The Ontological Argument - Critique

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The Ontological Argument – Critique

Proving the existence of God can be thought of as a philosophical holy grail; the question of the existence of a supremely perfect being has plagued philosophers throughout the centuries, some sought proof in the design of our universe, others in the apparent complexity of our world; all such proofs have relied on a posteriori observations of the world around us, making inductive leaps from the premises they present; the ontological argument, however, relies on thought alone, attempting to prove a priori the existence of God: once one has accepted the premises, the conclusion becomes self evident.

Anselm defines God as that than which no greater can be conceived, stating that even a fool can know of this concept; that is to say, even one who denies the existence of God, the fool, can admit to comprehending what God is thought to be, namely that than which no greater can be conceived; after this is accepted, Anselm moves to link existence to this definition. If we were to conceive of a being that than which no greater can be conceived, then this being would exist in our understanding; however if this being were to exist in reality, as well as in our understanding, it would surely be greater than the that than which no greater can be conceived that exists in our understanding alone; Anselm proposed that, to admit to understanding the concept of God, was to admit that God existed, for to understand the concept, that God is that than which no greater can be conceived, is to admit that God must exist to avoid contradiction: that is to say, for God to truly be that than which no greater can be conceived, he must exist in reality as well as in our understanding - as Anselm himself put it, "Thus if that than which a greater cannot be conceived is in the understanding alone, then that than which a greater cannot be conceived is itself that than which a greater can be conceived. But surely this cannot be."

The ontological argument presented by Anselm appears as if to be a trick, once we accept that God is that than which no greater can be conceived, we seem locked into accepting the conclusion Anselm draws; thus Anselm's argument is a priori deductive, unlike other existence arguments which appeal to inductive leaps from a posteriori observations, and as such we cannot deny it's conclusion, instead it is necessary to analyze the premises if we are to destroy the argument. It would be wise to point out, however, that Anselm's argument was most likely intended for theists: "I do not attempt to understand so that i may believe, rather i believe so that i may understand", this raises many questions over the true intention of Anselm's argument; if he does not wish to prove the existence of God, rather he wishes to understand God, then surely his argument can offer no proof for the atheist. Ontological argument do not offer proof for the non believer, they are left unconvinced - it was Kant who first coined the term ontological argument, as he saw Descartes formulation as making an invalid leap from the epistemological to the ontological, therein lies the problem for atheists - ontological arguments attempt to deduce what is, from what is known, and to anyone who believes the concept of God is illogical, this can hardly be convincing.

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Gaunilo, one of Anselm's contemporaries and himself a Christian, criticized the ontological argument; Gaunilo used the exact logic of Anselm's formulation, to compose a similar argument, but for the existence of a perfect island - he thus states the absurdity of what Anselm claims, that anything perfect must exist. This criticism points to the main fault of the ontological argument, that it attempts to "define" objects into existence, something which is evidently illogical; using Anselm's logic we could argue for the existence of the greatest horse, or the greatest apple, any object which we can conceive could have a ...

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