The Ontological Argument by Michael Lacewing
Michael Lacewing explores Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, which states that God is the greatest conceivable being and therefore must exist.
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1. Michael Lacewing The ontological argument Michael Lacewing firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Anselms argument God is a being greater than which cannot be conceived If you could think of something that is greater than God, surely this something would be God. T hink of two beings, one that exists and one that doesnt B eing real is greater than being fictional. So the one that actually exists is greater. So if God didnt exist, we could think of a greater being than God.
3. Anselms argument By definition, God is a being greater than which cannot be conceived. I can conceive of such a being, i.e. the concept is coherent. It is greater to exist than not to exist. Therefore, God must exist.
4. Anselms argument Think of two almost identical beings, X and Y . X is a being which we can conceive not to exist Y s not existing is inconceivable Y is greater than X. T he greatest conceivable being is a being who, we conceive, must exist. The thought God does not exist seems to make sense, but on reflection, we find that it is incoherent.
5. Gaunilos objection 1 How great is the greatest conceivable being? If it doesnt exist, it is not great at all! We are thinking how great this being would be if it existed That doesnt show that it does exist.
6. Gaunilos objection 2 You could prove anything perfect must exist by this argument! I can conceive of the perfect island, greater than which cannot be conceived. And so such an island must exist, because it would be less great if it didnt. But this is ridiculous, so the ontological argument must be flawed.
7. Anselms reply The thought that the greatest conceivable being doesnt exist is incoherent. But the thought that the greatest conceivable island doesnt exist is coherent There is nothing in the concept of such an island that makes it essentially or necessarily the greatest conceivable island. Compare: it is essentially surrounded by water Instead, the concept of the greatest conceivable island is somewhat incoherent.
8. Anselms reply God wouldnt be God if there was some being even greater than God Being the greatest conceivable being is an essential property of God. This, however, doesnt deal with Gaunilos first objection.
9. Descartes argument The idea of God (that is, of a supremely perfect being) is certainly one that I find within me; and I understand from this idea that it belongs to Gods nature that he always exists .
10. Descartes argument I have the idea of God. The idea of God is the idea of a supremely perfect being. A supremely perfect being does not lack any perfection. Existence is a perfection. Therefore, God exists.
11. Descartes argument Consider: you can think that there can be triangles whose internal angles dont add up to 180 degrees. B ut reflection proves this impossible Our thought is constrained. Our concepts determine certain truths. You can think that God doesnt exist. But this is to think that a perfect being lacks a perfection And I cant change the concept of God any more than the concept of a triangle. I discover it.
12. Objection There is a difference between thinking God exists and God actually existing. Reply: but you can infer one from the other (as with the internal angles of triangles) from the fact that I cant think of God except as existing it follows that God and existence are inseparable, which is to say that God really exists .
13. Humes objection Nothing that is distinctly conceivable implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. Therefore, there is no being whose non-existence implies a contradiction.
14. Humes objection If God does not exist is a contradiction, then God exists is a relation of ideas But claims about what exists are matters of fact. I f God does not exist is a contradiction, then God exists must be analytic But claims about what exists are synthetic.
15. Descartes response Descartes could argue that God exists is analytic or that it is synthetic, but known a priori But he doesnt have these concepts. Descartes actually says: all divine perfections entail each other If God is omnipotent, then God must not depend on anything else Therefore, God must not depend on anything else to exist Therefore, God must have necessary existence.
16. Pressing the objection (from Gaunilo) Descartes argument only works if God exists, because only if God exists, is God omnipotent, etc. The interdependence of perfections shows only that the concept of existence is part of the concept of God I f God doesnt exist, then God isnt omnipotent (or anything else), so Gods omnipotence doesnt entail his existence.
17. Kants objection Both Aquinas and Descartes talk of existence as a property, because they think it can make something greater or perfect This is a mistake. Existence is not a property. Suppose God exists is an analytic truth An analytic truth unpacks a concept. The predicate tells you something about the subject. To say x exists is not to describe x at all or explain what x is. Existence is not part of the concept of anything.
18. Kants objection To say x exists is to say that some real object corresponds to the concept of x This is a synthetic judgement. So it is not a contradiction to deny it. There is no difference in the concepts of 100 real thalers and 100 possible thalers Adding the concept of something existing does not change the concept.
19. Kants argument If God does not exist is a contradiction, then God exists is an analytic truth. If God exists is an analytic truth, then existence is part of the concept of God. Existence is not a predicate, something that can be added on to another concept. Therefore, God exists is not an analytic truth.
20. Kants argument Therefore, God does not exist is not a contradiction. Therefore, we cannot deduce the existence of God from the concept of God. Therefore, ontological arguments cannot prove that God exists.