Department of Philosophy



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Daryn Lehoux (Classics, Queen's University)

will be presenting on

"Is Life Special? Theories of Matter and Soul in Spontaneous Generation"

THURSDAY, October 20th, 2016

WATSON HALL, ROOM 517 @ 4:00 p.m.

Until surprisingly recently, most scientists and natural philosophers thought that living animals sometimes or always came into being spontaneously, from nonliving matter—rotting flesh just ‘turned into’ maggots of its own accord. Whatever the causes of this process were supposed to be, they required importantly different mechanisms from those on offer to account for sexually generated animals, producing and passing traits on to their own offspring. Those theories that were developed to account for spontaneous generation were more empirically rich, more painstakingly elaborated, and above all more epistemically coherent than they are often given credit for. This paper will examine how spontaneous generation theories interacted with theories of matter in Aristotle, Lucretius, Augustine, and Albertus Magnus, and the ways in which philosophical, empirical, and theological priorities affected ideas about the origins of life and the question of life’s ‘specialness’ relative to inert matter.


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