Anselm’s Ontological Argument by Justin Day
March 14, 2009, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Philosophy, Thought Initiative


by Justin Day

In his epic work Proslogion St. Anselm of Canterbury argued that God was a necessary being and that he could show it. Anselm said that God, given his nature, must exist. His argument went as follows:

  1. It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (i.e., the greatest possible being that can be imagined).
  2. God exists as an idea in the mind.
  3. 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.
  4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (i.e., a greatest possible being that does exist).
  5. 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.)
  6. Therefore, God exists.

So what do you guys think? Does it show that God exists? Is it a trick of words?


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

it isn’t clear that existence is greater than non-existence. In other words (Kant’s, to be precise) existence isn’t a property that is owned by things. You either exist or you don’t, but you don’t have the property of existence. This means that a god that doesn’t exist is not missing some property that an existing god does have. Try Plantinga’s version sometime:

Comment by philosophickle

to humanistic.

Comment by me

I am not convinced that existence is better/greater than non-existence either.

A Biblical example of such has to do with the doctrine of reprobation and Matthew 26/Mark 14.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

A second objection would be to challenge the definition of God being the greatest concievable being. Whereas I personally think that God is the greatest (and even greater than the greatest) possible concievable being, it is neither a necessary nor sufficient quality of the conceptual truth of God to be so (check out polytheism).

This argument only applies to monotheism and is ineffective to any other view of God (athiesm, polytheism, pantheism, etc).

A third objection to this argument is that it dependent upon logic (reductio ad absurdam) and one could always argue that logic is either flawed or could be a deception of a malevolent demon (ie. precision is not indicative of certitude).

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Reminds me of Spinozas proof for a one all powerful “Substance.”

When one gets right down to it. God, by definition is the most powerful. That much is acceptable. When we speak of polytheism, we travel into the realm of celebrities. “What are the gods up to today?”

To answer your question. It doesn’t show God exists in any real sense. If it leads someone to God then thats fantastic! But we can only really give evidence about God, not prove His existence. He is in charge of that.

Comment by James Baby

For the logic, I would like to point out the condition at step three. Why should anything that exists actually be greater than something existing only in the mind? Is this a statement universally agreed upon? I’d venture some people think quite highly of their own imaginations. That is, indeed, a man exalting his own reasonings above and against God – which is a problem logic can’t exactly solve.

The only proof of God’s existence is His own revelation of Himself. One most concise statement (paralleling Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” in a way) is in Exodus 3:14 – “I AM THAT I AM.” Wonderfully self-referential – and, if I remember the rules of logic rightly, doesn’t logic break down at self-referential statements?

Nothing else but Romans 11:33 on, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, His paths beyond tracing out…”

Comment by JDM

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