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basics of ontological argument

• Ontology - the study of existence
• It is a deductive argument, as you use your reason to deduce answer on already known premises, do not need to infer from evidence.
• Relies on belief in God as a 'necessary being'.
• Argument of the statement 'God exists' is one that is a priori and analytic (true by definition through reason).


anselm - context

o Moved to France when it was becoming established as a centre for learning.
o Invited to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, ensuring the consolidation of Norman influence over the English church, following the Norman invasion of 1066.
o Not a happy time for Anselm, series of violent disputes between the church and monarchy over land rights.
o Ontological Argument emphasises his appeal to reason, logical marshalling of arguments, the relentless exploration of the implication of ideas, and the fundamental conviction that he felt towards the Christian gospel being rational.


general info about anselm argument

• His argument relies on his belief in God as 'aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit' (a being than which none greater can be conceived). (Supported by Augustine, who believed God's 'magnitude is than then which nothing greater can be thought).
• Offered a 'reductio ad absurdum' argument (argument whose aim is to show that a proposition is true because its denial entails a contradiction.


anselm - proslogion 2

o We can conceive of the greatest possible being,
o Existence in reality is greater than existence only in the mind,
o Therefore we can conceive of a being greater than the greatest possible being, that is, a being which exists also in reality,
o There can be no greater being than the greatest possible being, otherwise we would be faced with a logical contradiction (reductio ad absurdum argument),
o Therefore, the greatest possible being exists in reality as well as in the mind, by virtue of being the greatest possible being.


anselm - proslogion 3

o God is the greatest possible being and nothing greater can be conceived,
o It is greater to be a necessary being than a contingent being,
o If God exists only as a contingent being, and so God could be imagined not to exist, then a greater being could be imagined that cannot be conceived not to exist,
o This would result in a being greater than God, which is a contradiction as God is the greatest being,
o Therefore, God is a necessary being and so must exist in reality (as he cannot not exist).


descartes argument

o We all possess innate knowledge of certain concepts, which are universal, such as equality, cause, shape and God.
o God is a supremely perfect being (definition)
o A supremely perfect being contains all supreme perfections
o Existence (as well omniscience etc.) is a supreme perfection
o Therefore God, a supremely perfect being exists.


descartes example

• Uses the example of a triangle and a mountain: 'existence can no more be separated from the essence of God than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle. (...) Hence it is just as much a contradiction to think of God (that is, a supremely perfect being) lacking existence (that is, lacking a perfection) as it is to think of a mountain without a valley'. - Written in his Mediations.


modern revivals - malcolm

o Agrees with Kant's idea of existence not being a predicate, but maintains that Anselm's 2nd argument can still work, claiming that if God exists, he necessarily exists.
• 'The doctrine that existence is perfection is remarkably queer. It makes sense and is true to say that my future house will be a better one if it is insulated, than not insulated; but what could it be mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not?'
o Since God cannot come into existence, his existence is impossible if he does not exist
o If God does exist, his existence is necessary
o Either God's existence is necessary or it is logically impossible. Not a logical contradiction to say that God could exist, so God's existence must be necessary, and thus he cannot not exist.
o 'If God exists, his existence is necessary. Thus God's existence is either impossible or necessary. It can be the former only if the concept of such a being is self-contradictory or in some way logically absurd. Assuming that this is not so, it follows that he necessarily exists'.


criticisms of malcolm

• Malcolm's use of word 'impossible' as alternate meanings in each sentence. His conclusion is that he is necessary (opposite of impossible), but his conclusion must mean that the concept of God is the concept of something that is logically necessary. He assumes what he attempts to prove i.e. that there is a God whose non-existence is a matter of fact impossible.
• Doesn't acknowledge the multitude of meanings of the word 'is', i.e. 'a pixie is a little man with pointed ears' and the conclusion that 'therefore there actually is such a thing as a pixie' are not the same. The first is an 'is' of definition, the second is an 'is' of affirmative predication. Link to Malcolm - 'We cannot infer from 'God is a necessary being' that '----- is God' is truly predicated of anything' (...) To deny Malcolm's conclusion, all we have to say is 'Possibly nothing at all is a necessary being', which is certainly not self-contradictory'. (Brian Davies).


hick counter argument to criticisms of malcolm

• John Hick: distinguishes between 'ontologically necessary being' (something that cannot be brought into existence) and a 'logically necessary being' (something whose non-existence is strictly inconceivable) and then comes to the conclusion that due to the 'dependence of the hypotheses, (...) the existence of God is either logically necessary or logically absurd'.



o Criticises Malcolm’s argument.
o Uses modal logic due to his interest in exploring concepts in all possible worlds:
• There is a possible world, W, in which there exists a being with maximal greatness,
• A being has maximal greatness in a world only if it exists in every other world.
o God has to be a being of maximal excellence,
o A being of maximum excellence must be necessary,
o Either such a being is impossible or necessary in any possible world. A being such as this cannot be inconceivable and therefore self-contradictory and impossible.
o Therefore God must exist in all possible worlds.
o 'The property has maximal greatness entails the property has maximal excellence in every possible world. Maximal


davies criticism of plantinga

o However... 'The fact that maximal excellence is possible does not entail that anything is actually maximally excellent.' (Brian Davies)


gaunilo criticism of plantinga

o Creates a satirical version of the argument in his 'On Behalf of the Fool':
• The Lost Island is the greatest possible island, as 'it is superior everywhere in abundance of riches to all those islands that men inhabit'
• It is greater to exist in reality than merely as an idea
• If it did not exist, 'any other land existing in reality would be more excellent than it'.
• Therefore, the Lost Island must exist in both the mind and reality.
• 'If, I say, someone wishes to persuade me that this island really exists beyond all doubt, I should either think he was joking, or I should find it hard to decide which of us I ought to judge the bigger fool'. (Response to Anselm's quote that 'even the fool is forced to agree that something than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the intellect, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood is in the intellect'.


counter argument to gaunilo criticism

• Islands are contingent by definition, have no intrinsic maximum of things that make them perfect, could add extra palm tree etc. God however does have attributes which can have a maximum e.g. goodness.
• Platinga criticised Gaunilo's idea:
• 'The qualities that make for greatness in islands - number of palm trees, amount and quality of coconuts, for example - most of these qualities have no intrinsic maximum. That is, there is no degree of productivity or number of palm trees such that it is impossible that an island display more of that quality'.
• God and island aren't the same kind of thing; ontological argument makes sense when talking about a being, not an island, as islands are by definition limited.


aquinas criticism and anselm counter argument

o We can conceive that God does not exist; surely atheists are proof that not everyone conceives a God that exists?
• Difficult to find a definition for something in existence that isn't subjective, therefore 1st premise of Anselm etc. cannot be deemed universal.

However... Anselm argues that an atheist 'even the fool is forced to agree that something than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the intellect, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood is in the intellect'.


hume criticism

o The only way to prove something is a priori is if its opposite implies a contradiction e.g. concept of triangle.
o If something implies a contradiction, then it is inconceivable.
o Everything can be conceived not to exist.
o Nothing can be proven to exist a priori, including God.


gasking criticism

• The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.
• The merit of an achievement is the product of:
• Its intrinsic quality
• The ability of its creator.
• The greater the disability of the creator, the more impressive the achievement
• The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence
• Therefore, if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being - namely, one who created everything whilst not existing
• Therefore, God does not exist.
o If you flip ontological argument, come up with opposite verdict.


kant opposition to descartes

• 'If we reject the subject and predicate alike, there is no contradiction; for nothing is then left that can be contradicted. To posit a triangle and then reject its three angles, is self contradictory; but there is no contradiction in rejecting the triangle together with its three angles. The same holds true of an absolutely necessary being. If its existence is rejected, we reject the things itself with all its predicates; and no question of contradiction can then arise'.
• Need further a posteriori evidence to confirm an a priori argument; argument doesn't work when thinking about ontology.
• The statement 'God does not exist' cannot be compared to the idea of 'a triangle has three sides' as the statement concerning God could be true, even if it is false.


counter argument to kant

• Anselm does not question whether we can move from a definition of God to a reality of God, but whether we can reasonably suppose that something than which nothing greater can be conceived only exists in the intellect.
• God is different from the existence of anything else, as all other things live contingently. However... Kant could argue that this makes the ontological argument circular, accept God's necessary existence to come to the conclusion of God's necessary existence.


kant criticism, existence as predicate

• 'Being is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of a certain determinations, as existing in themselves'.
• Something can have characteristics and not exist at the same time. Existence poses something into actuality, can't include existence, as part of characteristics of God, not definition of something, wouldn't help us identify an object.
• 'Perhaps existence is not a property but more of a statement of number, meaning "there is one of or more than one of"'.


kant predicate supporter - davies

'If 'Brian Davies snores' is true, someone who comes to know this learns something about Brian Davies. 'Brian Davies snores' says something about Brian Davies. This, however, is not the case with 'Brian Davies exists''. The contrary supposition leads to paradox. On the assumption that 'exists' gives a genuine property of individuals, affirmative existential statements (e.g. Brian exists) would seem to be necessarily true, and negative existential ones (e.g. Brian does not exist) would seem to be necessarily false.


kant predicate supporter - frege and williams

Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) who states 'the content of a statement of number is an assertion about a concept', therefore suggesting that statements of existence are simply statements of number, they do not ascribe properties to objects, as stated by C.J.F. Williams who states 'Instead of saying 'there are a lot of A's' I may say 'A's are numerous', and instead of saying 'there are some A's', I may say 'A's exist'. All these may be regarded as statements of number'.


southern criticism of anselm

o 'If this argument is sound, we can go a step further. The argument has forced an intelligent listener to agree that God exists both in the mind and outside the mind. But many other things exist both in the mind and outside the mind: for instance, the pen I am holding exists both in my mind and outside my mind. It exists in re and in mente; but it does not necessarily exist in re, because it exists in mente'.


russell criticism

o 'You sometimes know the truth of an existence-proposition without knowing any instance of it. You know that there are people in Timbuktu, but I doubt if any of you could give me an instance of one. Therefore you clearly can know existence-propositions without knowing any individual that makes them true. Existence-propositions do not say anything about the actual individual but only about the class or function'. (Logic and Knowledge, 1956)
o 'It is easier to feel convinced that the ontological argument must be fallacious than it is to find out precisely where the fallacy lies'.
o 'Is there anything we can think of which, by the mere fact that we can think of it, is shown to exist outside our thought?' (1946)


davies attempt to avoid opposition to kant's statement about existence

• 'The work done by 'exist' in sentences of the form 'A's exist' can equally well be done by the word 'Someone' or 'Something'. 'Faithful husbands exist' can just as well be rendered by 'Someone is a faithful husband'. But 'Someone is a faithful husband' can hardly be taken to be about any particular individual. (...) It would therefore seem that the work of 'exist' is not to tell us anything about any individual'.