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.

  • 1
    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? Aug 2 '15 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
    Aug 2 '15 at 5:10
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    By "virginity" do you mean something like chastity?
    – virmaior
    Aug 2 '15 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. Aug 2 '15 at 9:11
  • @virmaior: Yes, chastity is included in virginity.
    – Geremia
    Aug 3 '15 at 2:15

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.


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

  • "theoria can never be our sole activity. (That is reserved for God.)" What about angels or disembodied humans?
    – Geremia
    Apr 24 '18 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
    Apr 24 '18 at 16:14
  • "I was speaking within an Aristotelian context" So am I. Didn't Aristotle understand there could be immaterial intelligent beings?
    – Geremia
    Apr 24 '18 at 18:34
  • Yes, but would they be specifically angels ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Apr 25 '18 at 8:15
  • What do you mean? I'm taking "angel" to mean "immaterial intelligent being".
    – Geremia
    Apr 25 '18 at 16:35

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