Ontological Example Essay

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  • Created on: 30-12-12 19:16

i)                    Examine the key concepts of the ontological argument for the existence of God. (18 marks)


The ontological argument is an a priori argument which means it does not rely on our senses and experiences but on reason. The argument is also a deductive and analytic argument. The ontological argument was first devised in 1078 by St Anselm, then the Archbishop of Canterbury in part two and three of his book The Proslogian.  Philosophers Decartes, Malcolm and Platinga have also have offered different forms of the argument.

Possibly the most important concept of Anselm’s version of the ontological argument is the definition of God that he gives, this is also the starting point of the argument. Anselm described God as “That which nothing greater can be conceived”. He then went on to argue that it is better to have something in reality than just in the mind. As God is the greatest thing by definition, God must therefore exist in reality as well as the mind because he wouldn’t be the greatest thing if he only exists in the mind. The second form of the argument; Proslogian 3 focused on God having necessary existence. In other words, ‘he cannot not be’.  Necessary existence means a being whose non-existence would be a self-contradiction and if you can accept Anselm’s definition of God then God must have necessary existence by definition: He has to exist!

French philosopher Rene Decartes developed the ontological argument. Decartes began his argument by doubting his own existence and concluded that because he was ‘doubting’ he must exist. He said ‘ Cognito ergo sum’ meaning ‘I think therefore I am’. According to Decartes, the second most important piece of knowledge following from our own existence is knowledge of God. Decartes, like Anselm, argued that God has necessary existence. He used the classic example of the triangle to help explain. A triangle must have 3 sides to be a triangle, like this God’s existence is as necessary as the triangle having three sides. Decartes defines of God as a ‘supremely perfect being’ and like Anselm then went on to say that God must exist as existence is perfection. He also said: ‘ Existence can no more be separated from the essence of God than the fact that its three angles equal two right angles can be separated from the essence of a triangle’.

Modern philosopher Norman Malcolm offered his version of the ontological argument. He argued that if God does not exist, he never has or never will. However, he argued that God’s existence is either necessary or it is impossible but God as an impossible being is self-contradictory. This is because the most possible perfect being cannot be imaginary because then it wouldn’t be perfect so God has to exist.  

Another modern philosopher Alvin Platinga seeked to modernise Malcolm’s argument with something called ‘possible world semantics’.  He argued that there is a possible world in which there exists a being with maximal greatness and maximal…




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