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Methodology in Aristotle’s Theory of Spontaneous Generation

Authors
  • Zwier, Karen R.1
  • 1 Drake University, Medbury Hall 206, 2507 University Ave, Des Moines, IA, 50311, USA , Des Moines (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of the History of Biology
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Oct 10, 2017
Volume
51
Issue
2
Pages
355–386
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s10739-017-9494-7
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
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Abstract

Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation offers many puzzles to those who wish to understand his theory both within the context of his biology and within the context of his more general philosophy of nature. In this paper, I approach the difficult and vague elements of Aristotle’s account of spontaneous generation not as weaknesses, but as opportunities for an interesting glimpse into the thought of an early scientist struggling to reconcile evidence and theory. The paper has two goals: (1) to give as charitable and full an account as possible of what Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation was, and to examine some of its consequences; and (2) to reflect on Aristotle as a scientist, and what his comments reveal about how he approached a difficult problem. In particular, I propose that the well-recognized problem of the incompatibility between Aristotle’s concept of spontaneity and his theory of spontaneous generation presents an opportunity for insight into his scientific methodology when approaching ill-understood phenomena.

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