Chapter

Teleology and Spontaneous Generation in Aristotle

Allan Gotthelf

in Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199287956
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191738296 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199287956.003.0006

Series: Oxford Aristotle Studies Series

Teleology and Spontaneous Generation in Aristotle

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This chapter offers a close reading and translation of the relevant passages on spontaneous generation in Generation of Animals III.11, showing that the ‘vital heat’ picked up from the water or moisture in which most spontaneously generated organisms are formed is not species‐specific, but carries an undifferentiated (irreducible) potential for life; the specific type of organism produced is a function of the particular material on which the vital heat acts. There is thus no directiveness upon the form of the kind of organism produced, and so no teleology. It is shown that, contrary to the view of some scholars, Aristotle's actual account of spontaneous generation sheds no light itself on the basic character of his teleological theory, and that there is no evidence that Aristotle reflected on the broader metaphysical implications of the new theory of spontaneous generation he presents in GA III.11.

Keywords: Aristotle; spontaneous generation; teleology; vital heat; Generation of Animals

Chapter.  4898 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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