September 24, 2013
Some Topics in Philosophy of Religion
- How is god to be conceived?
- Does god exist?
- What ought god’s relation to political institutions to be?
- What ought god’s relation to morality be?
- Arguments for and against the existence of god, conceived in a particular way
- Arguments for and against the rationality of belief in god, conceived in a particular way
Who is God?
- When you think of god, what comes to mind?
o An all-knowing being
o An unquestionable figure of authority
o Creator of all things
o Spiritual essence implicit in everything
o Moral standard
- Philosophers have thought that god is the supremely perfect being
o What is the supremely perfect being?
A being with the sum of all perfections
• The most important perfections are power, knowledge, and
• So god is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent
• Does such a god exist?
The Ontological Argument
- In favour of the existence of such a being
o Designed to show that god exists using premises derived from some source
other than observation
- St. Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictine monk, born in Italy, who gave up his wealth
to devote himself to god. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 and died there in
1109 - Anselm’s strategy is to derive the existence of god from the concept of a being than
which no greater can be conceived
- See Bailey 22lc-rc
- Anselm has faith; what he seeks is understanding
- He believes god to be “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” – god is
the greatest of all beings; the most perfect being
The Ontological Argument (i)
- A loose reconstruction of Anselm’s argument
1. Think of a being than which no greater can be conceived
2. If such a being fails to exist, then a greater being- a being than which no
greater can be conceived, and which exists- can be conceived
3. But that’s absurd: nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater
being can be conceived
4. So a being than which no greater can be conceived must exist
- Properties of the Argument
o It is an a priori argument: it attempts to prove the existence of god solely on the
basis of pure reason, without employing any data derived from the senses
o It is a deductive argument: if valid and sound, then the conclusion has been
demonstrated as necessarily true
o It proves not only that god exists but also that he has certain properties: he is the
greatest of all beings
The Ontological Argument (ii)
1. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 14:1)
2. When the fool says this to himself, he takes the meaning of the statement to be that
the perfect being does not exist
3. Also, when the fool says this to himself, he understands that what he says exists in
4. But, surely, that perfect being cannot only exist in the unders