Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pregnant Chickens

Aristotle wrote a few things on the uterus, on eggs, on abortion, and on chickens. We can read this in Greek or in translation. Below are a few snippets in or around translation that other people are posting. (I’ll just say, beware of the pregnant chickens and other funny stuff.)

Kellie asks us, “Was Aristotle a knitter? Because he might have wanted to look into this great new toy pattern from Craft: magazine.” And she concludes, “You're never too young to form opinions on Ancient Greek philosophers and translations. Especially when they can be backed up by super cute toys!”

Sean tells us,

In the famous question "What came first; the chicken or the egg?", Plato answers that the "idea" chicken came before the egg and the chicken. Aristotle though[t] Plato had it upside down. He agreed with his mentor that the horse doesn't change or "flow" and that all horses are imperfect and mortal, and he agreed that the basic form of the horse is eternal. But he argued that the "idea" horse is just a concept that humans had come up with after seeing a lot of horses. Aristotle said that the "idea" or, as he liked to put it, the "form" horse was made up of the horse's characteristics, which we call the species. In modern science, we have discovered deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA), which we have found, controls the characteristics of every living plant and animal. This is the "form" horse that Aristotle was explaining.

David cites for us a “recent study of ornithlogy” that “exposes the tenacity of certain unfortunate Aristotelian attitudes toward the female body, sometimes manifested in scientists’ simple yet profound inattention to female biology.” He goes on:

Whereas the zygote is a product of its mother and father (barring parthenogenesis), the egg in which it ill develop is a product of its mother alone (underscored by the fact that if you want to go into the egg business, chickens are a necessity, whereas roosters are optional). Ironically, it is Aristotle who correctly points out that

"In its initial stage the embryo develops from part of the egg, and the rest serves as nourishment for the creature while it is forming." [Historia Anomalium, 489b]

To call any egg a chicken on account of its embryonic passenger is like calling the mother’s uterus a chicken uterus on account of its delivering a chicken. Aristotle turns out to be right again when he says

"In the case of the animals that are produced oviparously, we should think of them as having the same relationship to the yolk as the vivparously formed embryos have to the mother. . . for since the nourishment of the oviparously formed embyros is not completed within the mother, when they leave her they take a part of her out with them." [Generation of Animals, 754a]

Revert2saved startles us with flippancy:

I was flipping through my copy of The Politics the other day (yes, this is the sort of thing I do with my spare time) and I came across this passage:

If contrary to these arrangements copulation does take place and a child is conceived, abortion should be procured before the embryo has acquired life and sensation; the presence of life and sensation will be the mark of division between right and wrong here.

Our modern knowledge of fetal development tells us that brain waves can be recorded and the embryo responds to touch by around the 6th week of pregnancy, so applying Aristotle's "life and sensation" standard would at minimum restrict abortion to the 1st half of the 1st trimester of pregnancy.

Why is this interesting? First, because Aristotle's views cannot be said to derive in any way from Christian revelation or Catholic dogma, but purely from reason and natural law. Second, because I found it not in his works on metaphysics or ethics but specifically in his work on politics. Clearly Aristotle did not consider abortion a matter of private religious or ethical opinion, he simply assumed it was a proper subject of public policy.

This once again refutes the claim that the pro-life position is inherently theological or a matter of Christians "imposing their religion" on others. Of course abortion is and must be a political issue.

James reminds of us Aristotle's and other ancient Greek men's objective attention to the scientific facts about women:

Although Aristotle believed that pregnancy resulted when semen and menstrual blood mixed in the womb, he downplayed the woman’s role to little but a secure environment in which the fetus could grow. Most other Greek writers believed in a more equal contribution by the father and mother, but they were unaware of the ovaries and therefore could speak only in philosophic terms.

Women who are too fat will have difficulty conceiving because the fat will block the entrance to the womb. Their only hope for pregnancy is to lose weight.

A pregnant woman with good color will deliver a male baby; if the mother's color is bad the child will be a girl.

Wayne insists that “Objective attention to the linguistic facts of the biblical languages and equal attention to the linguistic facts of a target language determine accuracy and naturalness.” When it comes to Greek turned into English, the Bible now can “find her to be pregnant” more naturally than it can “find the child in her.”

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