Update: After reading Grenier’s Natural Philosophy, I think that this post neglected the difference between eduction and infusion of form.
Listening to Peter Adamson’s brilliant podcasts on Islamic philosophy, it struck me that al-Farabi and Avicenna had a theory about the the genesis of substantial form similar to that proposed recently by Michael Bolin. According to al-Farabi, the parents of an animal (say) merely dispose the matter, which is then informed by the lowest created intellegence (angel), whom he famously identifies with the agent intellect, and which would later come to be called the dator formarum, the giver of forms. Avicenna develops him further and argues that spontaneous generation of a human being is possible in principle, since if the elements happened to be mixed in the right way, the dator formarum would infuse the form. I think this is basically the same as Bolin’s idea that the artificial construction of a living being is (in principle) possible. Bolin, however, thinks that the form is immediately given by the highest universal cause (God), rather than by a created universal cause. At first glance, al-Farabi’s idea that it is done by a created universal cause seems much more probable—especially in the light of De Koninck’s work on universal causality in The Cosmos— but I would like to look at al-Farabi’s and Avicenna’s arguments in detail.