The Ontological Argument: an Explanation and Critical Assessment

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  • Topic: Existence, Ontology, Existence of God
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The Ontological Argument:
An explanation and critical assessment

Phil 361 Lec 01
Professor: Reid Buchanan
Ryley Braun, 10013764
April 16, 2010

The ontological argument is an attempt to refute skepticism of God and prove His existence through reason alone. The philosopher, Saint Anselm, presented his work on the ontological argument, or argument from reason, in his text the Proslogium. The argument, on the surface, is very logically convincing and attempts to allure even the skeptic of God. Anselm tries to show the proposition of God exists based on analytic necessary truth – which will be discussed later in further detail. This paper will explain and assess the deductive and a priori nature of the argument, address the objections to the premises of Anselm’s argument, and ultimately refute the argument. The general argument Anselm created attempts to prove God’s existence without any practical evidence, based on a priori analytic necessary knowledge alone. A priori knowledge is independent of experience, for example, ‘all bachelors are unmarried’. This statement is also an analytic or necessary truth, as it is true by the virtue of its meaning. Essentially, it would be absurd to disprove such a claim based on our understanding of the word bachelor. Using this logic, Anselm believes he can refute skeptics of God and by simple deduction create an argument for His existence that would be as absurd to critique as ‘all bachelors are unmarried’. Anselm’s argument is very convincing and is based on the idea that ‘the fool’ believes there is no God; despite his knowledge of the claim that God is, “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived”. The problem, which Anselm discusses later, is the fool believes God to exist in the understanding and not in reality. It must be clear that the Tooth Fairy and Cyclops are other beings that exist in the understanding alone, and not in reality. It is understand what these beings are, but we do not believe them to exist in reality. It could be acknowledged that some individuals may argue they do exist in reality, however, to stay inside the scope of this argument I will avoid these acquisitions. Alternately there are objects that exist in reality but not in our understanding, such as deep-sea creatures and plants in the rainforest. Although they do exist, our minds cannot understand them to exist. Anselm argues that existence in both reality and in the understanding is greater than existence merely in the understanding. To understand God as an omnipotent omniscient wholly good being – “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived”, God must exist in not only in the understanding, but also in reality. Thus, is would be logically incoherent to understand the nature of God, but believe Him not to exist:

P1) The concept of God is one of a being with all perfections
P2) Existence in reality and the understanding is a perfection
C) God exists in the understanding and in reality.

The argument appears to be logically sound, and requires no empirical evidence of God. However, one can quickly start to see where the argument falls apart. In the first premise, Anselm believes the concept of God is one of a being with all perfections. This claim is subjective to one society or religion. If the skeptic can appropriate another definition of God, the argument is flawed. If one does not believe in His existence, He may only be viewed as an object of worship. It quickly becomes clear that the skeptic may be opposed to the belief in God, as he does not believe Him to be the greatest conceivable being. The fool may also question Anselm’s view that a God is omnipotent, which he indeed must to be truly perfect, based on a popular paradoxical claim. If God is omnipotent, can He make a mountain too big for Him to clime? Initially the believer may be inclined to say yes, God can do anything. However, in making the mountain too big to climb He has restricted His power. Therefore,...
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