January 16, 2012
A few announcements:
“Certain Lower and Upper Level Liberal Studies courses, due to their close relation
to the professional fields, cannot be taken for Liberal Studies credit by students in
some programs. A list of program restricted Liberal Studies courses can be found in
the online undergraduate calendar.”
A notation on the course outline is another helpful reminder to students, eg. This is
a Lower Level Liberal Studies course. A list of program restricted Liberal Studies
courses can be found in the online undergraduate calendar,
Call For Papers:
Ryerson's Philosophy Graduate Students' Association is currently seeking original
submissions of academic papers, as well as poetry and other artwork (including
photography, reproductions of visual art, digital art, song lyrics, etc.) for publication
in an undergraduate journal. We encourage interdisciplinary submissions, but all
submissions must be philosophical in focus and approach. We are especially
interested in works which involve the application of philosophical methods and/or
ideas to contemporary social issues or problems.
Please consult our webpage at http://phigsa.wordpress.com/undergraduate-
journal/ for submission guidelines and requirements, or
email [email protected]
for additional information.
Deadline: Friday February 3rd, 2012.
One more housekeeping item:
I propose a 10-minute break around 10:00am Philosophy of Religion:
Three arguments for the existence of God (or the rationality of religious belief)
Why are we starting with these issues/problems?
Some terminology and preliminaries:
Two ways in which we might know something:
a priori = without experience, from reason alone
a posteriori = known only through experience
“All bachelors are unmarried males”
“Every square is four sided”
– analytically true; true by definition.
(1)All men are mortal
(2)Socrates is a man
(3)Therefore, Socrates is mortal
“Water boils at 100 degrees C.”
“The sun will rise tomorrow” “All elephants are grey”.
St. Anselm of Canterbury:
The ontological Argument for the existence of God: an a priori argument for the
existence of God
What is God? What do we mean when we use the word “God”?
Traditionally, people have had omnipotence, omniscience, and omni-benevolence in
Anselm says (not incompatibly with that):
“God is the greatest conceivable being” or “The being than which no greater can be
If someone were to say that there is some being greater than God, they would have
made a mistake in much the same way as someone makes a mistake when they say
that they’ve located a non-four-sided square.
The assertion: “God is a great being, but another being (x) is even greater.”
illustrates a conceptual confusion; an incorrect use of language.
Now, if the term “God” means “A being no greater than which can be conceived”
Anselm thinks that this makes the existence of such a being “necessary”
Two beings equally great in all other respects: One of them exists. The other does
Wouldn’t’ the first being in virtue of existing be greater than the second who
God’s essence implies his existence.
The definition of “God” (“A Being than which no greater can be conceived”) implies
“For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and
this is greater one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that than which
nothing greater can be conceived can be conceived not to exist, it is not that than
which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction.
There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist,
that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our
What do you make of this argument?
- Imagine there is an island somewhere in the ocean, which, because it’s so
hard to find is called “the lost island”.
- This is the best conceivable island: “it has an inestimable wealth of all
manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the
Islands of the Blest…”
- Gaunilo says: If someone told him that this island existed, that’s perfectly
believable. But if someone said rather that: “You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all
lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your
understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding
alone, but to exist in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must
This is an argument from analogy, and tries to undercut Anselm’s logic.
Is it convincing? Why? Why not?
-Gaunilo's basic error in his counter-argument is that he spoke of the most perfect
island instead of the most perfect island conceivable.
-This is what separates the Divine from the mortal, according to Anselm.
The idea that is lacking in the concept of a “perfect island” is its necessary existence.
Any material object, including an island, is part of the contingent world.
Even a perfect island so long as it was a real island, existing in the physical world is, by definition, something that can be thought not to exist.
In Anselm’s words:
“....if anyone discovers something for me, other than that "than which a greater
cannot be thought," existing either in reality or in thought alone, to which the logic
of my argument can be applied, I shall find his lost island and give it to him, never to
be lost again” (45)
Therefore, Anselm's argument does not apply to the island parallel, or to any object
other than the divine; the principle only applies to the most perfect conceivable
being, which is defined as having eternal and independent, or necessary, existence.
What do you make of this rejoinder?
Conceivability is myste