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William of Champeaux (c. 1070–1121)

(c. 10701121)

William of Champeaux, born at Champeaux near Melun, was perhaps a student of Anselm of Laon. William was held in high esteem by his contemporaries for his mastery of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, as well as for theological speculations. By 1100 he was the Master of the Cathedral School associated with Notre Dame in Paris, the most prestigious position available for a philosopher; he held the rank of archdeacon, and was a confidante of Philip I. In this period Peter Abelard was first William's student and then his rival in public debates over philosophy. In 1108, William entered the Abbey of St. Victor newly established outside the walls on Paris, on the south bank of the Seine, and apparently continued to teach while there. In 1114 William was made bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, a position he held until his death there in 1121.

William's theological views are presented in a compendium of short discussions, each addressed to a particular question: his Sententiae (partially printed by Lefèvre). His views on logic, language, metaphysics, and rhetoric are preserved in many manuscripts and by later authors, most notably by Abelard; little of this material has yet been edited or sorted out, and there is no scholarly consensus about which views can reliably be attributed to William, although it seems clear that William lectured and perhaps wrote extensively on the liberal arts. Abelard mentions in passing William's claim that every sentence has both a grammatical and a logical sense (Logica ingredientibus 7, Glosses on the "Topics" 271273); that present-tense sentences about nonexistents should be interpreted figuratively (Dialectica 135136); and that differentiae are only accidentally related to the genera they differentiate (Dialectica 541). But the best-known and most widely attested philosophical views of William of Champeaux have to do with the problem of universals.

According to Abelard, William initially held a position known as "material essence realism": One and the same material essence is found in distinct individuals of the same species, which are distinguished from one another by the addition of further forms to the material essence. When challenged by Abelard, William modified his position to hold that the same thing (the material essence) is not literally present in different things; distinct things are called the same "indifferently." This latter position seems to be endorsed in William's discussion of the Trinity in his Sententiae. Abelard presents William's positions briefly in his Historia calamitatum 6566, and William's positions along with his criticisms at length in his Logica ingredientibus 1, Glosses on the "Isagoge" 1117 and Logica nostrorum petitioni sociorum 512517. William's replies are not known independently.

See also Abelard, Peter; Propositions; Saint Victor, School of; Universals, A Historical Survey.


selected works

Fredborg, Karin M. "The Commentaries on Cicero's De inventione and Rhetorica ad Herennium by William of Champeaux." Cahiers de l'institut du moyen-âge grec et latin 17 (1976): 139.

Iwakuma, Yukio. "The Introductiones dialecticae secundum Wilgelmum and secundum magistrum G. Paganellum." Cahiers de l'institut du moyen-âge grec et latin 63 (1993): 45114.

Iwakuma, Yukio. "William of Champeaux and the Introductiones." In Acts of the 10th European Symposium on Medieval Logic and Semantics, edited by H. A. G. Braakhuis and C. H. Kneepkens. Leiden: Brill 1996.

Lefèvre, Georges. Les variations de Guilliame de Champeaux et la question des Universaux. Lille, France: Université de Lille 1898. Includes William's Sententiae.

Marenbon, John. The Philosophy of Peter Abelard. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Discusses reports of William's teaching in unedited manuscripts.

Mews, Constant. "Logica in the Service of Philosophy: William of Champeaux and His Influence on the Study of Language and Theology in the Twelfth Century." In Studien zur Abtei Sankt Viktor zu Paris und zu den Viktorinern, edited by Rainer Berndt (Corpus victorinum. Instrumenta 1), Berlin 2004.

Rosier-Catach, Irène. "Abélard et les grammairiens: sur le verbe substantif et la prédication." Vivarium 41 (2003): 175248.

Peter King (2005)

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