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Explain the various forms of the ontological argument

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Introduction

Tom Hadden "Explain The Various Forms of the Ontological Argument." a) There are a number of different ways to try and prove the existence of God. Most of these arguments have one thing in common, namely their starting points are based on experience; they are "A Posteriori," arguments. The Ontological argument, is totally different to all of these as it is an "A Priori," argument. Meaning that: It does not start from experience; it arrives at the existence of God by analysing God's essence; finally if the argument succeeds, unlike the other arguments, there is no longer any doubt that God exists. The thing that this argument hinges on is what one understands by, "necessity." Once one has understood this concept then they can come to grips with the argument. On the other hand, if one fails to understand then they will not be able to appreciate the argument. The Ontological argument starts with the statement that God is necessary. The phrase that Anselm uses is "de dicto necessary," meaning that the definition of God makes him necessary. It claims that once we discover the meaning of God, it is logically absurd to suggest his non-existence. The man who first suggested this argument was St Anselm (1033-1109.) Unsurprisingly he starts this argument with a definition of God, defining him as "That than which nothing greater can be conceived," this being the definition he gave in the Proslogion. ...read more.

Middle

It had not been discussed for many years, until recently different versions have given it a new life. Norman Malcolm (1911-1990) developed his own version of this argument based on Anselm's second argument, having accepted that Anselm's first argument fails. Malcolm begins his version by stating that if God doesn't already exist, then he cannot come into existence; that would mean that he was limited, which by definition he is not. Also if God does exist then he cannot cease to exist. Therefore, God's existence is either impossible or it is necessary. He follows this point by stating that it is rational to suggest that God's existence could only be impossible if it was, self contradictory or logically absurd. As it is neither of these things he concludes that God's existence is necessary Alvin Plantinga (1932-present day) started at first by criticising the ontological argument. He said that Malcolm has only shown that God exists in some possible world but not necessarily the real world. However, after critiquing Malcolm's version he set out to reformulate Anselm's argument. He states that God exists in understanding but not in reality. Existence in reality is greater than existence in understanding alone. It is therefore conceivable that there is a being greater than the being than which nothing greater is possible. This is absurd and therefore we can conclude that, it is false that god exists in understanding and not in reality. ...read more.

Conclusion

Bertrand Russell has a more fundamental criticism of the argument. He says that when we say something exists, what we are really saying is its concept is instantiated. Saying that something exists, according to Russell, adds nothing to our understanding of the thing, if something adds nothing to our understanding of the thing then it cant be considered part of something's essence. Therefore, the existence of God is not necessary. However, I disagree with this argument. Using the example of money I will illustrate the point. The only difference between the idea of pounds and pounds themselves is that pounds have spending power in the real world. As this is the only way to differentiate between the two, this surely adds something to your understanding of a pound. Therefore logically existence is part of the pound's essence as without it, it would have no value in the real world. So in summary does the argument succeed? I don't think it does, whilst a powerful argument that will hold sway for religious believers, as it gives them a good idea what the word god means, and what it is to talk of God; I maintain that one cannot define something into existence. How do we know that the definition is right? I tend to agree with Hume, no matter how much information we have on what something is, we need to go outside that definition, in order to definitively prove it exists. By Tom Hadden ...read more.

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