The ontological argument for the existence of God is a philosophical argument that was developed by Saint Anselm. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 11th century. It is an a priori argument, which means it is based on reasoning and logic rather than empirical evidence. The argument is laid out in Anselm’s work, “Proslogion.”
Here is a summary of the Ontological Argument:
- God is defined as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” In other words, God is the greatest conceivable being.
- It is greater to exist in reality than to exist only in the understanding (or imagination).
- If we assume that God exists only in our understanding (and not in reality), then we can conceive of a greater being that exists both in understanding and reality.
- But this contradicts the definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
- Therefore, God must exist in both understanding and reality.
In simpler terms, Anselm argued that if we can conceive of the greatest possible being (God), then it would be contradictory to say that this being does not exist in reality because existing, in reality, is greater than existing only in our minds. Hence, the mere conception of God as the greatest being requires that God exists in reality.
Objections to the Ontological Argument
One of the most common objections to the ontological argument is the objection of existence not being a predicate. This objection suggests that existence cannot be a property since it is not a quality like height, weight or colour. Kant famously argued that existence is not a real predicate, and thus the ontological argument fails. However, the most common reply to this objection is that the ontological argument is not concerned with the quantity or quality of existence, but rather with the concept of existence in general. In other words, the argument is not equating existence with a predicate, but rather highlighting that existence is a necessary component of the concept of God.
Another objection to the ontological argument is the objection from Anselm’s Lost Island. This objection suggests that the argument could work for any concept, not just God. For instance, one could imagine a perfect island and then argue that because it is perfect, it must exist. In response, many philosophers have argued that the concept of perfection cannot be attributed to an island in the same way that it can to God. God is a necessary being – a being that cannot fail to exist, whereas an island is not. Therefore, imagining the greatest possible island does not mean that such an island exists. But, imagining the greatest possible being does make it exist, which is God, since the concept of God is not analogous to an island, as it involves necessary existence.
Lastly, there is the objection to the principle of sufficient reason. This objection posits that everything needs a reason or a cause, and therefore God cannot be the exception. One might ask why God’s existence is necessary rather than contingent. In response, philosophers have argued that God is different from everything else since he is the creator of the universe and the ultimate source of all reality. It is beyond the scope of rational thought to account for God in the same way as other objects since he is the ultimate cause of everything.
The objections to the ontological argument do not disprove its validity or soundness. These objections have sparked interesting philosophical debates throughout history, and have helped to shape our understanding of the concept of God. Moreover, philosophers continue to refine and clarify the argument while addressing objections, thereby improving on its original formulation.
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