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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter 2020

Heaven Can Tell . . . Late Medieval Astrologers as Experts – and what they can Teach us about Contemporary Financial Expertise

From the book Making the Medieval Relevant

  • Klaus Oschema


In taking action, or rather in making the decision to act, humans are inevitably confronted with a fundamental dilemma: actions taken in the present seek to bring about consequences in an immediate or distant future, but that future is, by definition, unknown and unknowable. That even the present is characterized by a high degree of complexity can lead to the establishment of a particular group: experts or expert advisers. Experts are individuals credited with specific knowledge and who are relied upon in order to make informed decisions or solve particular problems. While many authors consider the development of cultures of expertise to be a uniquely modern phenomenon that responds to the increasing complexity of social organisation, this chapter argues that late medieval astrologers can be described as ‘experts’, and that their activities can be analysed fruitfully as being part of an ‘expert culture’. In order to appreciate fully the characteristics and workings of this culture, medievalists have to rely upon insights and findings derived from the Social Sciences. While an interdisciplinary dialogue benefits research on medieval subjects, I argue that the analysis of premodern ‘expert culture’ can (and must) inform reflexions on the role of experts in modern societies. Based on drawing a comparison between modern financial experts and late medieval astrologers, I argue that analysis of the latter enables us to better understand our reliance on experts as an act of belief rather than as an outcome of supposedly rational calculation.

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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