He argued that women were 'incomplete' men, because they did not
reproduce semen, which supposedly contained a whole human being.
Furthermore, he argued that women were of only instrumental value
(that is, to be used for carrying children and doing the housework)
rather than of value as people with their own aims and goals.
Aristotle's arguments were later picked up by Thomas Aquinas, a
Christian philosopher. Aquinas perhaps was influenced so much by
Aristotle because he could incorporate Aristotle's ideas almost
seemlessly with those of Christianity. It is perhaps a melding of
Aristotillian thought with Christianity that has led to the misogynist
views of women as 'incomplete', 'naturally inferior', 'the weaker sex'
etcetera. These views were most prevalent up until mid way through
last century; only since the 1960s have they really been challenged.
Information on Greek society's views of women (pre-Aristotle), as well
as those of Aristotle himself can be found here:
It might be interesting for you to read Plato's thoughts on the
matter, seeing as he was Aristotle's teacher.
Some points of interest about Plato's thought and from the man
"Confined within the parental home until a husband was chosen for her-
at which time she would be in her mid-teens, he at least fifteen years
older- the Athenian woman of the citizen class would then be
transferred to the home of her husband where she was to fulfil her
principal function, of bearing and rearing children.
Of those children (on the average, four or five in number, one or two
of whom might die at birth), the sons would be raised within the
family - particularly in post-war years when there was a shortage of
men - but ordinarily only one daughter, at most, would be reared.
Other girl children would probably be exposed; if they did not die,
they might be picked up by slave dealers or prostitutes and prepared
for a life of slavery, prostitution, or both."
"Plato's attitude to women was ambivalent. In some of his writings he
advocated a fairer deal for women. In his idealised Republic he
foresees an upperclass of guardians among whom the chattel status of
women is abolished (i.e. she is no longer owned by her husband) and in
which women were to receive equal education to men.
On the other hand, he ascribed the inferior status of women clearly to
a degeneration from perfect human nature. It is only males who are
created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live
rightly return to the stars, but those who are cowards or [lead
unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into
the nature of women in the second generation. This downward progress
may continue through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In
this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings
and can hope for ultimate fulfilment; the best a woman can hope for is
to become a man (Plato, Timaeus 90e)."
And thoughts on and by Aristotle:
"The reason for women's inferiority lies in a defect. Women are
defective by nature because they cannot reproduce semen which
contains a full human being. When a man and a woman have intercourse,
the man supplies the substance of a human being (the soul, i.e. the
form), the woman only the nourishment (the matter)."
"According to Aristotle, man rightly takes charge over woman, because
he commands superior intelligence. This will also profit the women who
depend on him. He compares this to the relationship between human
beings and tame animals.
It is the best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For
this is how they are kept alive. In the same way, the relationship
between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is
higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is
ruled. Aristotle, Politica, ed. Loeb Classical Library, 1254 b 10-14.
What we should notice in Aristotles text is the phrase: by nature.
Subordination is right because it corresponds to the way things have
been made. Aristotle also reckons that slavery is natural because some
people are by nature destined to be slaves.
That person is by nature a slave who can belong to another person and
who only takes part in thinking by recognising it, but not by
possessing it. Other living beings (animals) cannot recognise
thinking; they just obey feelings. However, there is little difference
between using slaves and using tame animals: both provide bodily help
to do necessary things."
From the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (one of the
best-regarded philosophy resources on line)
" Although a natural slave allegedly benefits from having a master,
despotic rule is still primarily for the sake of the master and only
incidentally for the slave (III.6.1278b32-7). (Aristotle provides no
argument for this: if some persons are congenitally incapable of
self-governance, why should they not be ruled primarily for their own
sakes?) He next considers paternal and marital rule, which he also
views as defensible: "the male is by nature more capable of leadership
than the female, unless he is constituted in some way contrary to
nature, and the elder and perfect [is by nature more capable of
leadership] than the younger and imperfect." (I.12.1259a39-b4)
Aristotle is persuasive when he argues that children need adult
supervision because their rationality is "imperfect" (ateles) or
immature. But he also alleges (without substantiation) that, although
women have a deliberative faculty, it is "without authority" (akuron),
so that females require male leadership (I.13.1260a13-14).
(Aristotle's arguments about slaves and women appear so weak that some
commentators take them to be ironic. However, what is obvious to a
modern reader need not have been so to an ancient Greek, so that it is
not necessary to suppose that Aristotle's discussion is ironic.) It is
noteworthy, however, that paternal and marital rule are properly
practiced for the sake of the ruled (for the sake of the child and of
the wife respectively), just as arts like medicine or gymnastics are
practiced for the sake of the patient (III.6.1278b37-1279a1). In this
respect they resemble political rule, which involves equal and similar
citizens taking turns in ruling for one another's advantage
It is easy to see how the position of women in society has been
influenced by Aristotle's idea that they are naturally indisposed when
it comes to leadership ability. Moreover, the Judaeo-Christian view
that women are inferior to men is also supported here.
Aristotle did not change his society's views on women, rather, he
reinforced them. This is demonstrated here:
Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy
Mortimer Adler, Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York,
"Aristotle lived in a society in which the citizens had free time to
enjoy the pursuits of leisure because they had slaves to take care of
their states and to do menial work. It was a society in which women
occupied an inferior position. Plato, in projecting the institutions
of an ideal state, proposed that all political offices, except that of
military leader, should be open to women, because he regarded men and
women as essentially equal; but Aristotle accepted the more
conventional view of his day concerning the inferiority of women."
And this on Aristotle's ideas about God:
"The universe is eternal-as everlasting undergoing change-leads him to
question the cause of everlasting change. He attributes all changes
constantly occurring on earth to the motion of the heavenly bodies..
Heavenly bodies endowed with intelligences that function as their
motors - the celestial intelligences function as motors through being
attracted by the prime mover of the universe. To be an unmoved and
eternal mover of a universe everlasting in motion, the prime mover
must be immutable. But to be immutable, it must be immaterial.
Anything that has material has potentialities; it is subject to change
or motion. It is also imperfect, for at any time it is not actually
all that it can be.
The prime mover is pure actuality-being totally devoid of matter or
potentiality. In addition, this immaterial being is a perfect being, a
being lacking no perfection that remains for it to attain. This
perfect being, which is the prime mover of the universe, Aristotle
called God. God is not the only immaterial being in the universe; the
intelligences that keep the stars in their eternal rounds through
being attracted by the perfection of God are also immaterial. Bot
though they too are immaterial he did not regard them as perfect or
pure actualities. Only God is that. It is difficult if not impossible
to explain the potentiality that must be attributed to the stellar
intelligences if they are not pure actualities. Something that is both
immaterial and has potentiality does not easily fit into Aristotle's
scheme of things.
The conception of God as Prime Mover and the conception of God as
Creator are alike in three respects: immateriality, immutability and
perfection of the Divine Being."
I hope this has helped!
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