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The Ontological Argument

Edexcel A2 Philosophy

Sarah Priddey

on 16 July 2012

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Transcript of The Ontological Argument

The fool says in his heart,
“there is no God”
They are corrupt and their ways are vile;
There is no one who does good
The Ontological

Modern versions
'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
Needs no evidence 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”
Imagine a £5 note
(cc) photo by medhead on Flickr
A £5 note that
exists in both your
mind and reality
The £5 that you
imagine in your mind
Which is greater?
French Theologian
Originator of the Ontological Argument
Doctor of the Church – a title given to those who have made a particular contribution to theology.
1033 – 1109
Archbishop of Canterbury
Developed his theory not to convert atheists but for theists to help them understand their faith.
“faith seeking
God is that which
nothing greater
can be conceived
A real, existent being
would be greater than
an imaginary, illusory being
Therefore God exists
In his writing he made reference to Psalm 53:
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 ? Why, because he is a dim-witted fool… How was the fool able to “say in his heart” what he was unable to conceive?
Anselm's 1st Ontological Argument
St Thomas Aquinas
Criticisms of Anselm
French monk
contempory of St Anselm
“When someone tells me there is such an island, I easily understand what is being said, for there is nothing difficult here. Suppose, however he then goes on to say: you cannot doubt that this island, more excellent than all lands, actually exists somewhere is reality … I would think he were joking; or if I accepted the argument, I do not know whom I would regard the greater fool, me for accepting it or he for supposing that he had proved the existence of this island with any kind of certainty”
The "Lost Island" refutation
1. How would you define God? (It doesn't matter if you believe in God or not.)
2. Compare it to St Anselms
3. Is there a differnce in the way you have tackled the problem?
Gimme 5 Synthetic a posteriori statements
Gimme 5 Analytic a priori statements
"God is the greatest conceivable being"

Anselm believed this to be an analytic a priori statement – The concept of existence is part of the concept of God
If one argument was sound then the other must also be sound, but clearly they are not and so they are both unsound as he believed you could not move from thought to reality
St Anselm thought Gaunilo came up with a good argument (he even included it in subsequent editions of his book)…. but he misunderstood one thing…
God has necessary existence whereas everything in the world, including a perfect island, has contingent existence.
God has necessary existence
Anselm's 2nd Argument
God is the greatest conceivable being
A God that cannot be thought of as not existing (a necessary God) is greater than that which can be thought of not existing (a contingent God)
Therefore God exists -necessarily
Necessary and Contingent
logically impossible for it not to be true
If something has necessary existence then it is logically impossible for it not to exist
something that is dependant on something else
If something has contingent existence then it might exist or it might not, but importantly it does not need to exist
1225- 74
God's existence is not self evident
"Truth does not exist"
this is a nonsensical statement as no-one can accept the truth of the statement "truth does not exist" unless it does exist after all!
it is not impossible to have a mental concept of the non-existence of God as there are many atheists around the world that do hold this belief
The fool says in his heart "there is no God"
Therefore God's existence is logically impossible as St Anselm suggested
Apart from his letter to St Anselm entitled "On behalf of the fool" very little is known about him
God is transcendent and therefore we cannot speak of him in human language
St Aquinas doubted whether everyone would accept St Anselms definition of God
"Perhaps not everyone who hears the name 'God' understands it to signify something which nothing greater can be thought seeing that some have believed God to be a body. Yet, granted that everyone understands that by this name 'God' is signified something that which nothing greater can be thought nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands what the name signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally"
(Basic Writtings of Thomas Aquinas)
There had to be more than just a defintion in order to show the existence of God - Aquinas believed that it needed firm evidence. Evidence that he provided in his 5 ways
Aquinas' Five Ways:

1. Unmoved Mover
2. First Cause.
3. Argument from Contingency
4. Argument from Degree
5. Teleological Argument
David and Marjorie Haight
"Worst conceivable being"
Criticisms of Descartes
French Philosopher and Mathematician
"Father of Modern Philosophy"
"Meditations on First Philosophy"
The view that reason is the source of knowledge.
Truth is not gained through the senses, as they can deceive us, but via the intellect and the process of deduction
Plato, Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza and other Continental Philosophers of the Enlightenment were Rationalists
The view that knowledge is based on sensory experience
Aristotle, Locke, Hume and many other British philosophers of the Enlightenment were empiricists
Ideas such as; equality, cause, shape , number and an understanding of what God is.
Descartes believed that people are born with innate ideas that are imprinted on our minds from birth, which are universally shared by all humanity
We must ask: Is the proposition that this of that thing (which, whatever it may be, is allowed a possible) exists, an analytic or a synthetic proposition? If is it analytic, the assertion of the existence of the thing adds nothing to the thought of a thing; but in that case either the thought, which is in us, is the thing itself, or we have presupposed an existence as belonging to the realm of the possible, and have then, on that pretext, inferred it's existence from it's internal possibility - which is nothing but a miserable tautology...

Being is obviously not a real 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. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgment.
Explain the difference between analytic and synthetic propositions
What is a 'tautology'?
What is a 'predicate'?
Is Kant right when he says that existence is not a predicate?
Why is Kant's criticism usually considered to be fatal to the ontological argument?
Where Anselm used the word "greater" to define god into existence, the Haights point out that the logic can be inverted by replacing "greater" with "worse". The statement then follows to a conclusion that the very most bad thing has to be an existent bad thing, because it would be worse for this bad thing to exist than to not exist, therefore it must exist in its absolute badness. Therefore, the Devil must also exist, so long as Anselm's proof is held as consequential.

Is this a sound argument?
Does changing 'God' to 'the Devil' in this way show that the Ontological Argument Does not work? Or does it actually show that the Devil exists? Or neither?
Descartes argued that existence is a perfection. Would this mean that the Devil therefore could not possibly exist?
Revision Test Questions

1. In which century did St Anselm live?
2. How did Anselm define God?
3. Who criticised St Anselm's argument by applying it to the notion of a Lost Island?
4. What is meant by 'necessary existence'?
5. What is an analytic proposition?
6. What did the 'fool say in his heart', according to Psalm 53
7. Who argued that God's existence is not self evident, but can be demonstrated in Five Ways/
8. Who described God's attributes in terms of 'perfections'?
9. Who criticised the Ontological Argument by saying existence is not a predicate?
10. Which modern scholar claimed that God's existence is either impossible or necessary, and it's not impossible?
Past Exam Questions
June 2011
June 2010
General Mark Scheme
Specific Mark Scheme
Revision Test Answers

1. 11th
2. "that which nothing greater can be conceived"
3. Gaunilo
4. It means existence which does not depend on anything else
5. A statement which gives the definition of something
6. There is no God
7. Aquinas
8. Descartes
9. Kant
10. Norman Malcolm
The philosophical study of existence
Something that is asserted or denied about the subject of a sentence, (such as 'is good' in 'God is good') a characteristic or quality or attribute
Deductive Argument
An argument based on reason and logic, where if the premises are true, the conclusion must also be true
relating to Descartes and his thought
Empiricism and Rationalism
Descartes version of the Ontological Argument
God is the most perfect being possible, so he has all perfections
Existence is a perfection
As the most perfect being, God must exist
Also known as the 'Cartesian Ontological Argument'
of a triangle
Analogy of a mountain
JL Mackie's analogy of an engine and it's carriages
The carriages are contingent and the engine is necessary
You cannot think of a triangle without thinking of 3 sides or the internal angles equaling 180 degrees
just as the notion of three angles is essential to a triangle so is existence essential to the notion of God
You cannot think of a
mountain without...
....thinking of a valley
Descartes realised that analogies have their limitations
(cc) image by nuonsolarteam on Flickr
Descartes continues to say that as God is perfect he must be unchanging, therefore must have always existed and will continue to always exist
God, however in Descartes opinion is different as his nature involves perfections not angles or valleys and existence is a perfection
Just because the mountain-valley combination in our imaginations does not mean that it exists in the real world
"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, or the idea of a mountain from the idea of a valley"
Descartes, 'Meditations V'
Existence is not a predicate
Replace “God” with “island” and it is easy to see how Anselm’s argument is flawed
Remember in the Religious Language topic St Aquinas developed the 'Via Negativa' and advocated the use of analogy when speaking 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
charlie tubb
Existence is not a characteristic or an attribute of something
Draw the outline of a house
Give it windows
Give it a central front door
Give it a chimney
Give it 2 flowers either side of the path
Draw a path leading up to the front door
Give it existence
We can predicate of a unicorn that it is like 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 'unicorn' is actualised so that we could go and find one
Existence, Kant argued is not the same as a predicate, it does not tell us anything about the object that would help us to identify it in any way.
When we say that something exists we are not saying that is has that kind of characteristic. What we are saying it that this concept has been 'actualised' - that there is at least one example of something with these characteristics in real life
Kant's point, when applied to ontological arguments, is that whether thinking of Anselm's and Descartes' is that we are considering a concept.
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
Many philosophers consider Kant's criticism fatally damaging to The Ontological Argument
God's existence is therefore either impossible or necessary
So God exists necessarily
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
If God does not exist today, then he never can and he never will - His existence must be impossible
Therefore, given that God's existence is not impossible, it must be necessary
If God does exist, then he must exist necessarily
(cc) image by nuonsolarteam on Flickr
Ontological Argument
American Philosopher
Studied with GE Moore and Wittgenstein who are all 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
Criticisms of Malcolm
Criticisms of Plantinga
There can be things that do not exist without their existence being impossible
Perfect Island
Malcolm's version of the argument, like the other's rest's on the assumption that God's existence is different to the existence of other things
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'
It only proves God is true for those who believe in God
Malcolm did not think that the argument would convince atheists, but theists would see the necessary truth to the claim 'God exists'
1932 - present
uses 'modal logic'
modal logic concerns possibility; whether something is possible, necessary or impossible
In 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. They use these ideas to try an make sense of what is self contradictory, possible or necessary in this actual world that we live
'The Nature of Necessity' , 1974
(cc) image by nuonsolarteam on Flickr
This would illustrate that God does not exist in any possible world
A being of no maximality
A maximally great being's existence in a possible world is either impossible or necessary
To exist in a impossible world the being of maximal greatness would be self contradictory - it's existence illogical and it's concept incoherent. Therefore its existence must be necessary
The being of 'maximal greatness' must have necessary existence
There must be a being of 'maximal greatness'
This is consistent with Descartes' God of all perfections and Anselm's 'greatest conceivable being'
A necessary being exists and continues to exist independently whereas a contingent beings depends on other factors for it's existence and therefore cannot be 'maximally great'
Planting'a version of The Ontological Argument
Write out Descartes argument in no more than 30 words.
Design your own analogy similar to Descartes' triangle analogy
Full transcript