The Ontological Argument (NOTES)

Outline, critiques, other arguments, etc all on the Ontological Argument

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The Ontological Argument ­ Descartes and Anselm
The ontological argument attempts to prove God's existence through abstract reasoning
alone. The argument is entirely a priori, i.e. it involves no empirical evidence at all.
Rather, the argument begins with an explication of the concept of God, and seeks to
demonstrate that God exists on the basis of that concept alone. Whether such a proof is
possible even in principle is questioned by Hume.
The argument is original. It has the appearance of a language trick, but it is a difficult
task to say precisely what, if anything is wrong with it. All forms of the argument make
some association between three concepts: the concepts of God, of perfection, and of
existence. Very roughly, they state that perfection is a part of the concept of God, and
that perfection entails existence, and so that the concept of God entails God's
· It is surely better to exist in reality than in mind alone.
· So, if God only had existence in the mind, then there could be another being that
had existence in reality that would then be greater/more perfect than God.
· But, this cannot be true, as God is "a Being than.."
· So, God exists.
One weakness I can think of is illustrated by Gaunilo who argued that just because one
can conceive of a perfect island, that island does not necessarily have to exist, just as a
perfect deity can be imagined but that in itself does not ensure the existence of a God.
The counterargument to Gaunilo's island scenario is that an imagined island does not
have an `intrinsic maximum' in that there is always scope for an island to be even more
perfect i.e. a few more palm trees, a slightly clearer sea, more wildlife etc. etc.
Another potential criticism for the ontological argument is that it suggests that existence
is a quality and one that is necessary for perfection, when in reality existence could
better be defined as a state of being.
When it comes to the ontological argument I imagine you may find it easier to think of
weaknesses than strengths. I would argue that it fails as a proof of the existence of God
i.e. this argument isn't going to convince an atheist. It does however contain ideas that
will enhance and support the understanding of a person who already has faith and when
viewed from that angle the ontological argument has merit as a way to use logic and not
experience to investigate the existence of God.


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