ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

244. William of Auvergne. -- Born at Aurillac in Auvergne, William became one of the most distinguished philosophers and theologians of the University of Paris. He was appointed to the episcopal see of Paris in 1228 (hence called William of Paris) and died in 1249. Of his works, the De Trinitate is theological; the De Universo, his principal work, written between 1231 and 1236, is a metaphysical study; his De Immortalitate Animae is an almost literal reproduction of the treatise of Gundissalinus; while his De Anima develops and completes the conclusions of this latter.

Whether we consider his metaphysics or his psychology, we find in the Bishop of Paris a typical representative of the period of transition and elaboration to which he belongs. William knew all the works of Aristotle, but he failed to imbibe their peripatetic spirit; he made no large use of them: the peripatetic elements in his teaching are but scattered and sporadic. He also collected Arabian and Jewish theories, especially from Avicebron, whom he believed to have been a Christian and held in high esteem (unicus omnium philosophantium nobilissimus). And this blend of Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic theories is strangely allied with the doctrines of the older scholasticism: William endeavours to fit in the new teaching with that inherited from the past, and wherever he fails to harmonize them he holds by the traditional teaching. All this results in a characteristic lack of doctrinal cohesion in his teaching.{1}

In metaphysics, although he propounds the distinction between act and potency, William does not grasp the full significance of the distinction (see below). He appears to have been the first scholastic to teach the doctrine of real distinction between essence and existence:{2} having learned it from Avicenna. Establishing a relation between primary matter and quantity, he denies hylemorphic composition to spiritual beings such as the angels. His proofs of the existence of God are mainly drawn from the earlier scholasticism, especially from St. Augustine, but to some extent from Arabian sources also. The peripatetic argument for a Prime Mover is missing, while on the other hand we meet with a priori arguments on the lines of St. Anselm's reasoning.{3} Although he opposes the Arabian doctrine of emanation, as incompatible with the creative causality of the First Being, he adopts the pantheistic formula that God is the esse formale rerum and makes an honest effort to give it an individualistic meaning.

In psychology, William follows St. Augustine in identifying the soul and its faculties and propounding the substantial dualism of man: which, nevertheless, does not prevent him from adopting Aristotle's definition of the soul. The whole interest of the De Anima turns on the problem of the origin of our ideas, which is here plainly raised for the first time in scholasticism. William distinguishes three distinct groups of objects in our knowledge: the external world; the soul itself; first or self-evident principles of demonstration.{4}

(a) On the external world we have two essentially distinct sources of knowledge, sense and intellect. The sense faculty receives a sensible form (Aristotle), which William, with the Arabians, conceives as a mere physical impression. The intelligible form is drawn out by the intellect from within itself on the occasion of sense representations (St. Augustine). This is truncated Aristotelianism, for William drops out of his psychology altogether the intellectus agens, not requiring it for the production of the species intelligibilis. His arguments are based partly on the simplicity of the soul (St. Augustine), which he holds to be incompatible with this duplication of the intellectual faculty, and partly on the inadequacy of the current explanations of the intellectus agens. He simply declines to accept the theory of the separated intellect -- which he takes for the genuine expression of the thought of Aristotle. He likewise refuses to admit the theory of the "spiritualized phantasma" propounded by some of his contemporaries: the view that the species sensibilis is transfigured or transformed into a species intelligibilis by the purifying influence of the intellectus agens. It would be interesting to know who these contemporaries were, who, with the full text of Aristotle's De Anima before them, went astray from the start, like his Greek commentators, by taking a wrong view of the species intentionales Their error was quite a common one in the thirteenth century (300). In rejecting it, William displays considerable acumen and a firm grasp of the ideological problem. By the intelligible forms the intellect knows, in the first place, individual substances (as against Aristotle's view); then, later, the abstract and universal reality; thirdly, and in a distinct manner (modus per connexionem sive per colligationem), by the aid of a habit acquired by personal exercise or else divinely infused, we judge and reason and call up at will into the field of present consciousness the memory of past experiences.

(b) In regard to the knowledge the soul has of itself few scholastics have laid more stress than William on the value of immediate evidence of conscious facts (St. Augustine). Not only does consciousness directly testify to the existence of the soul, but also to its essential properties, its immateriality, its simplicity, its indivisibility. Furthermore, consciousness reveals a whole category of rational truths for which William reserves a place apart. These are the first principles of scientific demonstrations.

(c) First principles, such as the principle of contradiction, have a value that is both real and ideal, and this independently of the existence of the contingent world. Whence William goes on to conclude -- wrongly too, and in opposition to Aristotle's real teaching -- that consideration of the world cannot give rise to them within the mind. Where, then, do they come from? The intellect sees them directly in God, by virtue of a special illumination. Here evidently we have the influence of Arabian mysticism: the Bishop of Paris is interpreting the Arabian theory of special illumination of the individual mind by the separate active intellect in a Christian sense -- and endeavouring at the same time to conform his teaching with St. Augustine's "exemplarism". His dissertations on Divine illumination, ecstasy, prophetic vision and pathological hallucinations recall the NeoPlatonic themes of the De Immortalitate Animae, just as his conception of the soul on the horizon of two worlds reminds us of the Alexandrian theory of the descending scale in the emanation of things.

{1} This estimate of William is confirmed by Baumgartner, Bülow and Schindele in the monographs mentioned below, 246.

{2} SCHINDELE, Beitr. z. Metaph. d. Wilhelm v. Auvergne, p. 23.

{3} Ibid., 45, 46.

{4} We are here following BAUMGARTNER, Die Erkenntnislehre des Wilhelm von Auvergne.

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