Philosophy OCR - Explain Anselm's ontological argumentWatch
The Ontological argument is an argument used to rationally support the existence of God. St Anselm (1033-1109) was said to be the most influential thinker of the medieval Europe, with praised work such as his book Proslogion (1078) that is where he first outlined his Ontological argument. Anselm was a Benedictine Monk and Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore he had a theistic stance. Anselm didn’t doubt his belief in God and he wished to prove the existence of God by using logic and reason. Anselm’s argument was based on the premise that God does not exist – Anselm set out to prove that not believing in God was an incoherent position to hold.
The Ontological argument was introduced in Chapter two of Proslogion, throughout the book Anselm suggests one way in which the existence of God could be “demonstrated’ to people. Anselm wanted to start by proposing a definition of the word “God” and to prove that it is absurd to suggest that God doesn’t exist. Anselm begins by reflecting on Psalm 14:1 which states; “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”” This emphasizes Anselm’s belief in God, the first part of the Ontological Argument looks at the definition of God and Anselm defines God as “the greatest possible being which can be conceived of.” Anselm believes you can’t think of anything greater than God, he goes on to claim that even the “fools” spoken about in Psalm 14:1 agree with this definition. Furthermore, Anselm stresses the difference between the understanding of God as a concept and the understanding of him to exist. To emphasize this point, Anselm introduces the analogy of a painter, before a talented painter starts painting, he can see the image clearly in his head although it doesn’t exist; he understands it as a concept. However, once the painting has been finished, the concept has become a reality, the painter both understands the concept of the painting and understands in to exist.
Anselm goes on to explain that something, which exists in reality and the mind, is greater than something that exists as an idea in the mind alone, so if something exists as a concept and in reality it is better than something which is just a concept and therefore only exists in the mind. The idea of an existent God is greater than a non-existent one and so, as God is perfect by definition, he must exist, this is due to the fact that if God didn’t exist he wouldn’t be the greatest thing in existence and then wouldn’t fit the definition of God. Anselm is explaining that existence is a predicate of God, meaning that it’s a characteristic of God, so therefore he has to exist. Even the suggestion that there is no God requires the concept of God, since the greated thought must have an equivalent reality to be greater than God in reality. Anselm saw the statement “God exists” as an analytic statement, so he believed God must exist. Analytic statements are statements in which the truth is contained within the statement and it would be incoherent to doubt the statement. Next, Anselm gives a different view on the Ontological argument and goes on to look at the nature of God rather than the definition of God; in chapter 3, Anselm focuses mainly on the fact that God must exist, as Anselm sees it; one of God’s qualities. Anselm explores the idea of contingency and necessity, if a being is contingent it’s something that depends on something else for its existence, whereas if something is necessary it’s something which has to be that way and cannot be different whatever the circumstance. Humans and other living and inanimate things are contingent, this is because they depend on something else for their existence. Humans depend on their parents conceiving them; we don’t just appear out of nowhere. Anselm argues that God is a necessary being and there is no way that he could not exist.
However, Anselm’s argument received many criticism’s, one of the most famous criticism was from a monk named Gaunilo. Gaunilo was a strong believer in God but he disagreed with Anselm’s way of trying to prove the existence of God. Gaunilo believes that, if you use Anselm’s logic, anything could be thought into existence and he emphasized his point by using the example of a Perfect Island. Gaunilo said, “just because he can conceive of such a place, that does not actually mean such a place exists.” So, if a – so-called – perfect island didn’t exist it would be a contradiction to call in perfect, therefore, by using Anselm’s logic, the perfect island must exist seeing as an island that previously existed would be greater than the non-existent one. This is obviously not apparent, and if parallel arguments such as this do not work then why would the original argument involving God be any different?
Anselm responded to Gaunilo’s argument by saying he was not arguing about temporal contingent things (such as islands, which are rooted in time and space) but of “the greatest thing that can be thought.” Islands have no “intrinsic maximum” – an island can always be bettered and God cannot be seen in the same category as an island. God is not contingent or temporal – like the island – God’s existence is necessary, according to Anselm.
Following criticisms to his argument, Anselm released a second version of the argument as seen in Proslogion 3 in 1078, in this argument the main points are similar to the original points but Anselm has slightly changed them. Anselm starts with the same idea in the second version of the argument and it is that – God is that being nothing greater than which can be thought of. It was still apparent that Anselm saw God as the greatest being and he believed nothing could be thought of as any higher than God. Secondly, something which cannot be thought not to exist is greater than anything which can be thought not to exist, meaning, a necessary being is greater than a contingent being. Anselm is stressing the point that God, a necessary being, cannot be put in the same category as contingent beings, such as islands, because he is above that and he does not need a reason to exist, he just exists. It would be impossible to question his existence, and therefore as the existence of God is a predicate of him, this being that has to exist must be “God.”
Throughout Anselm’s ontological argument he attempts to move from a definition of “God” to the suggestion of God’s existence and although now we cannot see the statement of “God must exist” as an analytic statement as we would demand evidence to prove the existence, it was an intrusive attempt and Anselm’s ontological argument could be a strong argument if he found more evidence.
b) “Logic cannot prove the existence of God.” Discuss.
Many different philosophers, such as Anselm, Kant and Descartes, all have opposing views on this statement. Firstly, Anselm believed that existence is a predicate of God and clearly thought that his existence could be proven by logic, he believed that God existed and could not be thought of not to exist. Immanuel Kant would also agree with this statement as he would want to argue that existence is not a predicate and he argued that adding reality to a concept does not make it any better. He believed that necessity is about logic, whereas existence is about experience, he also believed that if you accept there is a God, it is logical to accept that his existence is necessary.
Descarte would agree with this statement, due to the fact that in his version of the ontological argument he also defines God as a perfect being, and a part of being perfect involves existing, so therefore God must exist. Descarte also uses the idea of the triangle to enforce his argument, he says that however many sides we may think a triangle has – the truth is, it will always have 3 sides, no matter what we think, the truth will not change. Descarte uses this idea of a triangle to represent God; God is immutable and cannot change even if we doubt his existence.
Bertrand Russell argued that existence couldn’t be a predicate because if it was things such as: “Men exist – Santa Claus is a man – therefore Santa exists” can be constructed. Due to this existence is not a property of things, it is rather a numerical concept: for example, comparing cows and unicorns brings you to the point where you conclude that there are many cows but no unicorns.
Hume argued that the to prove Gods existence you need to use empirical evidence, so he agreed with this statement as he argued that we must go beyond the description of something to determine whether or not a thing exists. Something cannot just be “defined into existence”; no matter how perfect we imagine the being to be, we cannot enforce its existence from its assumed perfection.
Lastly, one of the flaws in Anselm’s construction is that the conclusion has already been anticipated in the idea that “God is that than which no greater being can be thought to exist.” Anselm himself put this statement forward and as he began by describing God in this way, it didn’t make it hard for people to move from the idea of thinking God is the greatest to the conclusion that he doesn’t actually exist at all in reality.
To conclude, there are many arguments that question Gods existence and although these philosophers have altering views on whether logic would be able to prove God’s existence, over time it’s harder for us to just see something that has been defined into existence, as we want some empirical evidence. Therefore, I do not believe that logic, alone, is able to prove God’s existence.
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