Ontological Argument

HideShow resource information

Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Key Words

·         Ontological – Words or wisdom (logos) about being (ontos). What it means for something to be.

·         A Priori – Knowledge gained prior to experience.

·         A Posteriori – Knowledge gained after experience.

·         Deduction – A type of reasoning whereby it is demonstrated that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises.

·         Induction – A type of reasoning that takes specific instances and from them, draws a general conclusion (e.g. as seen in the cosmological argument).

·         Necessary Being – A being whose non – existence is a contradiction.

·         Contingent Existence – Something which, by its nature, does not necessarily have to exist, and could or could not have existence, e.g. you or me. Once existent, can go out of existence.

·         Predicate – A property of a subject, for example. Tall, round; for Anselm, necessary existence is a property/predicate of the greatest possible thing.

·         Analytic Statement – A statement where the predicate is contained within the subject, e.g. married men are husbands, or, for Anselm, God (subject) necessarily exists (predicates). It is true by definition.

·         Synthetic Statement – A statement where the predicate is not contained with the subject, e.g. married men are happy, and some knowledge of the world is required to assess its validity.

·         Reductio Ad Absurdum – An argument that shows the opposite of what is claiming cannot be true.

·         Immutable – Not capable of susceptible to change unalterable.



First form of Anselm’s Ontological Argument.


1.     God is the greatest possible being that can be thought of. 


2.      If God exists only in the mind (or understanding) then a greater being could be conceived to exist both in the mind and reality.


3.     This ‘greatest possible being’ (of premise one) must therefore exist in the mind and in reality.


Therefore God must exist as a being in reality (in re) as well as in the mind (in intellect).


Anselm was writing with reference to Psalms 14 and 53 where it notes that ‘the fool says in his heart there is not God.’

He stated that the fool understood that God is ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived of.’

Anselm argued that the fool, once he understood this, logically had to acknowledge that is was not possible for such a being to exist in thought alone as then there would be a greater being who existed in thoughts and reality.


Anselm noted that it would contradictory to state, once the fool has in his mind the greatest possible being, that such a being cannot exist, as existence in reality is an intrinsic quality in the greatest being (by definition). Therefore God exists.

The 3rd chapter of the Prosologion developed this argument by stating again that God is the greatest possible being, and that, as such, has   necessary existence. God cannot


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »