[4.3.2] William of Champeaux’s Second Theory of Universals

William of Champeaux (Guillaume de Champeaux, “Columna Doctorum”, ca. 1070-1122 AD), faced with Abelard’s criticism of his material essence realism (see [4.3.1]), gave up his support of universal essences but refused to accept that universals are simply words or concepts. His second theory of universals, indifference realism, rejects the core principle of material essence realism by denying that there are shared essences and holding that individuals are utterly discrete from one another. 

Here are his responses to Porphyry’s questions (see [2.5]):

Porphyry’s questionsUniversals according to William
(a) whether genera and species are real or are situated in bare thoughts aloneare real, but not identical to all Individuals, however they are similar, meaning that do not differ
(b) whether as real they are bodies or incorporealsare incorporeals
(c) whether they are separated or in sensibles and have their reality in connection with themare in sensibles

William’s second model of universals is pictured in the following OntoUML diagram:

William’s indifference realism
Sameness“The words ‘one’ and ‘same’ are ambiguous, William says: ‘when I say Plato and Socrates are the same I might attribute identity of wholly the same essence or I might simply mean that they do not differ in some relevant respect.’ William’s newfound ambiguity is the seed of his second theory of universals. The stronger sense of ‘one’ and ‘same’ applies to Peter/Simon and Saul/Paul (we would say Cicero/Tully), who ‘are one and the same according to identity’ […] As for Plato and Socrates:
‘We call them the same in that they are men [in hoc quod sunt homines], [‘same’] pertaining with regard to humanity. Just as one is rational, so is the other; just as one is mortal, so is the other. But if we wanted to make a true confession, it is not the same humanity in each one, but a similar [humanity], since they are two men.’
So, although Plato and Socrates have no common material—matter, form, or universal essence—they are still said to be the same because they do not differ [indifference].
is a Relator; mediates between Essences
EssenceEssences are not shared, the humanity of Plato and Socrates are not identical, but they are similar. characterizes Individual
IndividualIndifference realism rejects the core principle of material essence realism by rejecting the notion that there are shared essences and holding that individuals are completely discrete from one another.”
AccidentIndifference realism is not a complete departure from material essence realism because William still accepts accidental individuation. When the accidents are stripped away, Plato and Socrates are still one and the same although in the weaker sense of ‘one’ and ‘same’.” individuates Individual

Related posts in theory of Universals: [1.2.2][1.3.1][1.3.2][2.5][2.7.3][4.3.1], [4.3.2], [4.4.1][4.5.2], [4.9.8]


  • All citations from: Guilfoy, Kevin, “William of Champeaux”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Spade, Paul Vincent, “History of the Problem of Universals in the Middle Ages”, Indiana University 2009

First published: 18/06/2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.