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Critically consider the ontological Argument of St. Anselm and subsequent criticisms of it.

Critically consider the ontological Argument of St. Anselm and subsequent criticisms of it.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Finbarr Goode Begley. Originally submitted for Philosophical and Theological Approaches to God at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr. James Kelly in the category of Philosophical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Finbarr Goode Begley. Originally submitted for Philosophical and Theological Approaches to God at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr. James Kelly in the category of Philosophical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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04/22/2014

 
Alvin Plantinga has this to say about the ontological argument of St. Anselm.
“It is doubtful ... that any person was ever brought to a belief in god by this argument.”
1
If this was not enough treatmentof the proof he went on to comment that “
To the unsophisticated, Anselm's argument is (at first  sight at least) remarkably unconvincing, if not downright irritating; it smacks too much of wormagic.”
2
This is absolutely true, the typical student reaction to the ontological argument is disbelief and outright rejection. However, Plantinga does give the argument the respect it deserves.
“ Almost every major philosopher from the time of Anselm to the present had his say about it.”
3
On the onehand we have this ancient argument which inspires indignation as to how impossible it sounds, andon the other hand we have some of the biggest questions ever asked in philosophy contained within.Such as: Is there such a thing as a necessary absolute? Is there something which can be said to benecessary by virtue of our conception of it? Is existence a predicate?The title “
Ontological argument 
” was itself first used by Immanuel Kant. It is important to mark early on in this essay that when I refer to the
Ontological Argument”
I am referring to theargument associated with Anselm, not later variations by such as those by Malcom or Plantinga.Though
 
Anselm himself would not have used such a phrase, it is now the common name for thework so it is what I will use. This essay will start with a brief history of Anselm himself, moving onto his Ontological Argument, followed by Guanillo's immediate response to the same. Then the moreaccepted critique developed by Kant and later members of his school of thought.Anselm of Canterbury (c.1033-1109) was born in Italy. Then he moved to Normandy where heentered the famous monastery of Bec, where he became Prior and then abbot. In 1093 he wasappointed archbishop of Canterbury. He is primarily noted for his defense of the intellectual basis of christanity and his work on the ontological argument.
4
Anselm frames this argument a few times in the course of his work. The version that I prefer fromthe
 Proslogion
, is where it is proposed as a
 Reductio ad absurdum
. This is a form of argument,where you start with a proposition that is the anti-thesis of that which you wish to prove. By provingthe proposition logically false that which you want to prove must be true.Important to note that for this example just as Plantinga does “
let us use the term 'God' as anabbreviation for 'the being than which none greater can be concieved' 
5
”.
1God exists as a concept in the mind but not in reality – assumption for reductio.2Existence in reality is greater than existence as a concept alone – premise.3A being having all of God's traits and existence in reality can be concieved – premise.4A being having all of gods traits plus existence is greater than God – from (1) and (2).5A being greater than God can be concieved – (3) and (4)6It is false that a being greater than God can be concieved – by definition of “God”.7Hence it is false that God exists in the mind but not in reality – (1)-(6), reductio ad absurdum.Since anyone can concieve of a “God” then he does exist in the mind, accordingly he must also existin reality.The first clash with this argument came shortly after the appearance of the Proslogion.A monk named Guanillo, criticised the argument on the grounds that it could be used to prove toomuch, other than just this greatest being that Anselm wished to prove. To this end he gave us theidea of an island, and applied the same logic. Of course he arrived at the same conclusion as Anselm – the island in fact must exist.The best response to this from defenders of Anselm, is to say that an Island is still an Island, andthere is no “
intrinsic maxium
6
to its qualities. “
 No matter how many Nubian maidens and dancing 
1Alvin Plantinga,
Gods and Other Minds, ( 
Cornell, 2008) pg 262Ibid. pg 273Ibid. pg 274Hans Kung,
 Does God Exist?
Eugene, 2006) pg 184.5Alvin Plantinga,
Gods and Other Minds,
(Cornell,
2
008) pg 296Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (London, 1974) pg. 91.
 
 girls adorn it, there could always be a greater.”
As there is no intrinsic limit to the objects that an island might posses, there can never be a “greatest”island as one could arguably always add objects to it and there would always be possibility for more.However, Brian Davies argues that this is not a good refutation of the challenge, but rather merelyan overfocus on a poor example. He puts forward the idea of a
“perfect orchid”,
and states that
“A perfect orchid cannot be improved onimproved on in any specific way. A perfect orchid is just a perfect orchid, and adding things to it would probably spoil it. So, why should we not conclude that the existence of a perfect orchid follows from the notion of a perfect orchid.”
8
If we change to this,as Davies suggests, then we do away with the argument against the monk's example, and instead findthe root of the challenge - that we can concieve of a limited yet perfect object or being. If we takethis into account then Anselm's form of reasoning applies to “
the concept of perfect finite things withthe same force precisely that it applies to an unlimited perfect being.
9
Meaning then that it is proved with the same conviction with which Anselm proved God. “
 If Anselm is right to say that an X which exists is better than an X which does not exist, then a non-existing orchid... will be less perfect than an existing one. So it would seem to follow by Anselm's reasoning that perfect orchids... exist.”
 
It is not plausible to imagine that just because I concieve a perfect orchid that ittherefore must exist. Therefore the core of Guanillo's critique – that the argument can prove toomuch – is sucessful if we accept a more contemporary form. Now to move on to that which is the most academically accepted critique of this argument – that of Immanuel Kant. It is important to know before starting the analysis of Kant's argument is that mostof his
Critique of Pure Reason
amounts to the fact that previous metaphysics is false. So when hecomes to deal with the ontological argument he does so briefly. His critique is still effective, if  believed, but it fell to students of Kant's work such as Frege to illuminate the strongest critique of Anselm contained within Kant's writings.We see Kant arguing against the Ontological argument at two main stages in his work, the first in asection entitled “
 A refutation of the ontological argument”
- which I will be arguing deals moreeffectively with Descartes than with Anselm, and again when he challenges the validity of existenceas a predicate.The first section of the argument, which I will not post in its entirety for reasons of breivity, is possibly the most famous. “
To posit a triangle , and yet to 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 the concept of an absolutely necessary being.”
What the argument amounts to is: If you accept the definition of God but reject the conclusion, thenyou are in contradiction. Yet if you reject both the definition and the conclusion then nocontradiction arises. “
On Kant's view to define something is to say that, if anything matches thedefinition, then it will be as the definition states. But whether anything does match a givendefinition is a further question.
This is a direct response to the Descartesian idea that rejectingthe existence of God is like rejecting the fact that a triangle must have three angles. That just becausewe create a definition it does not imply the necessity of that definition. Yet it does not truely engagewith Anselm. When reading the
 Proslogion 2
we have to question as to whether Anselm is actuallyattempting to define God into existence, or whether, he is questioning if this thing “than which nogreater can be concieved” can possibly only exist in the intellect. Anselm is not trying to create adefinition and use that to justify his beliefs, but rather examining logically if this greatest thing couldonly be in the mind and of course he concludes that it could not.Kant's second objection proves more viable. It starts
'being' is obviously not a real predicatie; that 
7Ibid.8Brian Davies,
 An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,
, (Oxford, 2004) Pg. 1049Morris and Alice Lazerowitz,
 Philosophical theories ( 
The hague and paris, 1976) pg. 120f.10Brian Davies,
 An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,
, (Oxford, 2004) Pg. 10511Immanuel Kant, ed. Paul Guyer,
The Critique of Pure Reason
(Cambridge, 1998)12Ibid. pp. A 592- A603, B620-63113Brian Davies
 , An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,
, (Oxford, 2004) Pg. 106
 
it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. ... if, now, we takethe subject (god) with all its predicates (among which is omnipotence), and say ' God is' or ' thereis a go', we attach no new predicate to the concept of God, but only posit the subject in itself withall its predicates, and indeed posit it as being an object that stands in relation to my concept.”
Although ontological arguments take existance as a quality that god must have. By saying somethingexists we are not ascribing to it anything new. In other words, the statement of existence alone doesnot add any new quality to the thing that is an object. Therefore existence alone as a claim withoutsubstance cannot be used to facilitate the necessary existence of an object.
“ An adequate concept, Kant believes, must contain as much content as the thing of which it is the conept; the concent of the concept ofa thing remains to the same whether the thing exists or not; and the existence of theobject or concept is not part of the content of that object.
This means whether something existsdoes not add to the object, therefore existence is not something that is greater or not. Somethingmerely is or is not, the concept does not become greater because of it.Gottlob Frege in
The Foundations of Arithmatic
explains this further by reducing existence to astatement of numbers. He uses the example of Venus's moons, if Venus has zero moons, then there isno property that I can assign to the moons of Venus, bar that of their non-existence. If having anumeral value is a property of an object, then 'nought' must be giveable to non-existent objects, yetto give a property to an object that does not exist is not to give it anything. Frege says “
 In thisrespect, existence is analogous to number. Affirmation of existence is in fact nothing but denial of the number nought.”
 
From Frege's analysis we can conclude that Kant was right to question theassumption of the necessity of God's existence. For if existence is merely a statement of number thenthe definition of something as “existing” cannot truly be the source of knowledge about any object.Then instead we are left with the conclusion, that just because I must define something as “existing”I cannot state that it must exist, only that I think it does.The ontological argument has not had a gentle time in this world. From it's very inception it has beenhounded, dismissed and attacked. From Guanillo to Kant and beyond, enough literature has been published attacking and defending it to dwarf the scant amount originally written on it. It is not deadyet either,. We see Plantinga's new form of the argument, based in modal logic, coming to clash withVan Inawagen's critique of the same.So to conclude, by saying that the ontological argument is far more than a flippant wordplay. Or anannoying exercise in philosophical thinking. In the end I think this is what is best said about all of the proofs for the existence of God.
 If only taken for what they are, and not for what they are not, they remain not simply of historic,but of present importance. Manifest as are their defects, regarded as demonstrateions, none the lessthey serve to express convictions which common sense will never cease to hold, and the very fact that though they have been slain times without number, they invariably succeed in rising again,indicates that whatever damage they may have suffered has not made them mainfestly useless.”
Works CitedDavies, Brian.
 An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.Jacquette, Dale. "God, a Divine Supernatureal Mind?"
Ontology
. Chesham: Acumen, 2002. 252-64.Print.Ku?ng, Hans, and Edward Quinn.
 Does God Exist?: an Answer for Today
. Eugene, Or.: Wipf &
14Immanuel Kant, Critique of pure reason, Trans Norman Kemp Smith (london 1964) pp. 504f.15Alvin Plantinga,
Gods and Other Minds, ( 
Cornell, 2008) pg 2616Gottlob Frege,
The Foudations of Arithmatic,
Trans. J. L. Austin ( Oxford, 1980), p. 59.17Eric S. Waterhouse,
The Philosophical Approach to Theology
(London, 1933) pg. 77

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