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The Thomist 64 (2000): 21-69 THE ARISTOTELIAN BACKGROUND TO AQUINAS'S DENIAL THAT "WOMAN IS A DEFECTIVE MALE" MICHAEL NOLAN National Univm-sity ofIreland Dublin1 Dublin, Ireland INTRODUCTION 0 ne of the commonplaces of the contemporary reading of Aristotle is the belief that he holds that "a woman is a defective male." He is also believed to hold that the female, both animal and human, is passive whereas the male is active, and that the male human embryo receives a rational soul earlier than does the female. The same positions are attributed to the heirs of his philosophy, notably Aquinas. In point of fact, Aquinas rejects the suggestion that "a woman is a defective male" no fewer than six times.2 His Franciscan colleague Bonaventure also denies explicitly that woman is defective.3 Nor does Aquinas say that the male human embryo is ensouled earlier than the female. The defects in the common reading involve, at their core, a misreading of Aristotle. It is the central contention of this paper that Aristotle holds none of the positions mentioned above. It is true that Aristotle writes to thau hi5sper arren esti peper6menon (the female animal is as it were a peper6menon 1 Requests for reprints should be addressed to the author at Maurice Kennedy Research Centre, National University of Ireland Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4. 2 Aquinas, II Sent., d. 20, q. 2, a. 1, ad 1; IV Sent., d. 44, q. 1, a. 3c, ad 3; Summa Ibeologiae I, q. 92, a. 1, ad 1; Summa Ibeologiae I, q. 99, a. 2, ad 1; De Veritate, q. 5, a. 9, ad 9; Summa contra Gentiles III, c. 94. 3 Bonaventure, II Sent., d. 20, a. un., q. 6, ad 1. 21 22 MICHAEL NOLAN male)4 and thatthe root meaning of peperamenon is "mutilated." it is a word that has different meanings in different contexts, rather as the word "lost" different meanings when we say that someone lost a purse, lost an eye, lost a game, or indeed lost his life. Meanings depend on context. If one reads in a book of English law that "the Queen can do no wrong," one may be initiaHy surprised at this seeming assertion of royal sinlessness, but the phrase simply means that the Queen cannot be prosecuted or sued in English courts. Aristotle's phrase, when set in its context, that of theory of generation or reproduction, likewise does not carry meaning it has at first sight. One should note that Aristode does not say that woman is peperamenon, but rather that the female of any species (to thi1u) is peperamenon. The phrase occurs in his general account of animal reproduction and it has no specific reference to woman, though it does of course apply to her. Naturally, Aquinas and Bonaventure, as Christian thinkers, give the phrase particular attention precisely because it could be taken to imply that woman, whom God fashioned, is defective. This they vigorously deny. Moreover, Aristotle does not write that the female animal is a peperamenon male, but that it is as it were (h6sper) a peperamenon male. H6sper (or h6s per) is a word limits or modifies an assertion, like the Latin tanquam.5 the Middle Ages William of Moerbeka translated it as quemadmodum,6 and Peck's modern translation gives "as it were."7 An initial purpose of the present is accordingly to inquire what Aristotle means by saying female is as it were peper6rnenon." 4 Aristotle, On the Gmeration ofAnimals 2.3.737a28 (hereafter GA). 5 Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon (revised by Stuart Jones and McKenzie), s.v. hOanEp.n 6 He writes "femella est quemadmodum orbatus masculus." See Aristoteles Latinus: De GenerationeAnimalium, trans. Guillelmi de Moerbeka, ed. H.J. Drossart Lulofs (Brnges and Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1966). 7 A. L. Peck, trans. and ed., De Gmeratione Animalium, Loeb Classical Library. Most of the translations in this article follow this great Cambridge scholar, who devoted thirty years to the study of Aristotle's biological works. WOMAN IN ARISTOTLE AND AQUINAS 23 I. ARISTOTLE A) Meanings of pepih5menon and Related Words Peperamenon is the neuter of the passive participle of the verb peroi5, "to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 21-69
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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