The Gaunilo Argument

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To what extent does Gaunilo’s criticism of Anselm’s argument succeed in demonstrating that the argument fails? Gaunilo, a Benedictine monk and contemporary of St Anselm was the first to raise objections to Anselm’s idea that God exists by definition, claiming within “On behalf of the Fool” that Anselm’s argument was not logical and needed to be discredited. Gaunilo famously claimed that Anselm’s conclusion that the non-existence of God is “unintelligible” cannot show that God necessarily exists. Firstly, Gaunilo argued that the “fool” character featured in Psalm 53:1 may have been referring not only to God but to any number of other things that do not exist in reality. Gaunilo utilizes the example of someone hearing about a person from gossip; he suggested that the gossip was unreliable and the person and event were made up to trick you. As an idea later developed by Middle Age philosophers who believed you cannot prove from what is said (de dicto) what exists in reality (de re), Gaunilo argued that you cannot define the concept of “God” into existence. The most famous argument posed by Gaunilo was that of a perfect island which can replace the idea of God in the Ontological argument. Gaunilo argued that anyone can think of the most perfect paradise island for the notion of “the most perfect island” exists as a concept in our understanding. Gaunilo developed his argument by employing Anselm’s logic to say that for such an island to exist in our minds means that this is inferior to the same island existing in reality. The island must therefore exist in reality as it cannot possess the inferiority that comes from it being only a concept if it is to be “the most perfect island”. While the most perfect island can be conceived of, this does not mean it exists; we cannot bring something into existence just be defining it as superlative. Furthermore, Gaunilo concluded that Anselm cannot demonstrate that the idea of God as the greatest possible being means that God...
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