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Teleology and Necessity in Aristotle’s Account of the Natural and Moral Imperfections of Women

Thursday Lecture Series, Materiality

dateApril 10, 2014 timeThursday, 12:10pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
17th century manual titled "Aristotle's Master-Piece Improved" with illustration of naked woman and child and man writing

Aristotle’s focus in the ethical treatises is on the moral development of men, and in particular, on that of the future (male) citizens of the ideal city. Infamously, Aristotle excludes natural slaves and women from the life of happiness that requires the activity of practical wisdom and moral virtue. In this talk, Professor Leunissen turn to Aristotle’s views about the natural character traits and moral development of women and lay out their biological underpinnings. She argued that, even though Aristotle never states this explicitly, his ethical views about the moral deficiencies of women are causally grounded in and explained by his biological views about the physiological imperfections of women relative to male members of the human species. Women – and female animals in general – are what she called a product of ‘secondary teleology’, which results in them having a colder material nature, and hence in having ‘bad’ natural character traits, in being naturally ruled, and in lacking ‘authority’ in their deliberative capacity.