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The Female Contribution to Generation and Nutritive Soul in Aristotle’s Embryology

From the book Nutrition and Nutritive Soul in Aristotle and Aristotelianism

  • Sophia M. Connell


In de Generatione Animalium (GA) Aristotle argues that both parents contribute to generation through differentiated products of the nutritive process, governed by nutritive soul. This appears to agree in general with the fact that the nutritive soul is the same thing as the generative soul, as set out in de Anima. This essay analyses the contribution of the female animal to generation as a nutritive residue and the result of her nutritive functioning. The female contribution to generation is made useful by its location and latent potentials: it ends up in the uterus ready to become all the parts of the new animal’s body, once its own nutritive soul becomes actualised. After giving a comprehensive overview of the content of the female contribution as residue of nutrition, the last part of the essay articulates a challenge that this presents for Aristotle’s account of nutritive soul. Since the female is unable to generate without the addition of the male generative residue, it would seem that her nutritive soul is defective, lacking the generative capacity that males possess. Articulating this problem requires a closer analysis of the connection between nutrition and generation in Aristotle philosophy. The essay finally concludes that because the female animal’s soul attempts to perpetuate an animal the same in form into the next generation this is enough to render it generative as well as nutritive.

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