Anselm”s Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

A take a look at theologist Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence which has been debated for nearly a thousand years

Anselm’s Ontological Argument Saint Anselm of Aosta, Bec, and Canterbury, maybe during a moment of enlightenment or starvation-induced hallucination, succeeded in formulating an argument for God’s existence which has been debated for almost a thousand years. It exhibits no signal of going away quickly. It is an argument based mostly solely on reason, distinguishing it from other arguments for the existence of God corresponding to cosmological or teleological arguments.

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These latter arguments respectively depend upon the world’s causes or design, and thus could weaken as new scientific advances are made (such as Darwin’s concept of evolution).

We can make certain that no such fate will occur to Anselm’s Ontological Argument (the name, by the means in which, coined by Kant). In type, Anselm’s arguments are much like the arguments we see in philosophy right now. In Cur Deus Homo we read Anselm’s conversation with a skeptic.

This type of question-and-answer form of argumentation (dialectic) may be very very like the writings of Plato. The skeptic, Boso, question’s Anselm’s religion with an array of questions non-believers nonetheless ask at present. Anselm answers in a step-by-step manner, asking for confirmation alongside the way, till he arrives at a conclusion with which Boso is compelled to agree. This is instead like Socrates’ process with, say, Crito. Later philosophers have both accepted and denied the validity of Anselm’s well-known ontological argument for the existence of God, offered in both the Proslogium and Monologium.

Anselm did not first strategy the argument with an open thoughts, then study its parts with a crucial eye to see which facet was greatest. Anselm had made up his mind in regards to the concern long earlier than he started to make use of dialectic to attempt to dissect it. “Indeed, the acute ardor which impels him to search in all places for arguments favorable to the dogma, is a confession his part that the dogma needs help, that it is debatable, that it lacks self-evidence, the criterion of fact.” (Weber, V)

In chapters 2-4 of his Proslogium, Anselm summarizes the argument. A fool is one who denies the existence of God. But even that idiot understands the definition of God, “a being than which nothing greater may be conceived.” But the idiot says that this definition exists only in his mind, and not in reality. But, Anselm observes, a being which exists in each actuality and in the understanding can be larger than one that merely exists solely within the understanding. So the definition of God, one which factors to “a being than which nothing larger can be conceived”, points toward a being which exists each in actuality and in the understanding. It could be impossible to hold the conception of God on this manner, and yet deny that He exists in actuality. The argument was criticized by one of Anselm’s contemporaries, a monk named Gaunilo, who mentioned, that by Anselm’s reasoning, one could imagine a certain island, extra excellent than another island. If this island can exist within the thoughts, then according to Anselm, it might essentially exist in reality, for a ‘perfect’ island would have this high quality.

But this is clearly false; we can’t make things exist merely by imagining them. Anselm replied, upholding his argument (in many, many words) by saying that they are evaluating apples and oranges. An island is something that can be considered not to exist, whereas the non-existence of “that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable.” (Reply, ch.. 3) Only for God is it inconceivable not to exist; mere islands or different issues don’t match this high quality. Copleston sums it up succinctly (for Anselm doesn’t): “it would be absurd to speak of a merely attainable needed being (it is a contradiction in terms), whereas there is not a contradiction in talking of merely possible lovely islands. St. Thomas Aquinas rejects the argument, saying that the human thoughts can not possibly conceive of the idea of God by cause alone (a-priori), as Anselm might.

The argument does not make sense by itself, and must first present an concept of the existence of God with an evaluation of God’s results (a-posteriori), to which Thomas turns. I suppose there is proof in Anselm’s writings that he would disagree, saying that the concept of God is an innate one given to us by God, and desires no different revelation to deliver it about. “Hence, this being, by way of its larger likeness, assists the investigating thoughts within the approach to supreme Truth; and thru its more glorious created essence, teaches the extra correctly what opinion the thoughts itself should type regarding the Creator.” (Monologium, ch. 66)

Although St. Thomas was obviously a believer, he was not swayed by the idea of cause alone being adequate to show God’s existence. His objection of the human mind’s capability to determine God is echoed by other philosophers similar to Kierkegaard (who was also a Christian): “The paradoxical passion of the Reason thus comes repeatedly into collision with the Unknown…and can not advance beyond this level. [Of God:] How do I know? I can not realize it, for so as to comprehend it, I would have to know the God, and the nature of the difference between God and man; and this I cannot know, because the Reason has decreased it to likeness with that from which it was in contrast to.” (Kierkegaard, 57) Anselm disagrees, and explains why illumination of God via rational discourse brings Man closer to God. “So, undoubtedly, a larger knowledge of the creative Being is attained, the more practically the creature via which the investigation is made approaches that Being.” (Monologium, ch. 66)

Descartes restates Anselm’s argument for his personal purposes, which embody defining what sorts of information is round that’s grounded in certainty. Most later philosophers tend to use Decartes’ formulation of the argument of their analyses. Required for Descartes’ project is God, who granted humans the reasoning capability with which we can cognate truths. The form of Anselm’s argument he uses entails defining ‘existence’ as considered one of God’s many perfections. “Existence is a component of the idea of a perfect being; anybody who denied that a perfect being had the property existence would be like someone who denied that a triangle had the property three-sidedness…the mind can not conceive of triangularity with out additionally conceiving of three-sidedness…the thoughts can’t conceive of perfection with out also conceiving of existence.” (Fifth Meditation)

Several philosophers ask what properties essentially ought to be ascribed to God, and if existence is one of them. Lotze asks how a being’s actual existence logically follows from its perfectness. This deduction, Lotze says, satisfies our sentimental values that our ideals should exist. “Why should this thought [a good being’s unreality] disturb us? Plainly because of this, that it is an instantaneous certainty that what is biggest, most lovely, most worthy, just isn’t a mere thought, however have to be a actuality, as a result of it would be intolerable to imagine [otherwise]. If what’s greatest didn’t exist, then what’s the biggest would not be, and it is not unimaginable that that which is biggest of all conceivable things should not be.” (Lotze, 669) The mind can contrive fantastic and incredible issues. Where is the fallacy in considering of a perfect, unreal something? Descartes’ formulation which ascribes ‘existence’ to a most perfect being leads us to the most famous objection to Anselm’s argument, from Kant. Kant has an issue with treating ‘existence’ as a property of a thing, that it is unnecessary to speak of things which have the property of existence and others which do. Consider the plausible state of affairs of asking my roommate Matthew to get me a beer. “What kind of beer?” he replies. “Oh, Budweiser. And a chilly one, at that. Also an existing one, if you’ve received any,” I might specify. Something simply appears amiss.

For Kant, when you take away ‘existence’ from an idea of a thing, there’s nothing left to take care of. It makes no sense to speak of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good God, nor of a red-and- white, chilly, non-existent Budweiser. A thing either exists, with properties, or it doesn’t. Where Descartes and Anselm would say you make a logical contradiction by saying “God doesn’t exist” because of the reality that this statement conflicts with the very concept of God together with the property of existence, with Kant, making this sort of a press release includes no contradiction. For postulating non-existence as part of a thing’s concept kind of negates any argumentative power that the concept’s other qualities might have had. A idea of a thing ought to focus on its defining qualities, corresponding to chilly and Budweiser, somewhat than on its existence.

Anselm’s unique reply to Gaulino might be applicable right here in a protection against Kant. Perhaps it is attainable to disclaim the existence of mere issues (be they islands or Budweisers) without logical contradiction, however in the case of a most-perfect being, ‘existence’ must be a part of its idea. Perhaps it is attainable that an island can be said not to have existed, maybe if tectonic plates hadn’t shifted in a certain way. But God isn’t bound by the constraints of causality; God transcends cause, existing throughout all time. So in the concept of God is ‘existence’, as nicely as His numerous different attributes. So to say “God doesn’t exist” is contradictory, in any case.

Kant counters this with a devastating blow. He reduces the ontological argument to a tautology: “The concept of an all-perfect being includes existence.” “We hold this idea in our minds, subsequently the being must exist.” “Thus, an existent being exists.” Even if we grant the argument numerous favors, letting it escape from loads of foibles, in the long run, it still doesn’t actually tell us something revealing. “All the trouble and labour bestowed on the well-known ontological or Cartesian proof of the existence of a supreme Being from concepts alone is hassle and labour wasted. A man would possibly as properly expect to become richer in knowledge by the help of mere ideas as a service provider to increase his wealth by including some noughts to his cash-account.” (Kant, 630) Anselm’s argument was not designed to convince unbelievers, but to be meals for believers like Gaunilo who wished see what outcomes the software of dialectic will bring if applied to the query of God. While right now the argument appears weak, and even whimsical, it’s a brave attempt to go with out dogma in explaining God.

The argument “must stand or fall by its sheer dialectical drive. A principal reason of our problem in appreciating its power might be that pure dialectic makes but a weak attraction to our minds.” (Knowles, 106) I assume I stand with St. Thomas and Kierkegaard on this matter, for plainly a purely logical argument of God’s existence is somewhat out of place. One must be ready of “faith looking for understanding”, in an a-posteriori frame of mind to understand an a-priori proof such as this. This is somewhat odd and unsettling, for I are probably to agree with logically sound arguments at all different intersections of my life. It appears as if Church dogma nowadays accentuates the thriller of God, staying away from reasoning corresponding to Anselm’s to attract followers. For to think about the thriller is what’s admirable. One shouldn’t be tempted to attend church smugly as a end result of it’s illogical not to.


  1. Anselm. Proslogium, Monologium, Cur Deus Homo. with introduction by Weber, translated by S. N. Deane. Open Court, La Salle, 1948.
  2. Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Image Books, New York, 1994.
  3. Honderich, Ted (editor). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, New York, 1995.
  4. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by N. K. Smith. London, 1933 (2nd edition).
  5. Kierkegaard, Soren. Philisophical Fragments. Translated by D. F. Swenson. Princeton University Press, 1962.
  6. Knowles, David. The Evolution of Medieval Thought. Random House, New York, 1962.
  7. Lotze, Rudolf. Microcosmus. Translated by Hamilton and Jones. Edinburgh, 1887.
  8. Southern, Richard. Saint Anselm. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990.
  9. Van Inwagen, Peter. Metaphysics. Westview Press, Boulder, 1993.

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