The Ontological Argument

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The Ontological Argument

Key words:

  • Greatest Conceivable Being
  • Necessary being
  • Contingent being
  • Reductio ad absurdum
  • Best Possible Island
  • Supremely Perfect Being
  • Predicate 
  • Analytic statement
  • Synthetic statement 
  • A priori
  • Deductive 
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Anselm's first form:

  • Appeals to those who already believe in God
  • A priori - based on logic
  • Deductive
  • God is the Greatest Conceiveable Being - nothing greater can exist
  • If God existed only in the mind, something greater than God could be conceived to exist both in reality and the mind
  • This being would therefore be greater than God
  • Thus God cannot only exist in the mind, He must exist in reality aswell
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Anselm's second form:

  • Written after Gaunilo's criticism but not in response to it
  • A priori
  • Deductive
  • It is greater to be a necessary being than a contingent being 
  • If God exists only as a contingetn being, and thus imagined not to exist, something can be imagined to exist that cannot not exist
  • God is therefore a necessary being
  • Inherent in the concept of God is necessary existence - existence is part of the concept of God
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  • Expands on Anselm's forms
    • God, by definition, is a supremely perfect being
    • A supremely perfect being has all perfections
    • Existence is one of those perfections
    • Therefore God has existence
  • All of the above things are true proved we understand what is meant by the concept of God
  • Descartes admits that we might be stunned by his conclusion as it only works for God.
  • God is the only being whose existence is part of His essential essence.
  • Descartes uses a triangle analogy for God. ‘A triangle has 3 sides, 180° angles, etc. These are necessary to the definition of a triangle.’ – Descartes applies this theory to God. 


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  • Criticises Anselm’s first form
  • Reductio ad absurdum
  • Imagine a the Best Possible Island (BPI)
  • The BPI could not be the BPI if it only existed in the imagination as a better island could exist in reality
  • So in order to be the BPI, it must exist in the mind and in reality
  • Therefore your island must exist in reality 
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  • Criticises Descartes
  • Analytical statement: say nothing new about the world
  • Synthetic statement: learn something new about the world
  • Existence is not a predicate
  • It is not a property of something
  • Existence is to do with the subject, not the predicate
  • If you take away existence, you take away everything
  • The ontological argument is odd because it describes something as existing
  • Kant says the ontological argument, or saying that God is the GCB, is an analytical statement because Anselm and Descartes are talking about what the words means, not arguing for the existence of God. 
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