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The ontological Argument

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The Ontological Argument

Word count: 1840 words (with in text citations)

The Ontological Argument is seen by numerous of philosophers around the world to be amongst one of the most respected religiously philosophical arguments in history. The original argument was presented close to a thousand years ago, and is still a very intensely debated upon topic throughout all levels of philosophical thought and discussion. The following essay will aim to explain the main argument, its purpose and whether or not it’s compatible in the real world. One of the main focuses will be on the discussion of various arguments for and against it, by philosophers such as St Anselm (1033-1109), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Douglas Gasking (1911-1994), and Gaunilo (11th century).  

St Anselm was an Italian monk and a passionate philosopher, one of his most famous works was his book Proslogion (1078) in which he introduced the ontological argument to the world, wanting to prove the existence of God with not only faith but also logic and reasoning. He begins his argument with defining God as the most Supreme Being that can ever possibly be thought of, arguing that there is no uncertainty that Gods presence is definite, suggesting that if God could be thought of, then the existence of God is inevitable and is real.      

To start off with, there must be a proper explanation of the whole argument that was proposed by St Anselm. The sole purpose of the ontological argument is to prove that God is real using only a priori reasoning (Plantinga, 1965). Meaning that the argument makes an effort to prove the existence of God without there being any actual physical verification, it does this by only using reason and logic (Clack & Clack, 1998).  It has been disputed by various people that this is not an actual argument intended for the use of proving the existence of God to atheists and disbelievers, but it is just a way to emphasize the beliefs of those who already have faith. This is mainly suggested since in his book it reads “for I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand” (Anselm & Deane, 1962). What he means by this is that he’s already a follower; he simply utilized this argument to reinforce conviction. Consequently, the ontological argument, as mentioned before, doesn’t necessarily depend upon any corporeal confirmation proving that God exists, it basically just make use of the most untainted description of the word, God, to generate a condition whereby God must be real and there is no failure in proving the existence.

 The argument that is carried out by St Anselm is as follows: “God cannot be conceived to not, God is that which nothing greater can be conceived, that which can be conceived to not exist is not God” (Anselm and Deane, 1962). In other words, the meaning of God as suggested by St Anselm is the number one being and is the greatest imaginable thing to ever have been in existence; also that God must be real and present, as a God that is nonexistent wouldn’t be able to achieve maintaining the greatest conceivable being. Simply put, to be seen as the utmost supreme conceivable being, the being at hand must have to exist so that it can become the greatest. A being that is nonexistent is not the greatest feasible being. This pretty much explains what St Anselm was trying to bring forth with the introduction of the ontological argument; in so far as him trying to prove that there is a being out there that exists as God.

French philosopher Rene Descartes put forth a number of reasons in order to prove the ontological argument. Although he argued for the ontological argument his reasoning differed when compared to St Anselm’s. In his Meditations, his description of the ontological argument is as follows; he thought of God as a conceivable supreme being that was just as real as the notion of the existence of anything imaginable. His understanding of the existence of God is no less obvious and distinctive than his proofs for the existence of anything imaginable (Plantinga, 1965).  In Meditation V he wrote, “although all that I concluded in the preceding Meditations were found to be false, the existence of God would pass with me as at least as certain as I have ever held the truths of mathematics” (Descartes, 1955). He argues that in contrast to additional things, he may possibly convince himself that existence is something that is capable of being alienated from the quintessence of God; therefore God can be seen as a being of existence. According to him it is just as much a great deal of an incongruity to think of God as a lacking existence just like it is to think about a mountain that does not have a valley. Descartes’ theory is basically summed up like this; he cannot imagine God without God being able to exist, therefore meaning that God does exist. In his Meditations Descartes describes God as a supremely perfect being, then he goes on to claim that existence is an essential rather than just a sheer accident.

Descartes analysed the nature of the Supreme Being that possesses all perfection (including omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence), stating that it would not make any sense to say that there is a supremely perfect being, yet the being is not omnipotent (Clack and Clack, 1998). Now according to Descartes, existence is perfect, and consequently is by definition overcome through the means of a supremely perfect being, in this manner indicating that God exists, it is not only an idea in the human mind, but it is also a reality. Descartes focused on God’s existence as something that can be deduced from his nature, very much like geometrical equations can be construed from the nature of shapes. The idea whereby an extremely perfect being who does not exist, Descartes points this out as something that is highly incomprehensible, as a result, with accordance to his nature, God has to exist.        

As stated before the argument does not even in the slightest rely on any physical proof, it obtains the purest thought of what God is and then illustrates that this description of existence has to be real. This is what has made the argument a popular area of debate amongst the philosophy of religion for hundreds of years. Ever since St Anselm came up with the ontological argument, a number of well known and respected philosophers have discarded his statements regarding the proof of God. During the time when St Anselm was still alive, the first person the critically analyse and point out flaws in the argument was a monk by the name of Gaunilo (Plantinga, 1965). He deeply thought the reason used in the argument is inconsistent and unsound. His proof of this was through the following example- in which there is an island and for some reason it cannot be verified to exist. Gaunilo explains to the person whom is reading to think of this place as being the greatest island conceivable, this is where his argument starts to become clear. St Anselm would say that the island has to exist as it is the greatest island possible. Gaunilo views this as a principal defect on the ontological argument as it would permit the construction of pretty much everything and anything (Rowe, 1972). For example if a person suggested that there is a greatest imaginable bar of chocolate, then that bar of chocolate must exist, in spite of the there being no proof provided to support this statement.



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