Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner



Life. William of Champeaux was, like St. Anselm, an opponent of the nominalism of Roscelin. He was born at Champeaux, a village near Melun, about the year 1070. At an early age he repaired to Paris to study under the renowned Alsatian teacher Manegold of Lautenbach. Later on he studied dialectic at Roscelin's school in Compiègne and theology at the school of Laon, over which the theologian Anselm (not St. Anselm of Canterbury) at that time presided. In 1103 he was summoned to Paris, was made archdeacon, and appointed to the chair of philosophy in the cathedral school. In 1108 he retired to the monastery of St. Victor, where he continued his career as a teacher and gave the initiative to the mystic movement which is associated with that abbey. He was promoted in 1113 to the see of Châlons-sur-Marne. He died in 1121.

William of Champeaux enjoyed among his contemporaries a very high reputation for learning and sanctity. He was known as the Columna Doctorum; according to Abelard, he was re et fama praecipuus; and when he died it was said that "the light of the Word of God was extinguished on earth."

Sources. Of the philosophical writings of William of Champeaux we possess merely some fragments: a portion of the work De Origine Animae, published by Martene, and forty-two fragments discovered at Troyes by Ravaisson, portions also of a Liber Sententiarum and a Dialogus seu Altercatio Cujusdam Christiani etJudaei.{1} Our chief secondary sources of information are Abelard, who constantly refers to his rival teacher, and John of Salisbury. Michaud's Guillaume de Champeaux (Paris, 1867) is an excellent study of our philosopher and his times.


Problem of Universals. According to Abelard, William maintained that the universal is wholly and essentially present in each individual:

Erat autem ea sententia ut eamdem essentialiter rem totam simul singulis suis inesse adstrueret individuis; quorum quidem nulla esset in essentia diversitas sed sola multitudine accidentium varietas.{2}
Universals, therefore, exist in individual things. This is the thesis of realism. That by the word essentialiter William meant to convey a doctrine of exaggerated realism is apparent from the objections which Abelard urged against him. Among Abelard's objections we find the following: If the essence of humanity is wholly and essentially present in Socrates, it is not where Socrates is not. But it is also wholly and essentially present in Plato; therefore, Socrates must always be where Plato is.{3}

Unable to refute this and similar objections, William of Champeaux, after his retirement to St. Victor, formulated a new thesis in which he maintained that the universal is in the individual, not in the entirety of its essence, but by reason of its particular or individual modifications: "Sic autem istam suam correxit sententiam," says Abelard, "ut deinceps rem eamdem non essentialiter sed individualiter diceret."{4} Even if we substitute for the word individualiter the word indifferenter (and there seems to be better manuscript authority for indifferenter),{5} we cannot arrive at a definite conclusion as to what was the precise meaning of the change which Abelard forced on his adversary. It is obvious, however, that the substitution of individualiter or indifferenter for essentialiter was meant as a concession to the anti-realists; the corrected expression was intended to convey a doctrine of more temperate realism. The end of the controversy, if we are to accept Abelard's authority, was that William, after having modified his first thesis, was obliged to abandon the second thesis altogether. The truth, however, seems to be that, although Abelard carried off the honors of the debate, William continued to teach realism while he remained at St. Victor.

Psychological Doctrines. In the work De Origine Animae William refutes the doctrine of the traducianists (according to whom the soul of the child is in some way derived from the parents) and defends the creationist doctrine that the soul is created immediately by God. He teaches that the soul is a simple substance and that it is not distinct from its faculties or their operations.{6} He describes in the following terms the relation between body and soul:

Quae duo (corpus scilicet et anima) ita quodammodo sunt inserta ut et corpus per spiritum sensificaretur, i.e., illos quinque sensus haberet, et anima naturam corporis ita contraheret ut inde sensificaret, et irasceretur, vel concupisceret vel esuriret.{7}

Historical Position. William of Champeaux represents an important phase in the development of the doctrine of universal concepts. His most noteworthy contribution to philosophy is, however, his doctrine of creationism. It will be remembered that St. Augustine refused to decide the question of the origin of the soul. William is the first Christian philosopher in the West to maintain definitely and unhesitatingly the creation of the individual soul.

Associated with William of Champeaux are the realists Otto of Tournai, Adelard of Bath, and Walter of Mortagne.


Life. Otto, or Odon, of Tournai (died 1113), was professor at Tournai, abbot of the monastery of St. Martin in that city, and subsequently bishop of Cambrai. Such was his renown as a teacher that Herman says, "Cives omnes relictis allis operibus soli philosophiae deditos crederes."{8} After he had devoted much attention to the study of Plato, he chanced one day to read some of St. Augustine's treatises against the Manicheans, and henceforth he gave all his time and attention to the study of theology. Before he took up the study of theology he composed several philosophical works. His principal theological treatise is entitled De Peccato Originali. His works are published by Migne (Patr. Lat., Vol. CLX).


Otto was a Platonic realist. This appears from the work just mentioned and also from certain verses which were written by a contemporary, probably by a disciple of Otto, and attached to a manuscript copy of Boethius' work De Hypotheticis Syllogismis.{9} He applied exaggerated realism (1) to the doctrine of original sin, teaching that the whole human race is one substance, and that, when our first parents sinned the whole race was vitiated, because the humanity which existed then as really as it exists now was contaminated; (2) to the account of the origin of the soul, maintaining that the act of creation consists merely in the production of new properties, which adhere in a previously existing substance, and serve to distinguish one soul from another, there being no substantial difference between individual souls.

Hildebert of Lavardin, a Platonist poet and mystic philosopher, belongs to the same school as Otto. Hauréau has been obliged to reconsider his decision that Hildebert was the author of the Tractatus Theologicus, which, according to some historians, was the model used by Peter the Lombard in composing his Sentences.{10}


Life. Adelard of Bath (circa 1100), who, about the beginning of the twelfth century, studied at Tours and at Laon, was the first of the mediaeval teachers to seek enlightenment by traveling in Greece and Asia Minor. His principal works are Questiones Naturales, published in 1472, and a treatise De Eodem et Diverso, which has recently been published in Beiträge zur Gesch. der Phil. des Mittelalters (IV, I).


Adelard is a Platonist. He teaches that ideas are innate, having been placed in the soul by the Creator at the beginning of the world:

Conditor immensitatis . . . praecellenti naturae quam animam vocamus intellectuales formas omnium creaturarum induit. . . . Illum itaque formarum intellectualium thesaurum non semper, sed cum necesse est, explicat.{11}

In the treatise De Eodem et Diverso Adelard solves the problem of universals by the doctrine of indifferentism, which closely resembles the second form of William of Champeaux's realism. The indifferentists maintained that in every individual we may distinguish the determinations which belong to the individual, namely, the differentiating mark (differens), and the generic or specific part of the individual, namely, the common element (indifferens) which it shares with others of the same genus or species. The latter alone is universal. Making a further distinction between essence and substance, the indifferentists granted that the essence includes the differens; and therefore, they argued, there is no universal essence. They contended, however, that substance does not include the differens, and thence they inferred that substance is (physically) one and common to all individuals.{12}


Walter of Mortagne was born about the beginning of the twelfth century, at Mortagne in Flanders. After studying at Tournai, he went to Paris, where from 1136 to 1144 he taught at the school of Ste. Geneviève. He died bishop of Laon in 1174. He composed a work entitled Tractatus de Sancta Trinitate and six Opuscula. Five of the Opuscula are published in D'Achery's Spicilegium (Paris, 1723), and the sixth in Migne's Patr. Lat., Vol. CLXXXVI, col. 1052.


Walter, like Adelard, is a Platonist. In a letter to Abelard{13} he expresses the belief that the body is an obstacle to the higher operations of the soul. He is best known, however, by his doctrine of non-difference or indifference, which is described by John of Salisbury, his disciple, in the following terms:

Hic, ideo quod omne quod est unum numero est, rem universalem aut unam numero esse aut omnino non esse concedit. Sed, quia impossibile substantialia non esse, existentibus his quorum sunt substantialia, denuo colligunt universalia singularibus, quod ad essentiam, unienda. Partiuntur itaque status, duce Gualtero de Mauritania, et Platonem in eo quod Plato est, individuum; in eo quod homo, speciem; in eo quod animal, genus, sed subalternum; in eo quod substantia, generalissimum.{14}

The doctrine of indifferentism is further described in a document, No. 17813 of the Bibliothèque Nationale, published by Hauréau in 1892, and attributed by him to Walter. The document defines differens and indifferens, and proceeds:

Et attende quod Socrates et unumquodque individuum hominis, in eo quod unumquodque est animal rationale mortale, sunt unum et idem.{15}

It is worthy of remark that in this document the status of which John of Salisbury speaks are called attentiones. They suggest at once the formalitates of Duns Scotus.

The question of the interpretation of the passage just quoted is to be answered according to the meaning attached to the phrase "unum et idem." Does it mean mere logical unity, or does it mean that there is in the world of reality a one which is "animal rationale mortale"? If the unity is merely logical, -- the work of the mind, as the word attentio seems to imply, -- we have here the nearest approach of realism to the moderate realism of St. Thomas. If, on the contrary, the unity is real and objective, we have, instead, a form of Platonic realism. We must decide in favor of the latter interpretation, for it is on the supposition that the latter is the true interpretation, and on that supposition alone, that we can understand the objections which Abelard and others urged against the doctrine of indifferentism.

Historical Position. The school of Tournai and the advocates of indifferentism represent an attempt at founding a realistic doctrine of universals on an eclectic union of Platonic and Aristotelian principles. Before we take up the history of the more thoroughgoing Platonism of the school of Chartres it is necessary to study the philosophy of Abelard, the opponent of realism and the chief advocate of what was then understood to be the Aristotelian doctrine of concepts.

{1} Migne (Patr. Lat., Vol. CLXIII) publishes fragments of De Origine Anima, De Sacramento Altaris, Dialogus seu Altercatio, etc. Titles of forty-two fragments are given by Michaud, op. cit., p. 532.

{2} Historia Calamitatum, col. 119.

{3} Cf. Cousin, Ouvrages inéd., p. 455.

{4} Hist. Calam., ibid.

{5} Michaud (p. 231, n.) gives a fragment of William's work, De Esrentia et Substantia Dei, which confirms the use of the word indifferenter in this context, and explains its meaning: Vides (idem) duobus accipi modis, secundum indifferentiam et secundum identitatem prorsus ejusdem essentia; secundum indifferentiam, ut Petrum et Paulum idem esse dicimus in hoc quad sunt homines . . . sed si veritatem confiteri volumus, non est eadem utriusque humanitas, cum sint duo homines.

{6} Cf. frag. 38, apud Michaud, op. cit., p. 114.

{7} De Origine Animae, frag. 3.

{8} Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. CLXXX, col. 42. Herman was a monk of the abbey of Tonrnai and became abbot in 1127.

{9} Cf. Hauréau, op. cit., I, 308.

{10} Cf. Archiv f Gesch. der Phil., X (1897), 135.

{11} Quaestiones Naturales, apud Hauréau, op. cit., I, 355, n.

{12} Cf. Ouvrages inéd., CXXIII, and a passage quoted by Hauréau, op. cit., I 349, from De Eodem et Diverso.

{13} Spicilegium Dacherii, III, 525.

{14} Metal., II, 17.

{15} Hauréau, Notices, etc. (Paris, 1892), Vol. V, p. 313.

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