[3.4] Ibn Gabirol on Cosmology and Universal Hylomorphism

Jewish philosopher and poet Solomon ben Judah Ibn Gabirol (or Ibn Jabirul in Arabic; Avicebron in Latin, 1021/2-1057/8 AD) in his work Fons Vitae envisioned a cosmology, which is:

  • emanationist in a neoplatonist sense, like that of Plotinus, al-Farabi, Avicenna (see [2.4.2], [3.2.1], [3.3.2])
  • emphasizes the importance of the Devine Will
  • and distinctively introduces universal hylomorphism (for hylomorphism see [1.3.5] and [1.3.7]), meaning that the (universal) intellect and soul – not just the bodies – are compound of matter and form.

Here is a OntoUML representation of Ibn Gabirol’s cosmology:

Ibn Gabirol cosmology and universal hylomorphism
ClassDescription Relations
God“Ibn Gabirol’s God is described as a Creator God who is an absolute simple unity—so simple as to exceed the grasp of the human mind and tongue.” relates to Matter and DivineWill
Matter “God’s formative act begins with creating matter and form (possibly a creation ex nihilo, but described fluidly enough as to leave open other interpretations)”
Form “God’s formative act begins with creating…form…  form, on the contrary, arising somewhat secondarily from the Divine Will.”relates to DivineWill
DivineWillWill is identified also with Wisdom and Word.
“Turning further to Will’s mediating cosmic role, while the Latin text translates “intermediary between the extremes,” the Arabic text uses a dual grammatical form, translating more specifically as “intermediary between the two extremes…, Ibn Gabirol might mean that Will intermediates between (1) matter and (2) form, the two cosmic “building blocks” out of which all reality is comprised.”
mediates between Matter and Form
UniversalIntellect “In Ibn Gabirol’s cosmology, Intellect is highlighted as the first created being, as the Divine Glory (Kavod),and as the first occurrence of “form in matter” composition… Pure universal matter is thus coupled—in a process overseen by Divine Will—with a pure universal form to yield the first fully existing substance, Universal Intellect.”
PureMatter“Ibn Gabirol describes pure matter as stemming directly from the Divine Essence itself… existent in and of itself, of a single essence, sustaining diversity, and giving to everything its essence and name”is contained by UniversalIntellect; is Matter
PureFormThe closest Form to the Devine Will, contained in the Universal Intellect. is component of UniversalIntellect; is Form
UniversalSoul Ibn Gabirol also envisions not one but three Universal Soulsrelates to UniversalIntellect and itself (there are 3 souls in a chain of emanation)
MatterSMatter of the Universal Soul is contained by UniversalSoul; is Matter
FormSForm of the Universal Soulis component of UniversalSoul; is Form
CeletialBodyCelestial Bodies are: Fixed Stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moonrelates to UniversalSoul and itself (there are 8 bodies in a chain of emanation)
MatterCMatter of the Celestial Bodyis contained by CelestialBody; is Matter
FormCForm of the Celestial Body is component of CelestialBody; is Form
TerrestrialBodyAll bodies on the Earth relates to CeletialBody
LowerMatterForm of the Celestial Body is contained by TerrestrialBody; is Matter
LowerForm Form of the Celestial Body is component of TerrestrialBody; is Form

The following triplets present hylomorphic structure:

  • PureMatter – UniversalIntellect – PureForm
  • MatterS – UniversalSoul – FormS
  • MatterC – CeletialBody – FormC
  • LowerMatter – TerrestrialBody – LowerForm


First published: 12/09/2019

[3.3.2] Ibn Sina’s Cosmology

Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037 AD) writes about cosmology and metaphysics in Ilāhiyyāt of Kitāb al-Šifā’ (known in English as the Metaphysics of the Book of the Healing or the Book of the Cure). The basis of his theory is a necessary chain of causation starting at the First Principle (as cause), continuing with the chain of Intelligencies and Active Intellect (as effects and intermediaries), and ending with the Sublunary Bodies (as final effects) – as shown in the following OntoUML diagram:

Avicenna cosmology
Class DescriptionRelations
FirstPrincipleThe main attributes of the First Principle are: intelligence; immaterial; one; absolutely simple; self-reflective; eternal; necessary; cause of the world’s existence.
“Avicenna considers the world to be ‘instaured” or absolutely created (mubdaʿ) and at the same time establishes that it is eternal and eternally in motion, as Aristotle’s physics and metaphysics teach. He therefore posits a Principle of the world’s existence (wuǧūd) […] the final cause is […] the same efficient cause that makes things exist (mūǧid). The First Principle is therefore a cause in every respect.

The First Principle is also referred as Necessary Existent.
associated with the (first) Intelligence of the chain
IntelligenceA chain of nine Intelligencies is necessarily emanated (fayḍ) from the First Principle, one from the other for the Heavens – the outermost sphere, one for the fixed stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. Each Intelligence:
“- thinks of the First Principle and aims at it, a further intelligence originates;
– from the act by which it thinks of itself and aims at itself, two entities originate: a soul, which is an intelligence bound to a body and which is, in some texts, equated to the practical intellect;
– and the celestial body to which this intelligence is bound.”
emanates: next level of Intelligence; SoulOfCelestialSpere; BodyOfCelestialSpere. Lowest level emanates ActiveIntellect
ActiveIntellectActive Intellect (or Agent Intellect) is the last, tenth member of the chain of intelligencies, which emanates universal (unified, undifferentiated) forms of Sublunary Bodies, and Matter, which combines into Sublunary Bodies. Since the forms are universal, the differences, particularities of the Sublunary Bodies are caused by the influence of the Celestial Spheres.

Due to the fact, that the members of the chain of intelligencies lose their power with the increasing distance from the First Principle, the Active Intellect is not able to emanate eternal entities, so the sublunary bodies are not eternal, yet in a structure similar to celestial bodies.
emanates FormsOf
SublunaryBody; Matter
Soul of Celestial Sphere is emanated by the Intellect when thinks of itself.part of CelestialSphere
Body of Celestia Sphere is emanated by the Intellect when thinks of itself.part of CelestialSphere
CelestialSphereCelestial Sphere contains Soul of Celestial Sphere and Body of Celestia Sphere.influences SublunaryBody
Form of Sublunary Body is a universal (unified, undifferentiated) form emanated by Active intellect.
E.g. Form of sea, Soul of man
part of SublunaryBody
MatterMatter is emanated by Active Intellect, has the potentiality to be actualized by Form.contained by SublunaryBody
Sublunary BodySublunary Body is composed of Form and Matter. Its particularity is due to the influence of the Celestial Spheres.

His cosmological scheme Neoplatonist, and very similar with al-Farabi’s (see [3.2.1]), but with some notable differences:

  • the Forms of Sublunary Bodies contained and emanated by Active Intellect are undifferentiated universals, not Particulars, as at al-Farabi
  • Matter is emanated by the Active Intellect (not by the Celestial Sphers as at al-Farabi)
  • the existence of the First Cause is necessary by itself, the existence of the chain of Intellects is necessary by the First Cause and contingent by itself (aspects not analyzed by al-Farabi)


  • All citations from: Lizzini, Olga, “Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Davidson, Herbert A., “Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect”, Oxford University Press 1992

First published: 08/08/2019