Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Week 5, TT18)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

Aristotle’s innovative theory of generation, put forward in his Generation of Animals Book I, rejects the idea that male and female contributions mix to form the new animal. He proposes instead that the male contributes nothing material but is rather a certain ‘capacity (dunamis) and a [source of] change (kinêsis)’ (GA 729b6). At first he optimistically supposes this will be unproblematic given ‘the carpenter is not in the wood’ (729b16). However, at the beginning of Book II he troubles himself with a series of puzzles (aporiai) that this creates for the connection between semen and soul.  How can his theory work given the interconnectedness of soul and body and the fact that natural objects usual have an internal rather than an external source of change?  Some commentators propose that the puzzles are only solved in GA II.5 when Aristotle says that in animals (as opposed to plants) the female supplies the nutritive soul and ‘the male is that which makes the [sentient] sort of soul’ (741a13-14). I will argue that this remark has been misread by some to indicate that the male contributes sentient soul alone, implying that this variety of soul is separated out from nutritive capacities. I argue that Aristotle’s answer to the puzzles is complete by the end of GA II.4: the male contribution is the tool of the male animal’s soul, working remotely to convey the required actualisation to materials poised to become the new animal. The text makes plain that the male activates both nutritive and sentient aspects of soul and that the female contribution must have the capacity to develop both parts. Aristotle’s embryology, then, actually helps us to understand how inseparable these ‘parts’ of soul are in animals.

Chair: Guus Eelink

If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair, Guus Eelink, by Tuesday 22nd May. 

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Prof Ursula Coope, Dr Karen Margrethe Nielsen, and Dr Luca Castagnoli