William of Auvergne (c. 1180–1249)

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William of Auvergne (or Paris) was born in Aurillac in the province of Auvergne. He was a master of theology at Paris by 1223 and was consecrated bishop of Paris in 1228. His chief philosophical works are De trinitate, seu De primo principio (c. 1223; translated as The Trinity, or The First Principle ), which presents his metaphysics; De universo (c. 12311240; translated as The Universe of Creatures ); and De anima (c. 1240; translated as The Soul ); all parts of his seven-part Magisterium divinale et sapientiale. These works were written in a literary and highly personal style influenced by Latin translations of Avicenna.

Reacting to the teaching of many then newly circulating translations of Greek and Arabic texts of metaphysics and natural philosophy, and writing under early-thirteenth-century prohibitions at Paris, William attempted to identify and refute the errors of these works. But he was also greatly influenced by their teachings when they accorded with Christian faith, and incorporated them into an outlook influenced by St. Augustine.

Especially influenced by Avicenna, William was the first Latin thinker to base his metaphysics on Avicenna's distinction between being and essence. According to William, everything that exists is a possible being, whose essence is distinct from its being, or a necessary being, whose essence and being are identical. There must be a single necessary being, God or the first being, from whom existing possible beings receive their being. William described existing possible beings as composed of being and essence, raising the question of whether he, like Aquinas, posited a real distinction of being and essence in creatures. From Boethius, William took a related distinction between being (esse ) and what a thing is (quod est ). Identifying what a thing is with its essence, he distinguished beings by participation, whose essence is distinct from their being, from beings by essence, whose being and essence are identical. Beings by participation, he argued, must partake of their being from a unique being by essence, God.

Despite care to avoid the errors of non-Christian thinkers, William himself sometimes treads on dangerous ground. At one point he describes God as the being of everything, suggesting pantheism. At other times, emphasizing God's power in opposition to the necessitarian tendencies of Arabic thought, he writes as though creatures are not genuine causal agents but merely conduits of God's causal power. Such statements, however, probably do not reflect his considered views.

A key error that William identified in Avicenna (misidentified as Aristotle) was his doctrine of creation. According to this doctrine, God does not, as Christians think, create all things freely and contingently from nothing, but necessarily emanates a single intelligence or spiritual being. From this being necessarily emanate in turn further intelligences and the heavenly spheres, a process ending with the emanation of human souls and things of the sublunary world from the tenth intelligence. William took this doctrine to result from an incorrect application of the principle that from what is one, insofar as it is one, comes only one. Drawing on the doctrine of the divine will of the Jewish thinker Avicebron (10211058), William argued instead that God created the world not insofar as he is one, but insofar as he is free.

William also attacked Avicenna's and Aristotle's non-Christian doctrine that the world exists without beginning. The first Latin thinker to treat the issue in depth, he refuted a battery of arguments for an eternal world and presented lengthy arguments for its beginning. Several of these arguments, some drawn from the sixth-century Alexandrian thinker John Philoponus, allege that a world without beginning involves paradoxes of infinity, and would be popular with later Franciscan thinkers, including Bonaventure.

William's The Soul is the most substantial early-thirteenth-century treatment of the soul. Despite using Aristotle's definition of the soul as the perfection of an organic body potentially having life, William in fact adopted a non-Aristotelian conception of the soul as an incorporeal, indivisible, simple substance, identifying it with the whole human being and treating the body as its prison or cloak. To show the distinctness of soul and body, William used Avicenna's "floating man' argument that someone floating in the air without use of the senses would know the existence of his soul, but not of his body. William rejected a plurality of distinct souls in a human being corresponding to the vegetative, sensitive, and rational vital functions, attributing these functions to a single rational soul. Perhaps the first Latin thinker to hold that souls and angels are wholly immaterial without any kind of matter, William argued at length that the soul survives destruction of the body and is immortal.

In epistemology William was concerned to attack the doctrines of an agent intelligence and an agent intellect. The former doctrine, found in Avicenna, posits that intelligible forms are impressed on the human intellect by the tenth intelligence. William objected that this is incompatible with our need to study to acquire knowledge. The doctrine of an agent intellect, according to William, posits within the human soul two intellects, a receptive or material intellect and an active or agent intellect, which impresses intelligible forms on the material intellect. Noting the popularity of this doctrine in his day, William objected that it is incompatible with the simplicity of the soul and would mean that we know everything that can naturally be known. His positive account of knowledge is unclear, however, being expressed in imprecise and metaphorical terms. It has been suggested that he treated God as an agent intellect. But in fact he held only that God impresses on the human intellect the principles of truth and morality; once these principles are known, the whole soul can acquire scientific knowledge directly without the mediation of any agent intellect within or outside it.

Early to advocate a voluntarist conception of free will, William held that the will is king and noblest power in the soul, with command over its other powers, and is counseled by the intellect. The will itself must be capable of apprehension and cognition if it is not to be blind, and the intellect likewise has a kind of appetite. The will cannot be forced, prevented, or necessitated. William wrote that he was puzzled that Aristotle had not considered the will.

Eminent in his day, William influenced Aquinas's metaphysics of being and essence and Franciscan thinkers' arguments for the beginning of the world. His works survive in many manuscripts, suggesting an influence whose full extent remains to be studied.

See also Agent Intellect; Avicenna; Thomas Aquinas, St.


works by william of auvergne

De immortalitate animae. In Des Dominicus Gundissalinus Schrift von der Unsterblichkeit der Seele, edited by Georg Bülow. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1897.

"Tractatus Magistri Guillelmi Alvernensis De bono et malo," edited by J. Reginald O'Donnell. Mediaeval Studies 8 (1946): 245299.

"Tractatus secundus Guillelmi Alvernensis De bono et malo," edited by J. Reginald O'Donnell. Mediaeval Studies 16 (1954): 219271.

Opera omnia (1674). 2 vols. Frankfurt am Main: Minerva, 1963.

Il "Tractatus de gratia" di Guglielmo d'Auvergne, edited by Guglielmo Corti. Rome: Lateran University, 1966.

De trinitate, edited by Bruno Switalski. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1976.

The Trinity, or The First Principle. Translated by Roland J. Teske and Francis C. Wade. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1989.

The Immortality of the Soul. Translated by Roland J. Teske. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1991.

The Universe of Creatures. Translated by Roland J. Teske. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1998. A partial translation.

The Soul. Translated by Roland J. Teske. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2000. Contains a full bibliography.

works on william of auvergne

Caster, Kevin J. "The Distinction between Being and Essence according to Boethius, Avicenna, and William of Auvergne." Modern Schoolman 73 (1996): 309332.

Gilson, Etienne. "La notion d'existence chez Guillaume d'Auvergne." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 21 (1946): 5591.

Gilson, Etienne. "Pourquoi saint Thomas a critiqué saint Augustin." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 1 (1926): 5127.

Kramp, Josef. "Des Wilhelm von Auvergne 'Magisterium Divinale.' " Gregorianum 1 (1920): 538613; 2 (1921): 42103, 174195.

Marrone, Steven P. William of Auvergne and Robert Grosseteste: New Ideas of Truth in the Early Thirteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Masnovo, Amato. Da Guglielmo d'Auvergne a S. Tommaso d'Aquino. 3 vols. 2nd ed. Milan, Italy: Vita et Pensiero, 1946.

Moody, Ernest A. "William of Auvergne and His Treatise De anima." In his Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Science, and Logic, 1109. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

Teske, Roland J. "William of Auvergne on the 'Newness' of the Word." Mediaevalia: Textos e Estudios 78 (1995): 287302.

Teske, Roland J. "William of Auvergne's Rejection of the Agent Intellect." In Greek and Medieval Studies in Honor of Leo Sweeney, S.J., edited by William J. Carroll and John J. Furlong, 211235. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.

Valois, Noël. Guillaume d'Auvergne, évêque de Paris (12281249): Sa vie et ses ouvrages. Paris: Picard, 1880.

Neil Lewis (2005)

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William of Auvergne (c. 1180–1249)

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