Peter Adamson – Why Should Historians of Philosophy Care about Astrology?


Event Date: 27 October 2018
The Lecture Room
Warburg Institute
Woburn Square,
Bloomsbury,
London WC1H 0AB

The Warburg Institute presents:

The 2018 Coffin Trust Lecture

Professor Peter Adamson (LMU/KCL) – Why Should Historians of Philosophy Care about Astrology?

Though philosophers nowadays do not spend a lot of time thinking about astrology, in the history of philosophy it is a major topic whose importance is generally underestimated. Astrology was endorsed and even practiced by some philosophers, including ‘the Philosopher of the Arabs’ al-Kindī, while other philosophers like Augustine or al-Fārābī were harshly critical of this science. Still others took a middle ground, for instance by saying that astrology might be possible in principle but not in practice, or by arguing that astrological influence is real but leaves space for free will. In this talk an overview will be given of the main philosophical themes that emerge from discussions of astrology in late antiquity and the medieval period, in both the Latin Christian and Islamic spheres: determinism and freedom, the question of how heavenly causation works and how it relates to divine providence, and the epistemic status of this science (and whether it is a science at all). We will also discuss the way that astrology served as a vector for the transmission of ideas across linguistic and cultural boundaries.

Peter Adamson’s primary areas of interest are late ancient philosophy and Arabic philosophy. His two monographs deal with the Arabic version of Plotinus, the so-called “Theology of Aristotle,” and with al-Kindi (d. after 870 AD). He has devoted articles to several figures of the Greek tradition: Aristotle, Plotinus, and Porphyry; and numerous philosophers of the Arabic tradition, including al-Kindi, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Yahya Ibn ‘Adi, Miskawayh, Avicenna, and Averroes. He has also edited and co-edited numerous books, including “The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy,” three further volumes on philosophy in the Islamic world for the Warburg Institute, several volumes for the Institute of Classical Studies including “Philosophical Themes in Galen,” and “Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays” for Cambridge University Press. In 2012 Prof Adamson moved to the LMU from King’s College London. He is also the host of the History of Philosophy podcast.

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