In his Problemata, Aristotle provided medieval thinkers
with the occasion to inquire into the natural causes of the sexual
desires of men to act upon or be acted upon by other men, thus
bringing human sexuality into the purview of natural philosophers,
whose aim it was to explain the causes of objects and events in
nature. With this philosophical justification, some late medieval
intellectuals asked whether such dispositions might arise from
anatomy or from the psychological processes of habit formation. As
the fourteenth-century philosopher Walter Burley observed, "Nothing
natural is shameful." The authors, scribes, and readers willing to
"contemplate base things" never argued that they were not vile, but
most did share the conviction that they could be explained.
From the evidence that has survived in manuscripts of and related
to the Problemata, two narratives emerge: a chronicle of
the earnest attempts of medieval medical theorists and natural
philosophers to understand the cause of homosexual desires and
pleasures in terms of natural processes, and an ongoing debate as
to whether the sciences were equipped or permitted to deal with
such subjects at all. Mining hundreds of texts and deciphering
commentaries, indices, abbreviations, and marginalia, Joan Cadden
shows how European scholars deployed a standard set of
philosophical tools and a variety of rhetorical strategies to
produce scientific approaches to sodomy.
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