Aristotle’s Embryology and Ackrill’s Problem

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  • 1 Departamento de Filosofia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Rua Tranquilo Prósperi 353, Campinas 13084-778, Brazil

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Ackrill’s Problem is a tension between Aristotle’s alleged view that the matter of a living being is a body that is essentially ensouled, and his view that the matter of a substance preexists its generation. Most interpreters solve the tension by claiming that the subject of substantial generation is not the organic body of the living being, but its non-organic matter. I defend a different solution by showing that the embryological theory of On the Generation of Animals implies that the organic body of a living being already exists before acquiring the soul in actuality.

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  • 5

    See Ackrill 1972/3, 125; Shields 1999, 133.

  • 24

    By contrast Söder and Weber 2009, 140 think that it means ‘sperm’.

  • 27

    As noted by Kosman 2010, 156-60 Aristotle’s standard way to characterize the male’s contribution to the generation is that it provides the efficient cause. The claim that it is responsible for the form of the animal is much less prominent, though it is made at ga 1.20, 729a9-10 and, implicitly, at 2.1, 732a3-4.

  • 28

    See Peck 1942, p. xiii; Lloyd 1992, 150; Henry 2006, 283.

  • 29

    See Gelber 2010, 200. Gelber also notices that Aristotle says that wind-eggs have the nutritive soul only ‘potentially’ and never acquire it in actuality unless they are fecundated. This makes it somewhat problematic for Aristotle to take them as evidence that females can produce the nutritive soul. Interpreters have also expressed the worry that the view that the nutritive and the perceptive soul-parts are produced by two entirely distinct agents might push us towards a rather crude representation of the soul, as an entity constituted by parts that are separable ‘in a quite robust way’ (Connell 2016, 173).

  • 30

    See Platt, 1912, n. 1 ad 736a35; Peck 1942, 167 n. a; Sanchez 1994, 140 n. 44.

  • 34

    Platt 1912, n. 6 ad 737a19, thinks that the passage must be misplaced (though he is not able to indicate the original position). But the question of whether sperm and embryos have a soul is central to much of what Aristotle discusses in the first chapters of Book 2.

  • 38

    Söder and Weber 2009, 140-1 read T3 in this way.

  • 40

    See Lennox 2010. Lennox shows that, for Aristotle, the specific ways in which a kind of animal feeds, reproduces, perceives, moves and so on, are all connected by teleological links. For instance ‘a hawk is essentially a carnivore that hunts by soaring at great heights; this means it must fly (i.e. its wings must function) in a way that fits the way of life of a bird that captures and kills prey of a certain kind; but doing that requires eyes that see very clearly at a great distance, a digestive system suited to raw flesh, hooked talons so that it can pick up the prey that it dives in to capture, and so on’ (Lennox 2010, 345).

  • 41

    See Peck 1942, 167 n. e; Louis 1961, 60 n. 4; Balme 1992, 158; Sanchez 1994, n. 47.

  • 45

    Balme 1992, 158. It should be noted that, on Balme’s interpretation, the fact that ‘such embryos’ live like plants is not there to explain why unseparated embryos do not have the nutritive soul in actuality, but why separated embryos have it. But, as we have seen Aristotle says that even animal seeds are ‘no less alive than plants’, even though they do not have an actual soul (both on my interpretation and on Balme’s).

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