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The ontological argument

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Introduction

The ontological argument for the existence of God relies on logic as a basis to substantiate its claims. This type of argument is known as 'a proiri', as it is a claim based on knowledge independent of experience. There are two classical ontological arguments for the existence of God. The first to put forward a theory was St Anselm of Canterbury. He began by defining God as 'That than which nothing greater can be conceived' and this is what he used to base his theories on. He developed this in 'Prosologion 2'. He used his definition to prove God's existence in this way: Something that exists is always greater than something only imagined in the mind. Therefore, God must exist, because His existence in reality would be greater than His existence as a mere concept. In 'Prosologion 3', Anselm went on to not only prove God's existence, but His necessity. He did this using the following arguments: We can conceive of something that can be conceived not to exist. For God to be 'That than which nothing greater can be conceived', He must be this. Therefore, if God cannot be conceived not to exist (which would be superior to something which can be conceived not to exist), He must be necessary. ...read more.

Middle

Norman Malcolm (1911-1990) extended Anselm's 'Prosologion 3': Either God has necessary existence, or He does not exist. He developed this by saying essentially that, if God did exist, He must always have existence, because for Him to have ever come into existence would mean that He has limits, and would have had to have been created by a greater being, therefore making Him not 'That than which nothing greater can be conceived'. Therefore, He either once came into existence, which would be impossible as He is by definition 'greater than the greatest being', or He had always existed, consequently making Him necessary. Two more recent objectors to Anselm and Malcolm's type of argument were Gotlobb Frege (1848-1925) and Bertrand Russell (20th Century). Frege objected to both of the classical arguments by claiming that they used 'predicate' incorrectly. He perceived two types of predicate - 'first-order' and 'second-order'. Apparently, first-order predicates tell us about the character or property of something - it's nature. Second-order predicates are merely concepts or notions, such as existence. He claimed that Anselm, Descartes and Malcolm used existence as a first-order predicate, but it is actually second-order. Russell contended the use of existence as a predicate at all - he maintained that existence was not something things have; it is concerned with the idea of a thing. ...read more.

Conclusion

He also disagreed with the classical ontological philosophers. He argued that something to existing in order to have a particular predicate is not logical. Something 'is' can be used to define something, or to state its existence, but not one as a result of the other. The second use does not say anything about the object, whereas the first defines it, but does not require its existence. For example: 'a pixie is a little man with pointed ears. Therefore there exists a pixie.' In conclusion, the ontological argument is successful only if one already believes in God's existence, otherwise flaws are easily noticed. All logical explanations for God's existence were written by those who assumed it already, and were merely searching for ways to explain it. But, all arguments in opposition also have flaws. One could continue forever finding flaws in arguments and then flaws in these flaws and so on. No conclusions can be successfully reached. The ontological argument is successful for believers who already have the assumption that God exists, but does not prove His existence. But neither do the oppositional arguments disprove Him. If God really were 'That than which nothing greater can be conceived', then He is greater than all explanations, so all explanations must be flawed and will never successfully prove Him. If by definition He is also limitless, there would be no way to disprove him either, as there would always be another property of him to disprove. ...read more.

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