World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

William of Conches

William of Conches (c. 1090 – after 1154) was a French scholastic philosopher who sought to expand the bounds of Christian humanism by studying secular works of the classics and fostering empirical science. He was a prominent member of the School of Chartres. John of Salisbury, a bishop of Chartres and former student of William's, refers to William as the most talented grammarian after Bernard of Chartres.


  • Life 1
  • Works 2
  • The De philosophia mundi 3
  • Editions and translations 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


He was born in Conches, Normandy. His teaching activity extended from c. 1120 to 1154, and about the year 1145 he became the tutor of Henry Plantagenet. It is possible, but uncertain, that he was teaching at Chartres before that. Warned by a friend of the danger implied in his Platonic realism as he applied it to theology, he took up the study of Islamic philosophy and physical science. When and where he died is a matter of uncertainty.

William devoted much attention to cosmology and psychology. Having been a student of Bernard of Chartres, he shows the characteristic Humanism, tendency towards Platonism, and taste for natural science which distinguish the "Chartrains". He is one of the first of the medieval Christian philosophers to take advantage of Islamic physical and physiological lore, to which he had access in the translations by Constantine the African.

William of St. Thierry, who had encouraged Bernard of Clairvaux to prosecute Abelard, in another letter to Bernard attacked William's De philosophia mundi for having a modalist view of the Holy Trinity. William in consequence revised some controversial parts in the Dragmaticon.


There is a good deal of discussion regarding the authorship of the works ascribed to William. It seems probable, however, that he wrote the encyclopedic De philosophia mundi (or Philosophia) and the related dialogue Dragmaticon, as well as glosses on Plato's Timaeus, on Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, on Priscian's Institutiones grammaticae, and on Macrobius's Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. He was probably also the author of a lost treatise Magna de naturis philosophia. A work on ethics, the Moralium dogma philosophorum, was attributed to him in the 1920s, but his authorship is now rejected by most scholars.

The De philosophia mundi

The De philosophia mundi is divided into four books, covering physics, astronomy, geography, meteorology and medicine.

William explains the world as composed of elements (elementa), which he defines as "the simplest and minimum part[s] of any body—simple in quality, minimum in quantity".[1] He identifies the elements with the traditional four elements (fire, air, water, earth) but (following Constantine the African) not as they are perceived, since as such they are neither simple in quality nor minimum in quantity: earth, for example, contains something hot, something cold, something dry and something wet at the same time. Pure elements are not to be perceived, says William, but to be grasped by reason, through an abstract division of the sensible bodies.[2] Each of these pure elements has two of the four basic qualities: earth is cold and dry, water is cold and humid, air is hot and humid and fire is hot and dry. The perceivable elements, called elementata,[3] are made of pure elements: the sensible earth especially of pure earth, the sensible water especially of pure water, and so on.

The discussion of meteorology includes a description of air becoming less dense and colder as the altitude increases, and William attempts to explain the circulation of the air in connection with the circulation of the oceans. The discussion of medicine deals chiefly with procreation and childbirth. This work influenced Jean de Meung, the author of the second part of the Roman de la Rose.

Editions and translations

  • De philosophia mundi is edited under the name of Bede in Patrologia Latina, vol. 90, and under the name of Honorius Augustodunensis in vol. 172.
  • Gregor Maurach, ed., Philosophia Mundi; Wilhelm von Conches: Ausgabe des 1. Buchs von Wilhelm von Conches Philosophia. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1974.
  • Marco Albertazzi, ed., Philosophia. Lavis: La Finestra, 2010. ISBN 978-88-95925-13-4
  • Paul Edward Dutton, ed., Philosophia (Simon Fraser University, forthcoming)
  • Édouard Jeauneau, ed., Glosae super Platonem. Paris: Vrin, 1965. ISBN 2-7116-0336-9
  • Édouard Jeauneau, ed., Glosae super Platonem, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 203. Turnhout: Brepols, 2006 (new revised edition)
  • Lodi Nauta, ed., Guillelmi de Conchis Glosae super Boetium, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 158. Turnhout: Brepols, 1999. ISBN 2-503-04581-2 (hardback); ISBN 2-503-04582-0 (paperback)
  • Bradford Wilson, ed. Glosae in Iuvenalem Paris: Vrin, 1980.
  • Helen Rodnite Lemay, ed., Glosae super Macrobium (State University of New York at Stony Brook, forthcoming)
  • Irene Caiazzo, ed., Glosae super Priscianum (CNRS, Paris, forthcoming)
  • Italo Ronca, ed., Guillelmi de Conchis Dragmaticon, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 152. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997. ISBN 2-503-04521-9 (hardback); ISBN 2-503-04522-7 (paperback)
  • William of Conches, A Dialogue on Natural Philosophy (Dragmaticon Philosophiae), translation with an introduction by Italo Ronca and Matthew Curr, Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997

See also


  1. ^ "Elementum ergo, ut ait Constantinus in Pantegni, est simpla et minima pars alicuius corporis—simpla ad qualitatem, minima ad quantitatem" (De philosophia mundi, Liber primus, capitulum XXII).
  2. ^ "Quae elementa numquam videntur, sed ratione divisionis intelliguntur" (Ibidem).
  3. ^ "Si ergo illis digna velimus imponere nomina, particulas praedictas dicamus «elementa», ista quae videntur «elementata»" (Ibidem).

Further reading

  • Peter Ellard, The Sacred Cosmos: Theological, Philosophical, and Scientific Conversations in the Twelfth Century School of Chartres, University of Scranton Press, 2007

External links

  • William of Conches
  • atMoralium dogma philosophorum and De philosophia mundiEtexts of The Latin Library
  • De philosophia mundiFacsimile of ljs384, a late-12th-century manuscript of
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.