Summary Against Modern Thought: Celestial Bodies Don’t Control Our Will

Previous post.

Celestial bodies don’t control our intellects or wills; though they may control our bodies. Well, the moon’s gravitation, for instance, does do something to us.


1 It further appears from this that the celestial bodies are not the causes of our acts of will or of our choices.

2 Indeed, the will belongs in the intellectual part of the soul, as is evident from the Philosopher in Book III of On the Soul. So, if celestial bodies cannot directly make an impression on our intellect, as we showed, then neither will they be able to make an impression directly on the will.

3 Again, every choice and act of will is caused immediately in us from an intelligible apprehension, for the intellectual good is the object of the will, as is clear from Book III of On the Soul [10]. For this reason, perversity cannot result in the act of choice, unless the intellectual judgment is defective in regard to the particular object of choice, as is evident from the Philosopher in Ethics VII [3]. But the celestial bodies are not the cause of our act of understanding. Therefore, they cannot be the cause of our act of choice.

4 Besides, whatever events occur in these lower bodies as a result of the influence of celestial bodies happen naturally, because these lower bodies are naturally subordinated to them. So, if our choices do occur as a result of the impression of celestial bodies, they will have to occur naturally; that is to say, a man might choose naturally to have his operations go on, just as brutes are involved in operations by natural instinct, and as inanimate bodies are moved naturally. In that case, there would not be choice and nature, as two active principles, but only one, and that is nature. The contrary of this view is evident from Aristotle, in Physics II [5]. Therefore, it is not true that our choices originate from the influence of the celestial bodies.

5 Moreover, things that are done naturally are brought to their end by determinate means, and so they always happen in the same way, for nature is determined to one result. But human choices tend to their end in various ways, both in moral actions and in artistic productions. Therefore, human choices are not accomplished by nature.

6 Furthermore, things that are done naturally are done rightly in most cases, for nature does not fail, except in rare cases. So, if man were to choose naturally, his choices would be right in most cases. Now, this is evidently false. Therefore, man does not choose naturally. But he would have to if he chose as a result of the impulsion of celestial bodies.

7 Again, things that belong to the same species do not differ in their natural operations which result from the nature of their species. Thus, every swallow builds its nest in the same way, and every man understands naturally known first principles in the same way. Now, choice is an operation resulting from the species of man. So, if man were to choose. naturally, then all men would have to choose in the same way. This is clearly false, both in moral and in artistic actions.

8 Besides, virtues and vices are the proper principles for acts of choice, for virtues and vices differ in the fact that they choose contraries. Now, the political virtues and vices are not present in us from nature but come from custom, as the Philosopher proves, in Ethics II [1], from the fact that whatever kind of operations we have become accustomed to, and especially from boyhood, we acquire habits of the same kind. And so, our acts of choice are not in us from nature. Therefore, they are not caused from the influence of celestial bodies, according to which things occur naturally.

Notes Don’t let your children watch television or the internet or listen to music without constant supervision.

9 Moreover, celestial bodies make no direct impression, except on bodies, as we showed. So, if they are the cause of our acts of choice, this will be either because they influence our bodies, or because they influence external things. But in neither way can they be an adequate cause of our act of choice. In fact, it is not an adequate cause of our choice, for some corporeal things to be externally presented to us; for it is clear that on encountering some pleasurable object, say an item of food or a woman, the temperate man is not moved to choose it, but the intemperate man is moved.

Likewise, whatever change might take place in our body as a result of the influence of a celestial body, it would not suffice to cause our choice, because there are no other results from this in us than certain passions, more or less strong. But passions, whatever their strength, are not an adequate cause for choice, since by the same passions an incontinent man is led to follow them by choice, while a continent man is not so induced. Therefore, it cannot be said that celestial bodies are the causes of our acts of choice.

10 Furthermore, no power is given anything unless it has a use. But man has the power of judging and deliberating on all the things that may be done by him, whether in the use of external things or in the entertaining or repelling of internal passions. Of course, this would be useless if our choice were caused by celestial bodies which do not come under our control. Therefore, celestial bodies are not the cause of our act of choice.

Notes Teleology is implicit.

11 Again, man is naturally a political animal, or a social one. This is apparent, indeed, from the fact that one man is not sufficient unto himself if he lives alone, because nature provides but few things that are sufficient for man. Instead, it gives him reason whereby he may make ready all the things needed for life, such as food, clothing, and the like; one man is not sufficient to do all these things. So, to live in society is naturally implanted in man. But the order of providence does not take away from a thing what is natural to it, but provides for each thing in accord with its nature, as is evident from what we have said. Therefore, man is not so ordered by the order of providence that his social life is taken away. Now, it would be removed if our acts of choice arose from impressions due to the celestial bodies, as do the natural instincts of other animals.

12 Besides, it would be useless for laws and rules of living to be promulgated if man were not master of his own choices. Useless, too, would be the employment of punishments and rewards for good or evil deeds, in regard to which it is not in our power to choose one or the other. In fact, if these things disappear, social life is at once corrupted. Therefore, man is not so established by the order of providence that his choices originate from the motions of the celestial bodies.

Notes Proving free will, incidentally.

13 Moreover, men’s choices are made in regard to goods and evils. So, if our choices originated from the motions of the stars, it would follow that the stars would be the direct cause of evil choices. But an evil thing has no cause in nature, since evil results from a defect of a cause and has no direct cause, as we showed above. Therefore, it is not possible for our choices to originate directly and of themselves from celestial bodies as causes.

Notes Substitute “genes” for “stars” and you have the same argument and conclusion.

14 Now, someone might be able to oppose this argument by saying that every bad choice arises from a good that is desired, as we showed above. For instance, the choice of an adulterer arises from the desire for a pleasurable good associated with sexual activity, and some star moves him toward this universal good. As a matter of fact, this is necessary for the accomplishment of the generating of animals, and this common good should not be set aside because of the particular evil of this person who makes a bad choice as a result of such prompting.

15 But this argument is not adequate if celestial bodies are claimed to be the direct cause of our choices, in the sense that they make direct impressions on the intellect and will. For the impression of a universal cause is received in any being according to the mode of that being.

So, the influence of a star, that impels toward the pleasure associated with the generative act will be received in any being according to its own mode. Thus we observe that different animals have different times and various ways of reproducing, according to what befits their nature, as Aristotle says in his treatise on the History of Animals [V, 8].

So, intellect and will are going to receive the influence of this star according to their own mode. But, when an object is desired in accordance with the mode of intellect and reason, there is no sin in the choice; in fact, a choice is bad, always because it is not in accord with right reason. Therefore, if celestial bodies were the cause of our choices, there would never be a bad choice for us.

16 Moreover, no active power extends to effects that are beyond the species and nature of the agent, for every agent acts by virtue of its form. But the act of willing surpasses every bodily species, as does the act of understanding. Indeed, just as we understand universals, so also is our will attracted to the universal object; for example, “we hate every kind of thief,” as the Philosopher says in his Rhetoric [II, 4]. Therefore our will-act is not caused by a celestial body.

17 Furthermore, things that are related to an end are proportioned to that end. But human choices are ordered to felicity as their ultimate end. Of course, it does not consist in any corporeal goods but in the union of the soul with divine things by way of understanding, as we showed above, both according to the view of faith and according to the opinions of the philosophers. Therefore, celestial bodies cannot be the cause of our acts of choice.

18 Hence it is said: “Be not afraid of the signs of heaven which the heathens fear; for the laws of people are vain” (Jer. 10:2-3).

19 By this conclusion the theory of the Stoics is also refuted, for they claimed that all our acts, and even our choices, are ordered by the celestial bodies. This is also said to have been the position of the ancient Pharisees among the Jews. The Priscillianists, too, shared this error, as is stated in the book On Heresies [Augustine, 70].

Notes Kabbalists perpetuate this error.

20 It was also the opinion of the old natural philosophers who claimed that sensation and understanding did not differ. Thus, Empedocles said that “the will is increased in men, as in other animals, in respect to what is present”; that is, according to the present instant resulting from the celestial motion that causes time, as Aristotle reports it in his book On the Soul [III, 3].

21 Yet we should note that, though celestial bodies are not directly the cause of our choices, in the sense of directly making impressions on our wills, some occasion for our choices may be indirectly offered by them, because they do make an impression on bodies, and in a twofold sense.

In one way, the impressions of the celestial bodies on external bodies are for us the occasion of a certain act of choice; for instance, when the atmosphere is disposed to severe cold by the celestial bodies, we choose to get warmed near a fire or to do other such acts which suit the weather.

In a second way, they make an impression on our bodies; when a change occurs in them, certain movements of the passions arise in us; or we are made prone by their impressions to certain passions, as the bilious are prone to anger; or again, some bodily disposition that is an occasion for an act of choice may be caused in us by their impression, as when, resulting from our illness, we choose to take medicine.

At times, too, a human act may be caused by the celestial bodies, in the sense that some people become demented as a result of a bodily indisposition and are deprived of the use of reason. Strictly speaking, there is no act of choice for such people, but they are moved by a natural instinct, as are brutes.

Notes Thus will has levels.

22 Moreover, it is plain and well known by experience that such occasions, whether they are external or internal, are not the necessary cause of choice, since man is able, on the basis of reason, either to resist or obey them. But there are many who follow natural impulses, while but few, the wise only, do not take these occasions of acting badly and of following their natural impulses.

This is why Ptolemy says, in his Centiloquium: “the wise soul assists the work of the stars”; and that “the astronomer could not give a judgment based on the stars, unless he knew well the power of the soul and the natural temperament”; and that “the astronomer should not speak in detail on a matter, but in general.” That is to say, the impression from the stars produces its result in most people who do not resist the tendency that comes from their body, but it is not always effective, for, in one case or another a man may resist, perhaps, the natural inclination by means of reason.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *