Re: Who is Richard Tarnas?
It's surprising that Tarnas takes astrology so seriously. The intellectual sophistication necessary to write an exceptional book like The Passion of the Western Mind
seems incompatible with the intellectual sloppiness I associate with astrology. His belief in astrology doesn't detract from my opinion of the book; it's just unexpected. For more background, here's the Wikipedia
article about Tarnas.
FYI, this book focuses on philosophy in terms of understanding the world, as opposed to moral or political philosophy.
Hi Julian. Your point about the sloppiness of astrology is well made. Popular astrology is extremely sloppy, relying on hunches rather than evidence. Overall, astrology proceeds by anecdote rather than evidence - "I know some people who are Leo's so all Leo's must be like that" is a very illogical way to form beliefs. It is no surprise that rational people's attitude towards astrology is so contemptuous, given that its role in mass culture is somewhat akin to creationism in pushing society towards a cosmology that lacks evidence. However, the problem is more complex than that.
I have had a long interest in the relation between astrology and science. I found Tarnas' book Cosmos and Psyche very good, although it still suffers from the anecdotal method that bedevils most astrology. I met Richard when he visited Australia a few years ago, and I quizzed him on this question of how astrology sits against the mainstream content of The Passion of the Western Mind. He said (or at least this is the impression I formed) that his interest is to formulate a new wholistic paradigm of attunement to the cosmos, and that Passion of the Western Mind was essentially preparatory for his real work on this agenda. Cosmos and Psyche looks at the patterns of the outer planets, and argues there are clear trends in history.
Tarnas describes the evidence he finds of planetary cycles as 'compelling'. Although his method is more systematic than conventional folk astrology, it suffers from the problem that all astrological effects are so weak that it has been impossible to design statistical tests that will deliver predictable results, except in the weak case of the Gauquelin planetary effects. Most astrologers are more interested in intuition than statistics, so by astrological standards Tarnas is compelling, even though his methods are not statistical. My view is that large scale epidemiological tests could measure for weak astrological effects, for example on Tarnas' main theme of planetary transits, such as when Saturn returns to the position it occupied when you were born. That is another matter.
On freedom, I think Tarnas might question your distinction between political philosophy and epistemology. His argument seems to be that every epistemology has a politics, for example Locke's tabula rasa argument served as a basis to reject religious forms of thought by privileging the modern rational capitalist individual.
Your namesake Julian the Apostate had, if I am not mistaken, a prime agenda of restoring the pagan astrological worldview in the face of Christian hostility.