|Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophical
St. Anselm, "The Ontological Argument"
From raising the initial question of Socrates, "What should be your central
concern in life?," we have moved to the question of Tolstoy and Camus, "What is
the meaning of Life?"
In order to answer this question, another question can be raised first about the
existence of God, for this second question has great relevance to the first one. The
second question can be put
||Is the source of the meaning of
||Can we prove that God exists?
||Does God exist?
Hence, we turn our attention to the arguments for the existence of God.
- This task is properly in the philosophy of religion; philosophy of religion has as its
main concern an epistemological task. What does this statement mean?
a. whether religious knowledge is a special kind of knowledge,
b. how religious knowledge is obtained, and
c. the implications of religious knowledge for conduct.
- Philosophy of religion is not explicitly concerned with
a. the history of religion,
b . comparative religions, or
c. specific religious beliefs or church doctrines,
except insofar as these illumine the epistemological task. Philosophy of Religion
does not specifically seek historical facts or interpretations of church doctrine.
- Philosophers investigate two broad kinds of religious knowledge claims:
a. Natural Theology: the attempt to prove the existence of God, and
sometimes human immortality, from premisses provided by observation of the ordinary course
of nature (a posteriori proofs).
b. Deductive Theology: the attempt to prove the existence of God
from premisses known to be true by reason alone, independently of sensory experience
(a priori proofs).
St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was a Neoplatonic Realist, often called "the
- The doctrine of realism:
the extent to which anything is real is dependent upon its degree of universality;
hence, God is the most real and other things are emanations from archetypes.
- The Ontological Argument (From Proslogium
1. We conceive of God as a being than which no greater can be conceived.
2. This being than which no greater can be conceived either exists in the mind alone
or both in the mind and in reality.
3. Assume that this being than which no greater can be conceived exists in the mind alone.
a. Existing both in the mind and in reality is greater than
existing solely in the mind.
b. This being, existing in the mind alone, can also be
conceived to exist in reality.
c. This being existing in the mind alone is not therefore
the being than which no greater can be conceived. (See statement 1 above.)
4. Therefore, this being than which no greater can be conceived exists in reality as
well as exists in the mind.
- Objections to the Ontological Argument:
1. Gaunilo: the concept of a perfect island does not thereby prove its
existence. Insert "perfect island" for "God" pari passu
in the above argument. (Cf. refutation by means of devising an analogy.)
Reply: There is no contradiction in denying the
existence of a perfect island, but there is in denying God's existence. The only way
God can be conceived of not to exist is to conceive of the word "God" not
2. The definition is impossible to understand--there is no clear and distinct idea
of a "being than which no greater can be conceived."
Reply: If one does not understand the definition,
then one is a fool. You cannot argue with a fool (cf., argumentum ad hominem).
3. You cannot get outside of a conception to reality: the argument compares
the conception of existing in the mind with the conception of existing in reality as well.
It deals only with concepts, not things in the external world.
Reply: No, the comparison is between the mind alone
and in the mind and in reality. Both of these are thought of as they are, not
thought of as in the mind.
4. Existence is not a predicate: we cannot compare 100 dollars with 100 real
dollars. One doesn't laud someone you are to marry to your folks, and the add,
"Oh by the way, that person really exists." We assume existence, we do not
prove existence. (Cf., the problem of existential
Reply: Even though we often assume existence, we do
not always do so. Consider the sign by a curb: "No Parking." No
parking of what?
5. One cannot argue towards existence. One cannot prove existence. (Q.v.,
the reading by S. Kierkegaard. For example, you cannot prove the existence of
Napoleon by his deeds, because to mention his deeds is to assume the existence of someone
who did them. (This argument is similar to Socrates' argument that he believes in
deities because he believes in divine things.)
Reply: If so, it would follow that deductive
arguments (a priori arguments) are of no use to proving things about the nature of the