How sexist is Aristotle's developmantal biology?

Phronesis 52 (3):251-69 (2007)
The aim of this paper is to evaluate the level of gender bias in Aristotle’s Generation of Animals while exercising due care in the analysis of its arguments. I argue that while the GA theory is clearly sexist, the traditional interpretation fails to diagnose the problem correctly. The traditional interpretation focuses on three main sources of evidence: (1) Aristotle’s claim that the female is, as it were, a “disabled” (πεπηρωμένον) male; (2) the claim at GA IV.3, 767b6-8 that females are a departure from the kind; and (3) Aristotle’s supposed claim at GA IV.3, 768a21-8 that the most ideal outcome of reproduction is a male offspring that perfectly resembles its father. I argue that each of these passages has either been misunderstood or misrepresented by commentators. In none of these places is Aristotle suggesting that females are imperfect members of the species or that they result from the failure to achieve some teleological goal. I defend the view that the GA does not see reproduction as occurring for the sake of producing males; rather, what sex an embryo happens to become is determined entirely by non-teleological forces operating through material necessity. This interpretation is consistent with Aristotle’s view in GA II.5 that females have the same soul as the male (741a7) as well as the argument in Metaphysics X.9 that sexual difference is not part of the species form but is an affection (πάθος) arising from the matter (1058b21-4). While the traditional interpretation has tended to exaggerate the level of sexism in Aristotle’s
developmental biology, the GA is by no means free of gender bias as some recent scholarship has claimed. In the final section of the paper I point to one passage where Aristotle clearly falls back on sexist assumptions in order to answer the difficult question, “Why are animals divided into sexes?”. I argue that this passage in particular poses a serious challenge
to anyone attempting to absolve Aristotle’s developmental biology of the charge of sexism.
Keywords Aristotle  Sexism
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1163/156852807X208008
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive Devin Henry, How sexist is Aristotle's developmantal biology?
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Benjamin Goldberg (2013). A Dark Business, Full of Shadows: Analogy and Theology in William Harvey. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):419-432.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

193 ( #6,805 of 1,724,750 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

47 ( #24,939 of 1,724,750 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.