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Anselm's First Ontological Argument Holds Merit

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Started: 7/1/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 393 times Debate No: 103076
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
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Relavent Background for Debate

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (ca.1033– 21 April 1109) [1], a Benedictine Monk and famed Father of the Church, posited that the existence of God was proveable from its very definition by way of what became known as the Ontological Argument, which he described in the following manner:

"Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood, exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality." (Proslogion, 2) [2]

His argument, for the sake of this debate, consists of the following logical sequence:

I. Humans hold a conception, or an idea, of a maximally great and perfect being.

II. This being, as outlined in Premise I, is otherwise known to us as "God," the pinnacle of perfection.

III. A being that exists in both the mind and reality is greater than one that exists merely in the mind.

IV. Therefore, per Premise III, in order for the maximally great being which we conceive of in Premise I to be maximally great, it must exist in both our minds and in reality.

V. Because a maximally great being exists in our minds, it must exist in reality in order for it to be perfect.

VI. Hence, God must exist

This argument has formed of of the most controversial claims in theological and philisophic history. Many, such as Immanuel Kant [3], Guanilo [4], and Thomas Aquinas [5], took issue with the claim for a variety of reasons. It remains a hotly debated topic, one which we shall approach the merits of in this debate.

Debate Rules and Regulations
In order to ensure the smooth continuity and success of the following debate, these rules shall be set for this debate:

I. The Burden of Proof in this debate, because of the nature of the prompt, falls on CON. In order to win the debate, they must prove that a fallacy, contradiction, or falsehood within the Ontological Argument invalidates it.

II. Because I am not presenting a defense this round, as I have nothing yet to defend against, CON will waive their right to make a final argument

III. Neither side will engage in trolling

IV. Each side will at least make an earnest attempt to post, rather than forfeit, as has been experiencing odd issues as of late.

Presuming my opponent accepts these terms, may the debate begin!

Sources and Footnotes



The Ontological Argument (OA) has long held a fascination for Philosophers, but not because of its soundness. Indeed most argue that it is deeply flawed, effectively defining a god into existence by fiat. The fascination comes from pinning down exactly where and why it is flawed. Several famous attempts have been made to do so, and the orthodoxy tends to revolve around the Kantian objection (namely that existence is not a predicate). However true that is (and it seems to have some merit), how does it actually disprove the OA, where is it undermined?

A number of traditions object to the OA from a variety of standpoints (they probably number over 10 different objections). However, they all seem to rather need a deep explanation and framework in order to challenge the premises. I will argue that, whilst there may be merit in some or all of the deep philosophical objections, the OA is trivially flawed, in that it cannot be argued to be sound.

The centre piece for the argument is that "there-is-a-maximally-perfect-being-of-which-nothing-greater-can-be-conceived" (proposition-G). Because "it-is-still-greater-to-exist-than-not" (proposition-E), that it follows that this being must exist. But here we see some trivial problems.

Because G includes the concept of maximal greatness (which itself includes the concept of existence from E), it immediately begs the question and smuggles in the very thing it attempts to prove. The theist is not able to independently conceive of maximal greatness, without existence (unless he accepts the Kantian objection, which flaws his argument anyway). Attempts to avoid this seem to render the argument further exposed to ambiguity of terms and equivocation as propositions G and E are then further 'explained'.

G also establishes a nature for such an entity through its maximal greatness. Without a detailed exposition of Anselmian natures, one can state that this has at least something to do with levels of Omni-perfections. This creates 2 further problems: 1) how can a thing which does not exist in the natural world have a 'nature'? It seems to be the fallacy of the stolen concept. If anything, such an entity would have a 'supernature'. The theist may believe this to be semantics. But it is semantics of the theists own creation. The atheist can sit back at this point and quite rightly ask, what do you mean exactly? It is not up to the atheist to define what the theist means by the 'nature' of a god anymore than it is to define what for example omniscience is, and how the internal paradoxes in it are resolved. Furthermore, if the theist cannot respond coherently, he is in fact left holding an empty sack, referring to something not instantiated in reality, i.e. semantically meaningless god-talk. 2) given the theist definition of a god as being maximally great, a pinnacle of perfection etc, how is it even possible for a mere human to conceive of such a thing? Included in the definition of the god concept is that up to a point a god becomes unknowable. Meaning our minds have a limitation and can never come to be on the same level. But this renders G impossible, because to conceive of maximal greatness, one must understand it, and thus the one must know the mind of a god. At this point either the god concept must be redefined or argument fails or both.

Lastly, in this round, I would like to turn to one of the classical and less specific objections, and use the generalist approach of Gaunilo. Gaunilos reductios seek to parody the OA, not in order to show its logical failures, but to show that any absurdity (including from a theist perspective), can be generated using its premises. For example using the same structure one could import maximally effective evil into the concept, to prove a deity equal to the proposed god in every way, but is maximally evil and not good. There is no independent justification as to why good is preferable to evil in an objective sense, just the theist assertion. These parodies can be made ad infinitum on so called necessary and/or contingent existence of proposed entities. This is because of the lack definition and malleable conceptualization inherent to the god concept, something computer scientists would call a bug, not a feature.

So in conclusion Anselms argument, whilst intuitively absurd, is not so easy to refute. The classical arguments against it (whilst seemingly sound), require a deep philosophical understanding. It is the trivial shallow failures of the argument that seem to undermine it fatally. It is not sound and should be rejected by theists.
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Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by ProgressiveForLife 1 year ago
That it is sound
Posted by philochristos 1 year ago
What do you mean by "holds merit"? Do you mean the same thing as saying the argument is sound, or do you just mean it's worth thinking about?
Posted by philochristos 1 year ago
What do you mean by "holds merit"? Do you mean the same thing as saying the argument is sound, or do you just mean it's worth thinking about?
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