Chapter 11. "An Answer to Anselm" by Gaunilo

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Pro Insipiente
The Reading Selection from Pro Insipiente
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Abbey at Marmoutier,

About the author…

Gaunilo, a Benedictine monk of Marmoutier, expressed his objections to Anselm's argument by means of devising a logical analogy. Gaunilo's argument appeared soon after the writing of the Proslogion and was accepted by many philosophers.

About the work…

Gaunilo replies to Anselm's ontological argument in his Pro Insipiente[1] (a "take-off" of Anselm's reference to the fool of Psalms) that the use of a concept does not imply that the concept has an existent reference. He argues by analogy that many ideas are only hypothetical. Note how in a later reading St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with Gaunilo's analysis. Nathan Salmon has observed, "Philosophers who address the questions of what it is for an individual to exist, or what it is for an individual to be actual, often do so with reference to the fallacy they have uncovered in the classical Ontological Argument for God's existence. Indeed, the Ontological Argument is useful as a vehicle by which this and other issues in ontology and the philosophy of logic may be introduced and sharpened."[2]

Ideas of Interest from Pro Insipiente

  1. Restate in your own words, Gaunilo's perfect island objection.

  2. Does the concept of a being "than which no greater can be conceived" differ from other kinds of concepts on the basis that this concept cannot be conceived not to exist?

  3. Does the ontological argument of Anselm or does the perfect island objection of Gaunilo commit the fallacy of petitio principii?



Gaunilo. Pro Insipiente. "In Behalf of the Fool." 1078.


Nathan Salmon. "Existence" in Philosophical Perspectives: Metaphysics, Volume 1. Edited by James E. Tomberlin. Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing Co, 1987, 49.