Title Background

The ‘Vis Imaginativa’ and the Reasoning Powers of Ymaginatif in the B text of <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

The ‘Vis Imaginativa’ and the Reasoning Powers of Ymaginatif in the B text of Piers Plowman.

The “Benjamin minor” and the “De spiritu et anima” do not adequately account for key features of WL’s Imaginatif, viz., his rational and prophetic functions. Influenced by Augustinian categories, these sources are specifically unwilling to grant the “vis imaginativa” any freedom from carnality or any reliably rational function. The implicit contrast developed in PPl B.8-12 between sense reasoning in Thought (who introduces Wit, Study, Clergy and the rest -i.e., human reason) and sense reasoning in Imaginatif (i.e., animal reason) is derived from a controversial theory of the “vis imaginativa” drawn from Avicenna and popularized in the thirteenth century by Jean de la Rochelle and Vincent of Beauvais. WL had ready access to the theory since Jean’s major source was an anonymous Worcester tract (“De potendis aniMAE et obiectis”) once the property of the local Benedictine priory. The Latinized Avicenna locates the “vis imaginativa” in the middle cavity of the brain (i.e., in the area of rational judgment) and vindicates its freedom from the effects of fallen human nature. The power to feel shame (which Will experiences after his lecture from Imaginatif) also derives from this same theory of the “vis imaginativa” -as does the power of prophecy. By contrast with traditional Augustinian psychology, this theory offers an almost Adamite view of uncorrupted animal reasoning “counteracting sensuality … vividly representing the occult movements of the human soul toward Dowel.”


JEGP 84 (1985): 16-29.

Cross Reference



Kaulbach, Ernest N.