Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence (Philosophy of Religion)

Monroe County Community College

I'm beginning the semester, in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class, by presenting Anselm's famous ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT FOR GOD'S EXISTENCE.

Here's what I am looking for students to be able to say and, even better, understand, when I question them in their 1-on-1 oral examinations.

I. State the Ontological Argument:

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.

2. Therefore, God exists.


1. I have an idea of a greatest possible being.
2. Therefore, God exists.

II. in order to understand this argument you need to know what it means to have an idea. Every time you have an idea of something, that "something" in your mind has essential attriubutes and contingent attributes. An essential attribute is what makes that 'something" just what it is; a contingent attribute is not needed for that "something" to be just what it is.

For example: I have an idea of a triangle. This means I have, in my understanding, a 3-sided figure whose angels equal 180 degrees. Whether or not my triangle is pink or blue is irrelevant to it being a triangle. If i say, "My triangle has four sides," then I am not thinking of a triangle.

III. I have an idea of a greatest possible being. This means my idea of "greatest possible being" has essential attributes, which include: omnipotence (is able to do anything that can logically or possibly be done); omniscience (knows everything that can logically or possibly be known); and omnibenevolence (is all-good or all-loving).

Another essential attribute of "greatest possible being," for Anselm, is actual existence. Anselm believes actual existence is a great-making property; that is, it is greater to exist in reality than only in the mind.

Therefore if someone says, "I am thinking of a greatest possible being, but it does not actually exist," Anselm would respond that you are not thinking of a greatest possible being because we can think of an even greater being than the one you are thinking of; viz., one that actually exists.

IV. Anselm believes that the person who says "God does not exist" is a fool. Because in order to deny the existence of God they must be able to conceive (have an idea) of God. Once they acknowledge that they have an idea of God they are forced, on Anselm's reasoning, to affirm God's actual existence.