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Is Aristotle’s Account of Sexual Differentiation Inconsistent?

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Chapter Summary

Many scholars have found Aristotle’s explanation of parental resemblance in De Generatione Animalium to be inconsistent with the hylomorphic theory of sexual differentiation developed in GA I. The later passage claims that the female imparts motions of her own through the material she contributes, while the earlier account seems to assign all form-imparting motions to the father, limiting the female’s contribution to passive, inert matter. I shall argue that the alleged inconsistency should instead be understood as reflecting the GA ’s overall plan of exposition, which makes IV 3 the final refinement of definitions of male and female advanced provisionally in Book I. I propose to locate GA IV 3 within two larger contexts of a carefully constructed exposition. Most immediately, IV 3 belongs to the sequence of argument beginning at the start of book IV dealing with sexual differentiation. But the issues in IV reach back to the very beginning of the GA and the definition of male and female as stated there (which raises but postpones the question of parental resemblance). Scholars who regard Aristotle’s account as inconsistent—and even many who don’t—have failed to appreciate the progressive unfolding of an Aristotelian exposition.



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