William of Auvergne, or William of Paris, wrote The Soul (De anima) around 1240, approximately twelve years after he was ordained a priest and made bishop of Paris by Gregory IX on April 10, 1228 and nine years before his death in March of 1249. Of William’s huge opus, The Teaching on God in the Mode of Wisdom (Magisterium divinale et sapientiale), The Soul was the last part to be written, though it stands as the third part of that opus. That is, if one looks to the order which William intended for the constituent parts of The Teaching on God in the Mode of Wisdom, The Soul belongs third, following after The Trinity (De trinitate) and The Universe of Creatures (De universo creaturarum) and preceding Why God Became Man (Cur Deus homo), The Faith and the Laws (De fide et legibus), The Sacraments (De sacramentis), and The Virtues and Morals (De virtutibus et moribus). William, however, almost certainly did not have fully in mind this order for the parts of his Magisterium when he began the work with The Trinity prior to his episcopacy.
R. A. Gauthier has argued persuasively that the composition of The Universe of Creatures may well have continued up to 1240 and that William probably began his The Soul only a short time earlier. In a passage taken from the very end of The Universe of Creatures, William refers to The Soul as a future project which was then only in an early stage of planning.
Though so many and such great wise men have written about the soul, they, nonetheless, left its nature and the nature of the intellective power quite obscure and unexamined. For this reason I had the desire, and I still have it, to write a complete treatise on it by which the human soul might be able to become known to itself and to know itself. After the knowledge of the creator there is no knowledge more salutary for it than this knowledge, and none more useful in any way, just as after the ignorance of God most high no ignorance is more dangerous or shameful for it than the ignorance of it. May it, therefore, be in the good pleasure of the creator to give life and space and the help of his grace for completing so desirable and so noble a treatise.
The dating of The Soul at approximately 1240 and later allows for the possibility that William was familiar with some of the writings of Averroes, especially with his Great Commentary on the Soul from which William probably derived, among other things, his knowledge of the views of Alexander of Aphrodisias and of Averroes’ own view of the agent intellect as a part of the human soul. — From the Introduction
Roland J. Teske, S.J., is the Donald J. Schuenke Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University. He is the author, editor, and translator of some twenty books and nearly one hundred articles, and is the editor of the series Mediæval Philosophical Texts in Translation.