History and Philosophy Of Science | Occult in Western Civilization
E104 | 23108 | William Newman


Occult in Western Civilization
Professor William Newman
MW  10:10 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

The occult is a theme that is deeply ingrained in the history of
Western Civilization.  From antiquity to the present, segments of
our society have laid claim to an esoteric wisdom that could only be
revealed to those who are worthy of its exercise.  Such “occult”
pursuits as alchemy, astrology, and magic played an important role
in the formation of modern science during the scientific revolution
of seventeenth century, and subsequently had a major impact on
poetry, music and the pictorial arts.  And yet, if we considered
pursuits that are usually deemed to make up “the occult,” it is
remarkable how little these fields have to do with one another.
What does alchemy, and artisanal pursuit related to metallurgy, have
in common with divinatory practices such as astrology, oneiromancy,
or crystal-gazing?  What does witchcraft have to do with
extraterrestrial life?  The occult in Western Civilization will
answer these questions and others.  It will also argue that the
occult sciences-especially alchemy, astrology, and natural magic-
were originally predicted on quite reasonable bases consistent with
the best science and philosophy of their time, however, they may
have been altered in late twentieth-century culture.  By thinking
carefully about the relationships among science, philosophy, and
those disciplines traditionally classified as “occult” students will
learn about the nature of scientific knowledge more generally.  The
basic goals of the course, then, will be to instill a historical
understanding of the occult while at the same time stimulating
philosophical reflection on the nature of scientific knowledge in
general.