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[Abu Nasr al-Farabi. On the Perfect State (Mabadi' ara' ahl al-madinat al-fadilah). Revised text with introduction, translation and commentary by Richard Walzer. Oxford University Press, 1985. Reprinted by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., 1998. Pp. 187-197.]

Abu Nasr al-Farabi

On the Perfect State (Mabadi' ara' ahl al-madinat al-fadilah)

Section IV: Man

Chapter 12: The Organs of Reproduction

§ 1. The faculty by which generation is brought about is partly ruling, partly serving, the ruling part being in the heart, the serving part in the organs of generation. The faculty by which generation is brought about is twofold: one prepares the matter from which the animals which have that faculty come to be; the other provides the form of that species of animal and moves the matter towards attaining that form. The matter is prepared by the faculty of the female and the form provided by the faculty of the male. For the female is female through the faculty by which the matter is prepared, and the male is male through the faculty which provides that matter with the form of that species which has that faculty.

§ 2. The organ which serves the heart in providing the matter of the animal is the womb, and the organ which serves it in providing the form is, in the case of man, the organ which generates the semen. For when the semen comes to the womb of the female and meets there the blood which the womb has prepared to receive the form of man, that semen provides the blood with a faculty by which it moves towards developing out of that blood the organs and limbs of man and the form of each part and the form of man altogether. Thus the blood prepared within the womb is the matter of man, whereas the semen is the mover of that matter towards the development of the form in it, the relation of the semen to the blood prepared within the womb being comparable to the rennet by which the milk is curdled: as the rennet is the agent of the curdling process in the case of milk, being itself neither a part of the curd nor matter, the semen is neither a part of the product curdled within the womb nor matter. The embryo arises out of the semen as the coagulated milk arises out of the rennet, but it arises out of the blood of the womb in the same way as the coagulated milk arises out of the fresh milk and the pitcher is made from the brass.

§ 3. The vessels which contain the semen generate the semen: they are veins under the skin of the pubes and the testicles provide them with some supply for that. These veins extend to the channel within the penis, so that semen can flow from them to the channel of the penis, pass through it and be poured into the womb and provide the blood in it with the principle of a faculty which changes that blood towards developing organs and limbs and the form of each part and the form of the whole body.

§ 4. The semen is the instrument of the male. Instruments are either contiguous or separate. Take the example of the physician: the hand, the surgical knife and the drug are all three of them instruments for him in his treatment of diseases. But the drug is a separate instrument, and the physician is directly connected with it only while making it up and preparing it and providing it with the faculty of moving the body of a sick person towards health. Once the drug has attained that faculty, he puts it into the body of a sick person so that it moves towards health, while the physician who has put it there is absent or dead. The case of the semen is just the same. The surgical knife, however, is an instrument which cannot do what it is made for except by direct action of the physician who uses it, and the hand is still more closely connected with him than the surgical knife. But the drug acts through its inherent faculty without the physician being connected with it, and so does the semen: it is a separate instrument of the male procreative faculty. The vessels of the semen and the testicles are an instrument of procreation connected with the body. The veins which generate the semen under the order of the ruling faculty within the heart are like the hand of the physician with the help of which he makes up the drug and provides it, by making it up, with the faculty which enables it to move the body of a sick person towards health; for the heart uses those very veins by nature as instruments to provide the semen with a faculty which enables it to move the blood prepared in the womb towards the form of that kind of animal.

§  5. When the blood receives from the semen the faculty which enables it to move towards the form, the heart is the first thing to arise. The rise of the other organs is delayed until certain faculties happen to be present in the heart. If together with the nutritive faculty the faculty which prepares the matter is present in it, the specifically female organs arise; if the faculty which provides the form is present in it, the specifically male organs arise. Then the specifically female procreative faculty comes to be present in those organs, and the specifically male faculty in these. Then all the remaining faculties of the soul come to be in a like manner in female and male.

§ 6. These two faculties, the male and female, exist separately, in two individuals, in the case of man. But they are completely joined together in one individual in the case of many plants, as for instance many plants which arise from seed; for the plants are provided with the matter, and in addition a faculty is provided by them which makes it move towards the form. For there is in the seed a preparedness to receive the form and a faculty which makes it move towards the form, the female faculty providing the preparedness to receive the form, the male faculty providing the principle which makes it move towards the form. There exist also some animals which are made in the same way. There are also among them some which have a perfect female faculty, but some kind of defective male faculty is joined to it, which performs its function up to a certain limit and then turns out to be too weak and to be in need of some outside help - like those birds which lay wind-eggs, and like many kinds of fishes. They lay eggs, and then scatter them, the male follows and sprinkles moisture on them: whichever egg gets some moisture produces an animal, but whichever does not perishes.

§ 7. Man, however, is not like that: in his case these two faculties exist in two different individuals, each of them having its own well known organs, whereas they have all the other organs in common. And, in the same way, they have the faculties of the soul in common, with these two exceptions: the organs and limbs which they have in common are warmer in the male, and those whose function it is to move or to impart movement are stronger in the male. The 'accidents' of the soul which tend to strength like 'wrath' [thumos] and harshness are weaker in the female and stronger in the male, whereas the 'accidents' which tend to weakness like mercy and compassion are stronger in the female. It may, however, happen that there are among male human beings some whose emotions are similar to female emotions, and among female human beings some whose emotions are similar to male emotions. This distinction between female and male is to be established in the case of human beings.

§ 8. But in the case of the faculty of sense, the faculty of representation and the faculty of reason male and female do not differ. Exterior objects produce impressions of sensibles within the auxiliary sensory faculties, the sensibles of the different kinds which are apprehended by the distinct five senses are then assembled in the ruling faculty of sense. From the sensibles which are present in this faculty arise the impressions of representations in the faculty of representation and they remain there being kept after the senses have no longer direct contact with them. It exercises its authority over them sometimes dissociating them from each other and sometimes combining them with each other, the combinations being many in kind and unlimited, some of them being false and some of them true.