Old Age, Sickness, and Female Nature in Aristotle: The Scope of an AnalogyLaetitia Monteils-Laeng (UNIVERSITE DE MONTREAL)
University College 2105
1151 Richmond Street
In the Generation of Animals, Aristotle develops a system of analogies between children, elderly men, and the sick on the pretext that the inability to produce semen is common to all three (GA I, 18, 725b19-23). To this list, women should be added because they too are unable to produce semen (GA, I, 20, 728a17-20). Women, elderly men, and the sick all have a cold nature, which is interpreted by Aristotle as a deviation from the norm represented by the healthy adult male.
Thus, by naturalizing the historical subjugation of women by men, Aristotle’s biology provides a necessary basis for it. The physiological imperfection of women (their lack of heat) produces psychological weaknesses that justify their eternally subordinate position. It is tempting to interpret the degenerative hypothesis used to explain the aging process (GA V, 3, 783b-784b)as having a similar function, namely the biological justification of the social and political marginalization of the elderly. This interpretation is particularly attractive given that the aging of the body affects dianoia (Pol. II, 9, 1270b40-1271a1), and given that Aristotle sometimes discredits the intellectual and moral capacities of the elderly (Rhet. II, 13). However, it is not clear that his arguments for marginalizing the elderly are developed with as much systematicity as those he uses to exclude women from the affairs of the city.
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