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Did Aristotle discuss virginity? If so, where? What did he say about it? If not, were there any Greek philosophers who did?

I'm not only concerned in the biological aspect of virginity, but whether Aristotle saw virginity as a virtue.

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    Virginity refers to the biological physical state. I think what you are trying to say does Aristotle ever refer to purity of the heart, or better, an unbroken purity of heart? Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 3:39
  • @SwamiVishwananda: Yes, in its restricted sense, virginity can refer to a biological state, but the soul is inseparable from the body in a person. Regarding the second part of what you say: Yes, that is what I'm saying when I ask "whether Aristotle saw virginity as a virtue" (virtues are in the soul).
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 5:10
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    By "virginity" do you mean something like chastity?
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 6:07
  • Apparently virginity as a word is attested as meaning 'pure' & 'untainted' from the 13th century onwards; I recall reading some 19th C novels that talked of 'Virgin soil' in exactly this sense. Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 9:11
  • @virmaior: Yes, chastity is included in virginity.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 2:15

2 Answers 2

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I can't find a specific reference in the Ethics, Politics or Generation of Animals. However there is in the view Aristotle takes of contemplation (theoria) in Nicomachean Ethics, X.7 an indirect argument for virginity or at least (if 'virginity' is objected to as an ahistorical term) non-experience of sexual intercourse or coitus and hence abstinence from procreation. Penetrative sex that does not or cannot lead to procreation (as in cases of infertility) is not a topic Aristotle deals with distinctly. I omit same-sex relations since they did not in Aristotle's time involve abstinence from procreation; procreation was not then posssible within them.

We need to work up to this point about the link between contemplation and the abstinence from procreation. In Nicomachean Ethics I.1 Aristotle tells us that human well-being or flourishing consists in activity : activity in accordance with virtue (arete). This means activity in accordance with the various excellences of which we are capable as a species. Prime among these excellences is intellectual contemplation.

Theoria is the best activity of which we are capable. Unfortunately because we are not just intellects but have other, bodily needs, theoria can never be our sole activity. (That is reserved for God.) The practicable human good, eudaimonia, is intellectual contemplation plus excellence in the other activities in which we have to engage.

However, we need to be untrammelled from as many ties as possible if we are to maximise our chances for engaging in theoria. From this an argument for non-experience of sexual intercourse and hence abstinence from procreation can be derived. Procreation, marriage and the family are just such ties as reduce or eliminate our opportunities for theoria. Non-experience of sexual intercourse entails abstinence from procreation or at least did so in Aristotle's time. In the interests of theoria, this is an argument in its favour.

This is not an argument explicitly to be found in Aristotle but it is based on what he says and is a reasonable inference from it.

REFERENCES

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, various editions.

David Charles and Dominic Scott, 'Aristotle on Well-Being and Intellectual Contemplation', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 73 (1999), pp. 205-223+225-242.

Robert Heinaman, 'Eudaimonia and Self-Sufficiency in the "Nicomachean Ethics"', Phronesis, Vol. 33, No. 1 (1988), pp. 31-53

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  • "theoria can never be our sole activity. (That is reserved for God.)" What about angels or disembodied humans?
    – Geremia
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 16:01
  • Ah, I was speaking within an Aristotelian context. Outside that context, your point holds and I have no wish to deny it. Sorry not to have made the point clear.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 16:14
  • "I was speaking within an Aristotelian context" So am I. Didn't Aristotle understand there could be immaterial intelligent beings?
    – Geremia
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 18:34
  • Yes, but would they be specifically angels ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 8:15
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    Surely virginity cannot be a-historical because the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestal_Virgin existed since at least 673BC.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 12:58
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Aristotle spoke of ἐγκράτεια (continence, moral strength, self-control) in Nicomachean Ethics bk. 7 (1145a15 – 1154b30).

Virginity (παρθενία) as a virtue was unknown to the Greek philosophers before the advent of Christianity.

St. John Chrysostom, Quod regulares feminæ viris cohabitare non debeant (PG 47, 514):

Ἕλληνες παρ' αὐτοῖς φιλοσοφήσαντας, καὶ ὀργῆς δέ τινες ἐν ἐκείνοις περιεγένοντο· παρθενίας δὲ ἄνθος οὐδαμοῦ παρ' αὐτοῖς, ἀλλ' ἀεὶ παρεχώρουν ἐνταῦθα τῶν πρωτείων ἡμῖν, ὁμολογοῦντες ἀνωτέρω τῆς φύσεως εἶναι τὸ κατόρθωμα, καὶ οὐδ' ἀνθρώπινον. ∆ιὰ τοῦτο σφόδρα ἡμῶν τὸ πᾶν ἔθνος ἐθαύμαζον· ἀλλὰ νῦν οὐκέτι, ἀλλὰ καταγελῶσι καὶ κωμῳδοῦσι·

[Clark transl. pp. 209-10, PDF pp. 227-8:]
The Greeks, nevertheless, can show some few of their number who adopted a philosophic attitude toward riches, and some of them overcame anger, but the flower of virginity was in no way to be found among them. Always they conceded the first place to us here, agreeing that this virtue was superior to nature, was not even human. Therefore all people admired us [Christians] greatly.

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    Surely the Vestal Virgins indicate the Ancient Greeks understood vows of chastity for religious motives, indicating service to higher purposes, & virtue. There's also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atalanta who was one of the Argonauts, who seems to have been allowed to live a different kind of life due to her vow of chastity. The moon goddess Artemis took a vow of chastity. Many Greek mythological tales about women involve them heroically or magically preserving their virginity, & so status or autonomy. Your quote I suggest refers to male vows of celibacy.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 13:08
  • The Vestal Virgins were not required to be perpetual virgins, though. I've seen it claimed that druidesses vowed perpetual virginity, but I don't know what their philosophical justification for it was.
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 17:11
  • They took a thirty year vow as an adult, which is basically committing to forego children.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 17:14
  • @CriglCragl The vestals' terms generally ended in their late 30s, so they could marry and have children afterwards. Virginity is the virtue of being perpetually continent.
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 30, 2021 at 20:41

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