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The Ontological Argument - Responses and Objections

The Ontological Argument: Anselm, Gaunilo, Descartes, Kant, Hume, Russell, Aquinas, Malcolm, Plantinga,
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Andrew Midgley

on 28 November 2016

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Transcript of The Ontological Argument - Responses and Objections

THE ONTOLOGICAL
ARGUMENT

IMAGINE A £50 NOTE...
The £50 that you imagine in your mind
A £50 note that exists
in both the mind and in
reality
KEYWORDS
Ontological
The philosophical
study of existence
Deductive
An argument based on reason and logic, where if the premises are true, the conclusion must also be true
Argument
Anselm
1033 - 1109
Archbishop of Canterbury
French theologian
Originator of the Ontological Argument
Developed his theory not to convert atheists, but to help theists understand their faith.
'Faith seeking understanding'
Anselm's 1st
Ontological Argument
God is 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived.'
A real, existent being would be greater than an imaginary, fabricated being
Therefore, God exists.
In his writing, he made reference to Psalm 53:
'The fool says in his heart "there is no God"'
why then, did the fool say in his heart 'God is not', since it is so obvious to the rational mind that you exist supremely above all things? How was the fool able to 'say in his heart' what he was unable to conceive?!
Necessary and Contingent
Predicate
Empiricism and Rationalism
Cartesian
'A Priori' and 'A Posteriori'
Knowledge gained before experience
Conceptual, logical knowledge
'All bachelors are unmarried men'
Knowledge gained from empirical experience
Knowledge based on the senses
'All bachelors are happy'
Analytic and Synthetic
A statement that is true by definition
No evidence is needed to prove it
'All bachelors are unmarried men'
A statement in which the predicate is not necessarily part of the subject
'All bachelors are happy'
'God is the Greatest Conceivable Being'
Anselm believed this to be an a priori statement - The concept of existence is part of the concept of God.
Criticisms of Anselm
Gaunilo
Contemporary of St. Anselm
French Monk
Apart from his letter to St. Anselm titled 'On behalf of the fool', we know relatively little about him
He asks us to replace the word 'God' with 'island' and it is easier to see how Anselm's argument is flawed.
You may think of an island being perfect, but if this island had one more beach, or one more palm tree, it would surely make it even more perfect
St Anselm thought that Gaunilo devised a good argument, but he misunderstood one thing ...
God has necessary existence
Necessary
logically impossible for it not to be true
if something has necessary existence then it is logically impossible for it not to exist
Contingent
something that is dependent on something else
if something has contingent existence then it might, or might not exist, but importantly, it does not NEED to exist.
God has necessary existence, whereas everything else in the world, including a perfect island, has contingent existence.
Anselm's 2nd
Argument
God is 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived'.
A God that can not be thought of as not existing, is greater than one which can be thought of as not existing
Therefore, God exists necessarily.
St Thomas Aquinas
"not everyone who hears this word 'God' understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be conceived, seeing that some have believed God to be a body."
(The idea here is that, since different people have different concepts of God, this argument only works to convince those who define the notion of God in the same way.)
There had to be more than just a definition to prove the existence of God - Aquinas believed that firm evidence was needed to prove the existence of God.
evidence that he provided in 5 ways...
Aquinas' 5 pieces of evidence:
Argument from motion
Argument from first cause
Argument from necessity and contingency
Argument from degree
Teleological argument
Descartes
1596 - 1650
French philosopher and mathematician
'Father of modern philosophy'
relating to Descartes and his thoughts
Rationalist
The view that reason is the source of knowledge
Truth is not gained through the senses, as they can deceive us, but via our intellect and method of deduction
Plato, Descartes and Leibniz were all rationalists
The view that knowledge is based on sensory experience
Aristotle, Locke and Hume were all empiricists
Descartes believed that people are born with innate ideas that are imprinted in our minds from birth, which are universally shared by humanity
Ideas such as: shape, number and understanding of God.
God is a Supremely Perfect Being with all perfections as his attributes. By 'perfections', Descartes meant the traditional attributes, such as omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence.
Descartes' version of the Ontological Argument
God is the most perfect being, so he has all perfections
Existence is a perfection
As the most perfect being, God must exist
Also known as the Cartesian Ontological Argument
Analogy of the triangle
You can not think of a triangle, without thinking of it as having 3 sides and angles which equate to 180 degrees
Just as the notion of 3 angles is essential to a triangle, so is existence to the notion of God
'Existence can be no more separated from the essence of God than can having three angles equal to two right angles be separated from the essence of a triangle.'
Descartes continued to say that if God is perfect, he must be unchanging, therefore he must have always existed and will continue always to exist.
Criticisms of
Descartes
Draw the outline of a house
Give it a chimney
Give it a central front door
Give it windows
Draw a path leading up to the front door
Kant
Draw two flowers either side of the path
Give it existence
Existence is not a predicate
Existence is not a characteristic or attribute of something
Existence, Kant argued it not the same as a predicate; it does not tell us anything about the object that would help us to identify it
We can predicate of a unicorn that it is similar to a horse and has a single straight horn in the middle of its forehead, but adding 'exists' to our description will not make any difference to whether or not the concept of a 'unicorn' is realistic so that we could go and find one
Response to Kant
God's existence is different to anything else
God's existence is necessary and so perhaps 'necessary existence' is a predicate, but it only can be predicated of God.
The problem with this response is that the argument then becomes circular. We have to accept that God exists necessarily in order to come to the conclusion that God exists necessarily!
'Being is obviously not a predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves.'
Many philosophers consider Kant's criticism fatally damaging to the Ontological Argument
Modern Versions
Malcolm
1911 - 1990
American Philosopher
Studied with Wittgenstein who is concerned with the philosophy of language
Revived the Ontological Argument
Accepted Kant's argument that existence is not a predicate but still argued that Anselm's second version of the Ontological Argument was successful
Malcolm's
Ontological
Argument
If God does not exist today, then he never can and never will - His existence must be impossible.
If God does exist, then he must exist necessarily
God's existence is therefore either impossible or necessary
God's existence is not impossible. It is not logically contradictory to have the concept of a God who exists - it is an idea that we can entertain without any logical absurdity
Therefore, given that God's existence is not impossible, it must be necessary
Consequently, God exists necessarily
Criticisms of Malcolm
Perfect Island

There can be things that do not exist without their existence being impossible
It is illogical to say that 'sometimes there is a God and sometimes there isn't' (if we accept that God would have to be eternal), but it is not illogical to say 'maybe there is a God and maybe there isn't'
Malcolm's versions of the argument, like the others', rests on the assumption that God's existence is different to the existence of other things.
Malcolm did not think that the argument would convince atheists, but theists would see the necessary truth to the claim 'God exists'
It only proves God is true for those who believe in God
Plantinga
Uses 'modal logic'
Modal logic concerns possibility; whether something is possible, necessary or impossible.
Modal logic: philosophers consider not just what exists and occurs in the world we have, but also what could exist or could occur in a world of infinite possibilities
Plantinga's version of
the Ontological Argument
(Whatever has
maximal excellence
is omniscient, omnipotent and morally perfect.)
A thing has
maximal greatness
if and only if it has
maximal excellence
in every possible world.
There is a possible world in which the property of possessing
maximal greatness
is exemplified.
The property of possessing
maximal greatness
is exemplified in every possible world.
If
maximal greatness
is exemplified in every world, then it is exemplified in this world.

Therefore a maximally great being exists in this world. This we call God.
Criticisms of Plantinga
A being of no maximality
By this, we mean that God has no maximum
This would illustrate that God does not exist in any possible world
Revision Test Questions:
1. In what century did Anselm live?
2. How did Anselm define God?
3. Who criticised St Anselm's argument by applying it to the notion of an island?
4. What is meant by 'necessary existence'?
5. What did the 'fool say in his heart' according to Psalm 53:1?
6. Who argued that God's existence is not self-evident, but can be demonstrated in five ways?
7. Who described God's attributes in terms of 'perfections'? What did they mean?
8. Who criticised the Ontological Argument by saying existence is not a predicate? Explain their objection.
9. Which modern scholar claimed that God's existence is either impossible or necessary and it is not impossible?
10. Explain how Alvin Plantinga used possible worlds to produce his ontological argument.

That part of a statement that makes an assertion
about a subject - telling you what something is, does or has.
WHICH IS GREATER?
Aquinas also took issue with the idea that people who believe God is the greatest thing that can be conceived would necessarily assume that great being existed. They might be able to hold a mental idea without affirming its existence in reality.
Do Anselm's versions deal with this criticism?
...but this simply refers us back to another of Anselm's comments, that God is in fact 'a being greater than can be conceived'.
Full transcript