Outline the ontological argument as presented by Anselm and Descartes.

Authors Avatar

Outline the ontological argument as presented by Anselm and Descartes.

In a very simple form, the ontological argument attempts to show that the very concept of God implies his reality. If a person can clearly conceive of a God, then he or she ought to be able to understand that God might exist. The argument seeks to prove the existence of God, from its very meaning and without a doubt, it is one of the most puzzling of the theistic arguments.

The argument does not contain any evidence, which makes it an a priori argument where no previous knowledge of the world is needed to understand it. The truth of an argument does not depend on experience, but on knowledge acquired independent of experience.

According to the Christian theologian, St Anselm of Canterbury (1033 - 1109) we can form the concept or idea of a being than which none greater can be conceived. He put his argument into 6 stages, which set out to prove his concept of God to exist in his book, Proslogion.

  • A person can have the idea of a being than which hone greater can be conceived.
  • Suppose this being exists only as an idea in the mind.
  • Existence in reality is greater than existence only in the mind.
  • Therefore, we can conceive of a being that is greater than a being than which none greater can be conceived-that is, a being that also exists in reality.
  • However, there can be no being greater than that which none greater can be conceived.
  • Therefore, the being than which none greater can be conceived must also exist in reality

The argument is somewhat confusing, so further explanation is needed. Anselm understood God to be a being of which none could be greater, which is a fairly straightforward assumption. In his book he wrote, not only, that God was someone which none can be greater, but added that God was also a being “greater than can be conceived”. Anselm understood that we could never even comprehend Gods greatness. He moved on to say that if we has this image of God in our mind, God therefore exists, in what he called, ‘the understanding’. Anselm’s next point was to say that it is far better to exist in reality rather than the mind. Once again, this is straightforward. I would much rather have a bar of chocolate sat in front of me than just the idea of a chocolate bar in front of me. His next few points take a bit more explaining. Anselm said that if we can conceive of a being than which none can be greater conceived, surly if he was so magnificent, he would exist in reality as well as in the mind. Therefore God must exist in the mind, as well as in reality.

Join now!

However, if the argument was just to prove God existence, then all that would tell us is that God is like us. He exists. In the next stage of his argument, Anselm went on to demonstrate that God’s existence is necessary. By this Anselm meant to the eternal and transcendent nature of God. This means for God to exist outside our space and time, but able to create and act within it. Anselm argued that if He did not exist this way, we would not exist either.

To suggest that God is necessary is to suggest that there is no possibility of ...

This is a preview of the whole essay