• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

strengths and weaknesses of the ontological argument

Extracts from this document...


Examine the strengths and weaknesses of the classical ontological argument. The ontological argument is an a priori argument for the existence of God, first put forward by St Anselm of Canterbury in 1078 (notably, the then Archbishop of Canterbury- a devout believer) . Anselm attempted to prove, by use of reductio ad absurdum, that God's existence is logically necessary, using the definition of the term 'God' itself. Anselm took the word 'God' as effective shorthand for "that than which nothing greater can be conceived". Anselm said that existence in re (in reality) is greater than existence in intellectu (in the mind). He then went on to argue that, if God merely existed in intellectu, then it would be possible for a greater being to be conceived- this would be a logical impossibility, as God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Therefore, God must possess all perfections, and existence being a perfection, God must therefore exist in re, as well as in the mind. Gaunilo responded to Anselm's argument, using reductio ad absurdum to claim that if the logic of the argument were applied to anything other than God, its conclusion would be ridiculous. ...read more.


Kant responded to Descartes' version of the argument, claiming that existence is not a predicate, as Descartes seems to see it. Kant said that when we say that X exists, this does not tell us anything about X- existence of something does not add to our understanding of that thing- we must establish its existence before we are able to say what it is like, and not the other way around. Kant draws on Descartes' claim that denying the existence of God is like denying that a triangle must have three sides: he agreed that if a triangle exists then it must have three sides, but argued that we cannot ascribe existence a priori to either the triangle, or to God- God's existence is therefore separate from His existence, with no real consequence. Kant believed that existence cannot be proved de dicto in the way that Anselm's and Descartes' arguments try to prove it, and maintained that empirical evidence is our only means of drawing any reliable conclusions about the universe. Both Anselm and Descartes assumed that we, as humans, are able to understand and define God using everyday language- a huge point of contention for believers. ...read more.


Hume also raised this issue against the argument, claiming that it is impossible to define something into being. In conclusion, the ontological argument can be viewed as a logically sound, deductive argument, which if one accepts the premises, proves God as a logical necessity; the argument also does not rely on empirical evidence, which can often be unreliable. Gaunilo's criticism of Anselm's argument has a major flaw, undermining its validity, and Anselm also attempts to address the position of the atheist, whilst Descartes uses a starting premise likely to be accepted even by the atheist. But, the argument views existence as a predicate- Kant disputes this, claiming that existence should be seen as something separate from definition, as the existence of an entity does not further our understanding of that entity. The argument also assumes that we God is understandable and definable in human language, and Aquinas disagreed with this idea, saying that Anselm's definition of God cannot be shared by everyone. Furthermore, both Kant and Aquinas have argued that God can only be proved by empirical evidence, and have criticised the argument's jump from definition to reality. Ultimately, the ontological argument may be a valid argument to a believer, but it is unlikely ever to convince an atheist of God's existence. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Philosophy section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Philosophy essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    Examine the strengths and weaknesses of the design argument for the existence of God.

    4 star(s)

    that there are inexplicable elements to the world, and are satisfied with attributing the lack of any information to God, which discourages them from investigating further. Religious belief is an obstacle to humanity and leaves the universe unexplored. Dawkins book 'The Blind Watchmaker', in which the title immediately challenges Paley's

  2. Explain the ontological argument from Anselm and Descartes.

    The perfect state includes existence, which is perfection in itself. Existence is a predicate of a perfect being. Therefore, Descartes concluded that God exits. He argues that as he may have the image of a painting in his mind, however it is not as great as the painting when it has been painted.

  1. Describe the main strengths and weaknesses of the cosmological argument for the existence of ...

    If, for example, nothing causes itself how can there be a first cause which does not itself require a cause other than itself?30 William of Ockham raised at least three problems with the Cosmological Argument. 1.) Ockham challenges Aquinas' view that an infinite series was impossible.

  2. The Ontological Argument - Critique

    nothing of the properties of an object, an existing object can be said to be no greater than a non existing one; however, Kants premise is debatable, or at least is seems to defy reason, that a non existing object be no different from an existing one, in that one

  1. Evaluate Descartes Method of Doubt

    He argues that we are sometimes mistaken by our senses, and then makes the jump to saying that we are therefore always deceived by our senses. As we have seen through the forgery example, being sometimes mistaken by our senses means that sometimes we are not.

  2. Outline the ontological argument as presented by Anselm and Descartes.

    Thus, Anselm felt that he has demonstrated not only existence of God, but also that His existence was necessary. Rene Descartes lived at a time when beliefs about the world were changing.

  1. Compare and contrast the contributions of Descartes and Humes on the issue of the ...

    The argument is supported by many philosophers such as Leibniz and Descartes. Aquinas' Five Ways: * The unmoved mover * The uncaused causer * Possibility and Necessity * Goodness, Truth and Nobility * Teleological All the arguments are a posteriori because they have some observation from the experience of the universe as a starting point.


    He argues that the existence of God is ?self-evident?, based on a sense of intuitive certainty. From his experience as a mathematician, Descartes set out to demonstrate the existence of God in the manner of a geometrical exercise. God?s existence is as necessary as a triangle has to have three sides.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work