References and Further Reading 1. Introduction: The Non-Empirical Nature of the Ontological Arguments It is worth reflecting for a moment on what a remarkable and beautiful! If I want to prove that bachelors, unicorns, or viruses exist, it is not enough just to reflect on the concepts. I need to go out into the world and conduct some sort of empirical investigation using my senses. In general, positive and negative existential claims can be established only by empirical methods. There is, however, one class of exceptions.
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References and Further Reading 1. Introduction: The Non-Empirical Nature of the Ontological Arguments It is worth reflecting for a moment on what a remarkable and beautiful! If I want to prove that bachelors, unicorns, or viruses exist, it is not enough just to reflect on the concepts. I need to go out into the world and conduct some sort of empirical investigation using my senses. In general, positive and negative existential claims can be established only by empirical methods.
There is, however, one class of exceptions. We can prove certain negative existential claims merely by reflecting on the content of the concept. Thus, for example, we can determine that there are no square circles in the world without going out and looking under every rock to see whether there is a square circle there. We can do so merely by consulting the definition and seeing that it is self-contradictory.
Thus, the very concepts imply that there exist no entities that are both square and circular. The ontological argument, then, is unique among such arguments in that it purports to establish the real as opposed to abstract existence of some entity. In the following sections, we will evaluate a number of different attempts to develop this astonishing strategy.
The Classic Version of the Ontological Argument a. The Argument Described St. Anselm , Archbishop of Cantebury , is the originator of the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows: [Even a] fool, when he hears of … a being than which nothing greater can be conceived … understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding.
For suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.
The argument in this difficult passage can accurately be summarized in standard form: It is a conceptual truth or, so to speak, true by definition that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined.
God exists as an idea in the mind. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God that is, a greatest possible being that does exist.
But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined. Therefore, God exists. Intuitively, one can think of the argument as being powered by two ideas. The first, expressed by Premise 2, is that we have a coherent idea of a being that instantiates all of the perfections.
Premise 3 asserts that existence is a perfection or great-making property. Accordingly, the very concept of a being that instantiates all the perfections implies that it exists. Since Premise 3 asserts that existence is a perfection, it follows that B lacks a perfection. But this contradicts the assumption that B is a being that instantiates all the perfections. Thus, according to this reasoning, it follows that B exists.
As the objection is sometimes put, Anselm simply defines things into existence-and this cannot be done. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent. The counterexample can be expressed as follows: It is a conceptual truth that a piland is an island than which none greater can be imagined that is, the greatest possible island that can be imagined.
A piland exists as an idea in the mind. A piland that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is greater than a piland that exists only as an idea in the mind. Thus, if a piland exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine an island that is greater than a piland that is, a greatest possible island that does exist. But we cannot imagine an island that is greater than a piland. Therefore, a piland exists. The problem here is that the qualities that make an island great are not the sort of qualities that admit of conceptually maximal qualities.
No matter how great any island is in some respect, it is always possible to imagine an island greater than that island in that very respect. For example, if one thinks that abundant fruit is a great-making property for an island, then, no matter how great a particular island might be, it will always be possible to imagine a greater island because there is no intrinsic maximum for fruit-abundance. For this reason, the very concept of a piland is incoherent.
But this is not true of the concept of God as Anselm conceives it. Properties like knowledge, power, and moral goodness, which comprise the concept of a maximally great being, do have intrinsic maximums. For example, perfect knowledge requires knowing all and only true propositions; it is conceptually impossible to know more than this. Likewise, perfect power means being able to do everything that it is possible to do; it is conceptually impossible for a being to be able to do more than this.
Broad puts this important point: [The notion of a greatest possible being imaginable assumes that] each positive property is to be present in the highest possible degree. Now this will be meaningless verbiage unless there is some intrinsic maximum or upper limit to the possible intensity of every positive property which is capable of degrees. With some magnitudes this condition is fulfilled.
It is, e. But it seems quite clear that there are other properties, such as length or temperature or pain, to which there is no intrinsic maximum or upper limit of degree. The problem with this criticism is that the ontological argument can be restated without defining God. Nevertheless, Aquinas had a second problem with the ontological argument. On this view, God is unlike any other reality known to us; while we can easily understand concepts of finite things, the concept of an infinitely great being dwarfs finite human understanding.
If the concept is coherent, then even a minimal understanding of the concept is sufficient to make the argument. Premise 3 thus entails that 1 existence is a property; and 2 instantiating existence makes a thing better, other things being equal, than it would have been otherwise. Kant rejects premise 3 on the ground that, as a purely formal matter, existence does not function as a predicate. As Kant puts the point: Being is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing.
It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgement. The proposition, God is omnipotent, contains two conceptions, which have a certain object or content; the word is, is no additional predicate-it merely indicates the relation of the predicate to the subject.
Now if I take the subject God with all its predicates omnipotence being one , and say, God is, or There is a God, I add no new predicate to the conception of God, I merely posit or affirm the existence of the subject with all its predicates — I posit the object in relation to my conception. Accordingly, what goes wrong with the first version of the ontological argument is that the notion of existence is being treated as the wrong logical type.
Concepts, as a logical matter, are defined entirely in terms of logical predicates. Existence is not a property in, say, the way that being red is a property of an apple. Rather it is a precondition for the instantiation of properties in the following sense: it is not possible for a non-existent thing to instantiate any properties because there is nothing to which, so to speak, a property can stick.
Nothing has no qualities whatsoever. To say that x instantiates a property P is hence to presuppose that x exists. But even if we concede that existence is a property, it does not seem to be the sort of property that makes something better for having it. Norman Malcolm expresses the argument as follows: The doctrine that existence is a 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 if it is not insulated; but what could it mean to say that it will be a better house if it exists than if it does not? My future child will be a better man if he is honest than if he is not; but who would understand the saying that he will be a better man if he exists than if he does not? Or who understands the saying that if God exists He is more perfect than if he does not exist?
One might say, with some intelligibility, that it would be better for oneself or for mankind if God exists than if He does not-but that is a different matter.
The idea here is that existence is very different from, say, the property of lovingness. A being that is loving is, other things being equal, better or greater than a being that is not. The second version does not rely on the highly problematic claim that existence is a property and hence avoids many of the objections to the classic version.
Here is the second version of the ontological argument as Anselm states it: God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist.
Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.
This version of the argument relies on two important claims. As before, the argument includes a premise asserting that God is a being than which a greater cannot be conceived. But this version of the argument, unlike the first, does not rely on the claim that existence is a perfection; instead it relies on the claim that necessary existence is a perfection.
This latter claim asserts that a being whose existence is necessary is greater than a being whose existence is not necessary. Otherwise put, then, the second key claim is that a being whose non-existence is logically impossible is greater than a being whose non-existence is logically possible. More formally, the argument is this: By definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined.
A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist. Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God. Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
God exists in the mind as an idea. Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality. This second version appears to be less vulnerable to Kantian criticisms than the first.
To begin with, necessary existence, unlike mere existence, seems clearly to be a property. Notice, for example, that the claim that x necessarily exists entails a number of claims that attribute particular properties to x.
Life and Works Anselm was born in near Aosta, in those days a Burgundian town on the frontier with Lombardy. Little is known of his early life. He left home at twenty-three, and after three years of apparently aimless travelling through Burgundy and France, he came to Normandy in Lanfranc was a scholar and teacher of wide reputation, and under his leadership the school at Bec had become an important center of learning, especially in dialectic. In Anselm entered the abbey as a novice. His intellectual and spiritual gifts brought him rapid advancement, and when Lanfranc was appointed abbot of Caen in , Anselm was elected to succeed him as prior.
Main article: Proslogion Theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury — proposed an ontological argument in the second and third chapters of his Proslogion. The concept must exist either only in our mind, or in both our mind and in reality. If such a being exists only in our mind, then a greater being—that which exists in the mind and in reality—can be conceived this argument is generally regarded as a reductio ad absurdum because the view of the fool is proven to be inconsistent. Therefore, if we can conceive of a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, it must exist in reality. Thus, a being than which nothing greater could be conceived, which Anselm defined as God, must exist in reality.
Anselm of Canterbury was a Neoplatonic Realist and was often called "the second Augustine. Other existent things in the world are emanations from archetypes. The general idea of the ontological argument is based on the notion that the concept of God as the greatest being implies that God exists—if not, there could be something greater, namely an existent greatest being—but this being would be God. This being than which no greater can be conceived either exists in the mind alone or both in the mind and in reality. Assume that this being than which no greater can be conceived exists in the mind alone.
Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence