The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC–AD 1250

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC–AD 1250

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC–AD 1250

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC–AD 1250


This pioneering study by Sister Prudence Allen traces the concept of woman in relation to man in more than seventy philosophers from ancient and medieval traditions.

The fruit of ten years' work, this study uncovers four general categories of questions asked by philosophers for two thousand years. These are the categories of opposites, of generation, of wisdom, and of virtue. Sister Prudence Allen traces several recurring strands of sexual and gender identity within this period. Ultimately, she shows the paradoxical influence of Aristotle on the question of woman and on a philosophical understanding of sexual coomplemenarity. Supplemented throughout with helpful charts, diagrams, and illustrations, this volume will be an important resource for scholars and students in the fields of women's studies, philosophy, history, theology, literary studies, and political science.


In the intervening eleven years since the publication of the first edition of The Concept of Woman: the Aristotelian Revolution (750 BC–AD 1250), the philosophical field of women’s studies (or gender studies, as it is now more often called) has literally exploded beyond its previously limited boundaries. in many respects this is a positive occurrence, and it has opened wide a new area for reflection and research about the respective identities of women and men.

At the same time, such a rapidly synergetic change in a field of study poses many complex challenges for scholars. It becomes less possible to read and digest all the relevant material on a particular topic. in order to master a particular area of thought, one’s focus must become increasingly narrow. Thus, in many ways, The Concept of Woman, with its sweeping time span of nearly two thousand years and its analysis of original works of more than sixty authors, goes against the trend of the times.

Therefore, the question must be directly asked: Do the conclusions reached in the first edition remain sound in such a rapidly changing field? It is my firm conviction that the fundamental lines of analysis in the text are still valid and the conclusions reached through them are true.

Much new primary and secondary material about authors writing between 750 bc and ad 1250 has been published since 1985. While it has been tempting to engage with the interesting arguments of other scholars in this second edition, I decided instead to provide an updated bibliography so that readers can study these sources themselves and evaluate the relative weight of different arguments. My decision was based on the desire to forge ahead into further historical periods of analysis of the concept of woman, and to leave the in-depth continuing analysis of ancient and medieval philosophy to those who have special expertise in those areas.

As a consequence, a second volume in this series, to be entitled The Concept of Woman: the Early Humanist Reformation (1250–1500), is projected for release in 1998. This text, which builds on the foundations of the first volume, traces the interaction of Platonic and Aristotelian foundations for theories of sex identity in both academic and satirical literature, and considers new approaches to woman’s identity articulated by early humanist and religious writers, It also considers the importance of intergender dialogue in the new foundations for theories of sex complementarity.

While the fundamental structure of the original argument in the first edition of The Concept of Woman: the Aristotelian Revolution remains relevant for contemporary debate about the history of woman’s identity, contemporary language used to speak about this topic has changed significantly. I would like to address briefly three specific areas: (1) the difference between sex and gender, (2) the difference between the concept of woman in relation to man and the concept of woman in relation to woman, and (3) developments in theories of complementarity.

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