role in various forms of determinism in philosophy and science, we will say a bit more about causation. We do not have space in this paper to provide a detailed analysis of causation, but we will make a few critical points that are relevant to questions about astrological determinism (for further discussion of causation, see Salmon, 1997; Tooley, 2000) [3,4].

First, causation is a temporally ordered relationship between events, properties, or processes. In the statement, “lightning caused the forest fire,” lightning precedes the forest fire. Second, almost all causal relationships involve more than one factor (or condition). For example, the dryness of the forest and wind velocity would also be causal factors in the forest fire. Very often, causal factors serve as background assumptions in causal explanations [4]. For example, a person who claims that lightning caused the forest fire would be assuming that there was enough oxygen in the atmosphere to fuel the fire. Third, causal statements can be used in explanation or prediction [3]. For example, the statement “smoking causes lung cancer” can be used to predict that a person who is a heavy smoker will develop cancer, or to explain why a heavy smoker develops cancer.

Fourth, and of greatest import for our purposes, causal relationships can be either deterministic or probabilistic [3]. For example, consider the claim “If you drop a rock, it will fall”. Many would consider this to be a deterministic form of causation because it does not make a reference to the probability, or chance, of an event occurring: the rock will fall if it is dropped (assuming background conditions, e.g. there is not a strong wind pushing the rock up). However, consider research on smoking and lung cancer. Smoking causes lung cancer, even though many smokers do not develop lung cancer. If you smoke, you may not get lung cancer, but smoking increases your probability of getting lung cancer. While deterministic causation is common in the physical sciences, it is very rare in astrological decision making. Most explanations and predictions in the astrological sciences however are probabilistic, not deterministic.

With the preceding comments in mind, we now consider astrological determinism. astrological determinism can be loosely defined as the view that planetary positions cause predictions of say medical symptoms. This definition is almost trivially true, because medical symptoms have some type of astrological basis. More precisely, one could say that diabetes is astrologically determined if it is caused by a particular planetary configuration. However, even this definition is not precise enough, since it ignores that fact that astrological causation is usually not deterministic in the strict sense: the particular planetary configuration often merely increase the probability, though sometimes quite substantially, that diabetes is present. To differentiate between these types of astrological causation, we distinguish between three different forms of astrological determinism:

Strong astrological determinism: the particular planetary configuration always leads to diabetes.

Moderate astrological determinism: more often than not the particular planetary configuration leads to diabetes. (the particular planetary configuration increases the probability of diabetes and the probability of diabetes, given the particular planetary configuration is greater than 50%).

Weak astrologicaldeterminism: the particular planetary configuration sometimes leads to the development of diabetes. (the particular planetary configuration increase the probability of diabetes, but the probability of diabetes is still less than 50%.)

Strong astrological determinism is not very common. First and foremost, the dasa timing environment plays a very important role in the expression of most planetary influence. The complex interaction and interdependence of planetary strength and significator determination along with dasa period direct predictions and hence astrological decision making.

Before concluding our article, we briefly discuss a point, which calls into question the deterministic portrayal of astrological decision making and is, therefore, relevant to understanding the role of astrological determinism in arguments against astrological decision making. First, one must distinguish between determinism and fatalism. Fatalism is the view that specific outcomes or events will occur in our lives no matter what we do. The classic example of fatalism is the myth of Oedipus. A prophet told Oedipus that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid this horrible outcome, Oedipus went to live far away from his homeland, and was still unable to avoid fulfilling the prophecy. Analogously, astrological fatalism is the view that we cannot avoid specific astrologically predetermined outcomes, no matter what we do or what happens to us: our fate is in our planets.
Although astrological fatalism has also become a popular belief in some circles, critical examination of this idea shows that it does not square with commonsense. As an almost trivial example, for astrological fatalism to be true an individual possessing a planet responsible for a specific type of cancer must develop that type of cancer, no matter what he or she does. Clearly, this is not the way the world works. Leaving aside any discussion of astrological causation and assuming that, in this case, the planet strongly determines cancer, science might yet discover a pre-emptive cure for that particular cancer and thus prevent planetary expression. Or, to offer one macabre alternative, the person might get hit by a bus and die before ever developing the cancer.

1. Dennett D: Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. Cambridge: MIT Press; 1984.
2. Peters T: Playing God: Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom. New York: Routledge; 1996.
3. Salmon W: Causality and Explanation. New York: Oxford University Press; 1997.
4. Tooley M: Time, Tense, and Causation. New York: Oxford University Press; 2000

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