28.01.2019 On Aristotle’s ‘Generation of Animals’ – a Comprehensive Approach

Report about the international conference

Gruppenbild vor dem Eingang des Tagungsgebäudes
Foto: Diego De Brasi

An international conference on Aristotle’s biology, organized by Sabine Föllinger and Thomas Busch (Greek Studies) and funded by the Karl and Gertrud Abel-Stiftung and the Universitätsstiftung Marburg, took place from 22-24 August 2018. The conference focused on Aristotle’s work ‘Generation of Animals’ (GA), dedicated to the explanations of processes of generation and heredity. There was a vivid discussion about this topic in  the 5th and 4th century BCE, especially amongst the Presocratic philosophers and the Hippocratic authors. In discussing other opinions and by using concepts of his own physics and metaphysics Aristotle developed a broad and still fascinating theoretical approach for explaining the phenomena, in which he was interested not only with respect to human beings, but to the whole world of animals.

The conference aimed to bring together scholars from different countries who are specialists in this area of Aristotelian philosophy and to reach a picture as complex as possible of this work, which plays a central role for Aristotelian biology and which also became very important in the history of biology.

After a short introduction into the situation of research by the organizer Sabine Föllinger there were four sessions in which the papers were organized. The contributions of the first session “The role of matter in Aristotle’s theory of reproduction” treated Aristotle’s embryology (Diana Quarantotto, Rome) and his explanations of crossbreeds (Sophia Connell, London) and studied his concept of matter (Anne Siebels Peterson, Salt Lake City) and the relation of ‘De generatione animalium’ to Hippocratic concepts (Christoph Hammann).

The contributions of session 2 “Structure and Methodology” dealt with the relation of ‘De generatione animalium’ and ‘Historia animalium’ (James Lennox, Pittsburgh; Katharina Epstein, Freiburg), the position of the fifth book of GA (Klaus Corcilius, Tübingen), the role of analogies for explanation (Kurt Sier, Leipzig) and Aristotle’s argumentation and its literary representation in ‘De generatione animalium’ (Sabine Föllinger/ Thomas Busch, Marburg).

Session 3 “GA and Aristotle’s physics and metaphysics” focused on Aristotle’s concept of the male seed (David Lefebvre, Paris), his idea of the heart as ‘arché’ in ontogenesis (Christof Rapp, München), the relation of Aristotle’s approach and Platonic concepts (Devin Henry, London, Ontario), the problem of ‘Spontaneous generation’ (James Wilberding, Berlin) and the central role ‘pneuma’ plays in Aristotle’s theory (Jochen Althoff, Mainz).

The contribution of session 4 “The reception of GA” (Oliver Hellmann, Trier) was dedicated to the reception of GA in the peripatetic philosophy.

Conference Proceedings will communicate the results of this exciting conference, which was full of discussions.

To get an impression of the conference, take a look at the poster and the program.

For more impressions of the conference, have a look at the pictures.