Religious Studies A2. The Ontological Argument

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Anselms Ontological Argument (Part 1)

  • Proslogian (Anselsms book) was considered to be a prayer as opposed to a book for the existence of God.
  • Anselms Argument Part 1
  • Anselm described God as 'that than which nothing greater can be concieved.'
  • Anselm meant that God is the greatest being and nothing better can be thought of. to think of that being must mean that being is God.
  • He refers to the refrence in Psalms (14:1) 'the fool has said in his heart, "there is no God"'.
  • Anselms says this is a contradiction.
  • The Athiest (the fool) understands the definition that God is the greatest being but at the same time rejects this concept of God by denying his existence.
  • Anselms wants to show that the fool is wrong in saying this as anyone who understands what it means to say that God exists must have knowledge of God.
  • Anselm argues that whatever is understood MUST exist in the understanding, even if the athiest has this understanding even if only to dismiss the existence of God.
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Anselms Argument (Part 1 cont.)

  • in ones understanding and to understand
  • He says there is a difference in someone understanding something and then it being in the persons understanding.
  • For example, unicorns exist in someones understanding, but people understand that unicorns do not exist.
  • However before an artist paints, he has in his understanding what he wishes to paint. once he has painted it, it exists in his understanding and in reality.
  • In arguing that 'God is that than which nothing greater can be concieved' Anselm is stating that a God that exists in the mind (in intellectu), must exist in the reality, (in re). this being would then be that than which nothing greater can be concieved and would therefore be God.
  • therefore God must exist.
  • The use of Reductio Ad Absurdum
  • Suppose God only exists in the understanding , then God could be greater by existing in reality. this means a greater God is possible- one that exists in reality.
  • the last statement would be a contradiction of the definition of God as God is the greatest thing that can be thought of.
  • The conclusion would be an absurd conclusion. therefore the opposite conclusion must be true.
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Anselms Argument (part 2 + concl)

  • Anselms Argument Part 2.
  • Anselm states that God must do more than simply exist.
  • He demonstrates that God's existence is necessary.
  • Gods existence is necessary
  • To suggest that God is necessary is to suggest that there is no possibility of Him not existing.
  • He argues that we do know that God has necessary existence because-
  • nothing greater than God can be concieved.
  • to be thought not to exist would be inferier to thinking of something that must always exist
  • God must therefore necessarily exist.
  • He argues that God must exist because not only is God that than which nothing greater can be concieved, but he also is a God with necessary existence.
  • This is the difference between the fool and the believer.
  • the fool knows the word 'God' but does not know God himself. It is only the believer who understands that because God is the greatest being that can be concieved, God can not be thought of as not existing.
  • Anselms Conclusion.
  • those who doubt or deny the existence of God do not know what God is.
  • no one understands what God is can concieve that God does not exist.
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Guanilo's criticism of Anselms argument,

  • Guanilo rejects that Anselm has proved the existence of God 'reductio ad absurdum' because he does not believe Anselms conclusion {that because there is an understanding of God as 'that than which nothing greater can be concieved' means that God must exist} is valid.
  • Guanilo is arguing that we have an understanding of many things, but it does not make them exist.
  • as an athiest dismissed the existence of God demonstrates that there are different understandings of God.
  • the fact there is this argument proves that there isnt a universal understanding meaning of the word 'God' and therefore the ontological argument can not be used to support the existence of God. 
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Guanilo's PERFECT ISLAND example.

  • Guanilo criticises the process by which Anselm moves from his existence of God to his suggestion that God exists.
  • Guanilo stated that if someone were to describe to you the perfect island and then state it must exist becasue of its perfection you would be a fool to believe him.
  • Guanilo argues that we can think of a perfect island but this doesnt make it exist.
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Descartes Ontological Argument.

  • Descartes concentrates on the fact that the very fact we have the concept of God of Classical Theism that must mean God exists.
  • 'i think therefore i am'
  • he concluded his own existence through his ability to think.
  • this resulted in his saying 'i think therefore i am.'
  • through this he realised he could prove his own existence, but not the existence of others.
  • he concluded that he could prove 'a priori' things exist as well, such as mathamatics.
  • he was aware of the properties of a triangle and even if a triangle never existed it would still have the distinct properties of three sides, and three angles.
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Descartes Ontological Argument (Part 1)

  • Descartes argument (part one)
  • Having reasoned that a triangle must have all the properties he ascribes to it because the triangle exists in his mind.
  • God exists as an idea in his mind. he had a clear and distinct definition of God as the 'supremely perfect being.'
  • Descartes defined existence as one of God's many perfections.
  • He isnt relying on a definition of God but on an innate idea of God that he believes people have.
  • Descartes is arguing that God's necessary existence is contained within our understnding of God as a 'supremely perfect being'
  • As imperfect beings, he believes that humans cannot develop the ides of a perfect being themselves.
  • therefore, the idea must have come from the perfect being.
  • therefore, God must exist.
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Descartes argument (part 2)

  • Descartes is arguing that existence is a predicate of God because, as a supremely perfect being God must posess existence otherwise that being is not perfect.
  • he believes we can conclude that God exists because exiistence is a predicate of the supremely perfect being.
  • the very essence of God includes existence.
  • therefore, God must exist in reality or God wouldnt be perfect and this would be against the definition of God, which is absurd.
  • Descartes says that trying to imagine God without the predicate of existence is like imagine a triangle without three sides or a mountain without a valley - its illogical.
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Descartes considersation of possible challenges to

  • He was aware that other philosophers would raise objections to his ontological argument.
  • 1) cannot concieve mountains without valleys.
  • he begins with his argument that you cannot concieve mountains without valleys and considers the challenge that just because we have a concept of mountains and valleys doesnt mean that there actually are mountains and valleys.
  • in response to this POSSIBLE challege, he agrees that all that can be said is if there are mountains then there are valleys, but the same is not true when referring to God.
  • The concept of God means that God exists.
  • He continues by agreeing with Anselm, that the argument only applies to God because God is the only supremely perfect being from whom we are entitled to assume existence.
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  • Key objections are based on-
  • The definition of God
  • Existence as a predicate of God
  • the possibility of deriving existence claims from definition.
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Based on the definition of God- Aquinas' challenge

  • Challenges to Anselm would also apply to Descartes' version of the ontological argument.
  • He rejects that there can be certainty that the human mind has the correct concept of God.
  • He argues that God is beyond human understanding; therefore humans cannot prove that God exists just from their idea of God.
  • The existence of God is not self-evident.
  • Aquinas continues that even if we have an inborn idea of God it's confused.
  • According to Aquinas we cannot come to know God as he is beyond human understanding, therefore A priori arguments fail to prove the existence of God.
  • We can only know that God exists through the effects of Gods work in the world.

His view that it fails to prove the existence of God is answered due to Proslogian being a prayer as apposed to an argument. the aim, for anslem, isnt to prove the existence.

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Based on the definition of God- David Hume's criti

1)He argued that it is not possible to take an idea in ones mind, apply logic to that idea, and reach a conclusion based in the universe.

2)He argued that existence can not be used as a predicate, which something can or cannot have, or which can be added or subtracted from something.

  • in respose to the first point, some would say that as human beings, we base our lives around what we can observe rather than what we can rationally prove.
  • Hume's  second point challenge the view that existence can be something which, when added to the definition X, actually changes X.
  • in other words, to think of God in 'the mind' and then 'in reality' is exactly the same thing to Hume.
  • he says that all we are doing is 'thinking about God' but not providing grounds for his existence.  
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existence as a predicate objections - Kant

Kant built on Hume's criticisms.

  • He criticised Descartes claim that existence is a property of perfection and that existence is a predicate.
  • he states that if we dismiss the idea of three sides (predicate) and the idea of the triangle itself(subject);there is no contridictionl. it is therefore possible to dismiss the concept of God.
  • According to Descartes we can define a thing as we see fit, but whether or not anything matches that definition in realityis another question alltogether.
  • Kant states that existence is not a predicate. this means that saying 'x exists' tells us nothing about X.
  • Kant states a predicate must tell us something about the subject. infact, if it doesnt, it gives us a paradox. if X exists tells us a property that X has, then 'x does not exist' denies that it has that property.
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existence as a predicate objections - Kant (contin

  • Existence as a Synthetic proposition.
  • Kant also claimed that God cannot be placed in a seperate catagory to everything else, and in doing so Anselm and Descartes had given a sythetic propostion the status of an analytic proposition and broken the rules of grammar.
  • in an analytic proposition the assertion about the subject is contained within the subject definition. eg, a square is a four sided figure with equal sides. to suggest it is anything other than that would be illogical as the definition of a square is known a priori.
  • He argues that it is not possible to include existence within an analytical proposition as it is always possible to contridict existence as a property of a thing.
  • propositions related to existence are therefore synthetic as it is necessary to prove the existence of things using evidence.
  • It is therefore a synthetic proposition to state that God exists.
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The meaning of 'exist' - Bertrand Russell

  • He claimed that the O.A. uses the word 'exists' incorrectly.
  • Existence cant be used as a predicate
  • If it were, we could construct the following syllogism- Men exist in the world, Santa claus is a man, therefore Santa Claus exists.
  • It appears to be a valid argument yet we know that the conclusion is incorrect.
  • it is because of the misuse of the word 'man' in the second statement. santa is a FICTIONAL male character, therefore he belongs in a different catagory to the men referred to in the first predicate.
  • it is therefore, inaccurate to make the jump to the conclusion that as men exist in the world so santa claus must exist. r
  • his argument is that existence is not a property of things, but an idea.
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Gottlob Frege - First & Second order predicates.

  • First order predicates - tell us something about the nature of concepts and apply directly to objects themselves.
  • for example, 'johns horses are brown'.
  • they provide information about the relation of two concepts
  • for example, whatever falls under the concept of a cat is a mammal.
  • However, one concept is not a property of the other. being a mammal is not a property of the concept of being a cat.
  • Second order predicates- apply to only first order concepts and not the objects themselves. second order predicates do not apply to the objects but tell us about the concepts of the first order predicate.
  • Exists can only be applied as a second order predicate.
  • for example, the statement 'mammals exist' is not about any particular mammal but rather the concepts of mammals.

Frage concludes that existence is not a first order predicate as it does not tell us about the nanture of something. Existence as a second order predicate does not add to our understanding of the concept. therefore, Frege concludes that existence cannot be used as a predicate to prove the existence of God.

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Brian Davies - the meaning of 'is' objection.

  • he recognises other philosophers attempts to distinguish between existence and necessity but criticises his use of the word 'is'.
  • Davies uses the 'pixie' example. 'a pixie is a little green man with pointed ears' therefore, this actually exists.
  • he goes on to suggest that if we were to claim that the pixie must exist in order to have those pointed ears, we would find this reasoning unacceptable.
  • he states the word 'is' can be used in two different ways-
  • 1) it can be used to define something. 'a queen is a female monarch'
  • 2) it can explain that there actually is something. for example, ' there is such thing as a vampire.'
  • the first use states nothing about existence, in that it says nothing about the existing queen. however, the statement does say what the queen is.
  • the second use, whilst also saying nthing about existence is not defining anything. it is just saying that a vampire is, and its supposing it's existence.
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Responses to the objections - Norman Malcom

  • He considered anselm's arguments and concluded that he could not support anselms first argument because it isnt valid. however he supported the seond part of Anselms argument because-
  • 1)the concept of God is the concept of a being whose existence is necessary
  • 2)it is notpossible to think of a being that necessarily exists not existing
  • 3)therefore, Malcom argues that God must exist.
  • he says that the existence of God is either impossible or necessary.
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Responses to the objections- Alvin Plantinga

  • possible worlds theory.
  • Alvin developed the notion of 'possible worlds.'
  • For example, in our world JFK was a president. however, this could not be so; he could have made a different career path and been an estate agent this is an example of two different possible worlds- one in which JFK was an American president who was assassinated and another in which he was an estate agent who lived to be 90 years old.
  • in each of the possible worlds, there will be many differences. this is the whole point of this notion - the possibilities are infinate.
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Responses to the objections- Alvin Plantinga (cont

  • Maximal greatness and maximal excellence
  • Plantinga offers a description of another possible world.
  • 1) there is a possible world, W, in which there exists a being with 'maximal greatness'
  • 2)a being has maximal greatness only if it exists in every possible world.
  • this means that every possible world we can imagine, there is a being of maximal greatness. However, this does not mean God, for plantinga states to be maximally great a being only had to be present in every possible world.
  • he has not demonstrated that this being is the omnipotent God of classical theism.
  • it would be possible that in each world there would be a being that is more powerful, more intellectual ect. than this maximally great being.
  • it is irrelevant even if each if these beings are found only in one possible world.
  • to deal with this he introduces the concept of maximal excellence.
  • he states that-
  • 1)maximal greatness entails maximal excellence
  • 2)maximal excellence entails omnipotence, omniscience and moral perfection.
  • therefore-
  • 1)there is a possible world in which there is a being that is maximally great.
  • 2)if maximally great, this being exists in our world.
  • 3)this being has maximal excellence and this is entailed within the maximal greatness
  • 4)this means that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being in our world
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Significance of the OA for faith

  • Guanilos argument 'on behalf of the fool' demonstrates that an athiest can have an understanding of God, but then not have faith in the existence of such a being in reality.
  • Anselm, on the other hand, would say that the argument is seeking to take people beyond the definition of the word 'God' to knowledge of God, Himself. If Anselm is right then the OA could be an aid to faith.
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The relationship between faith and reason

  • Anselm recognised the relationship between reason and faith and how they aid each other in understanding the nature of God.
  • He considered that reason alone can lead to error and therefore, it has to be supported by faith as it is only through faith that greater understanding can be achieved.
  • He already excepts the existence of God and is not providing a logical argument that will convince people to believe in God.
  • the OA does appeal to reason and its logic is very convincing.
  • if a believer accepts that there is a God thent the OA may be a valid argumetn that Gods existence is necessary.
  • the significence of the argument for faith is that it might help to develop a believers understanding of God. this could conceivably stregnthen a persons relationship with God, perhaps giving further reason to praise God's nature.
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