Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 355–386 | Cite as

Methodology in Aristotle’s Theory of Spontaneous Generation

  • Karen R. ZwierEmail author


Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation offers many puzzles to those who wish to understand his theory both within the context of his biology and within the context of his more general philosophy of nature. In this paper, I approach the difficult and vague elements of Aristotle’s account of spontaneous generation not as weaknesses, but as opportunities for an interesting glimpse into the thought of an early scientist struggling to reconcile evidence and theory. The paper has two goals: (1) to give as charitable and full an account as possible of what Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation was, and to examine some of its consequences; and (2) to reflect on Aristotle as a scientist, and what his comments reveal about how he approached a difficult problem. In particular, I propose that the well-recognized problem of the incompatibility between Aristotle’s concept of spontaneity and his theory of spontaneous generation presents an opportunity for insight into his scientific methodology when approaching ill-understood phenomena.


Aristotle Spontaneous generation Spontaneity Methodology 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Drake UniversityDes MoinesUSA

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