- Aristotle’s Generation of Animals: A Critical Guide ed. by Andrea Falcon, and David Lefebvre
In the summer of 1983, a group of scholars met in Williamstown, MA for a workshop directed by Allan Gotthelf. Many of the papers presented at this meeting grew into Philosophical Issues [End Page 552] in Aristotle’s Biology (Cambridge, 1987). The aim of the workshop and volume to follow was to engage with Aristotle’s biological works from a genuinely philosophical perspective. That volume was a watershed moment for the “biological turn” in Aristotle studies.
The present volume is compiled in the same spirit, growing out of several conferences and collaborations spearheaded by the late Gotthelf, who was to co-edit the volume until his death in 2013. It presents a range of recent scholarship on the Generation of Animals (GA) rather than a running commentary on the treatise. Its thirteen papers are divided into four sections. For this review, I consider a different division I found helpful for my own reading: (1) papers concerning the overall aim, method, or structure of the GA; (2) papers concerning specific issues native to the GA itself; (3) papers concerning broader issues in Aristotle’s thought that are fruitfully illumined by the GA.
Of the first sort I count five papers. Gotthelf and Falcon argue that the GA’s five books constitute a unified account of the moving cause in animal generation and development in view of the telos to be achieved. The GA explains not only processes leading up to birth, but also post-natal developments resulting in a fully mature individual, that is, the genuinely final telos of animal generation. Lefebvre, for his part, gives a careful reading of the GA’s prologue to understand the treatment of animal generative parts in the GA rather than in Aristotle’s distinct treatise on the parts of animals. Mariska Leunissen gives an analysis of Aristotle’s method in GA 2 and his attention to the “natural order” that organizes his treatment of different modes of reproduction among animals and their relative degrees of perfection. Cristina Cerami also considers Aristotle’s account of animal types on the scala naturae, along with the vital heat proper to each rung, but her concern is with the instrumentality of each species’ distinctive share in vital heat for its own self-preservation. Finally, Pierre Pellegrin examines passages in the GA that help explain the close connection Aristotle sees between nutrition and reproduction, both belonging to the same soul capacity. Reasons for this, Pellegrin argues, can be gleaned from the GA being more about nutrition than has been appreciated.
Of the second sort, Jessica Gelber contributes to a substantial literature on the female in Aristotle’s biology. She acknowledges Aristotle’s commitment to male superiority, since females cannot concoct seminal residues for reproduction. She therefore agrees with the “standard view” that sees females as defective males, but insists that this “needs to be made precise” (175). Against the “standard view,” then, she argues persuasively that Aristotle regards female offspring as a teleological success—being for the sake of something—without thereby reducing sexual differentiation as such to non-teleological necessity. Devin Henry considers precisely how Aristotle is an epigenesist given recent work in developmental biology. His paper evaluates to what degree animal generation follows a fixed sequence for Aristotle. Marwan Rashed gives a thorough treatment of semen in Aristotle’s theory, especially how it is a homoeomery (i.e. a whole that shares a name with its parts). Jocelyn Groisard’s paper considers hybrids while Sophia Connell’s considers deformities, but both with an eye to broader concerns on the horizon, including metaphysical (e.g. the nature of substantial form) and epistemological (e.g. explanation and demonstration).
Three papers fall into my third category, making explicit use of the GA for broader debates in Aristotle. Gregory Salmieri uses the GA’s account of embryological movements that individuate form(s) to sort out issues in the debate about particular substantial forms...