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The Ontological Argument

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Philosophy 1020
Cathy Thorpe

The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God St. Anselm of Canterbury – 1033-1109 CE – He was a scholar/theologian and an ecclesiastical statesman: Archbishop of Canterbury – Author of the argument Two matters of language – “Argument” has two meanings ○ A verbal disagreement ○ A reasoned support of a given idea – Arguments of the first sense usually involve arguments of the second sense – The Ontological Argument is an argument in the second sense, reasoned support for the idea that God exists – We also have, in today’s readings, an argument in the first sense: a back and forth tussle between Anselm and Gaunilo “Ontological” – Means “having to do with being” or “having to do with existence” – “onto-“ comes from the present participle of the Greek verb “to be” – The “being” argument Digression on Sasquatches – Came up with a definition, but mere fact that we are able to define it does not entail that it exists – We can debate them, fill in lots of details, while still leaving open the question whether they actually exist – Both pro-sasquatchers and anti-sasquatchers can agree on the definition of sasquatch, while leaving open the question whether sasquatches exist – What Anselm is telling us is that with God it is different Expounding the argument – God is (df.) that being than which none greater can be imagined (Premise 1) – Other things being equal, a being that exists is greater than one that does not (Premise 2) – Therefore, God exists. (Conclusion) – In other words, unlike the case of the sasquatch, the very definition of God commits you (surprisingly) to God’s existence. Definition of God – Not perhaps a common-talk definition, but , we might say, a reflective-talk definition – Captures the essence of what is meant by God – The fact that we define God as a ‘being’ does not entail that God exists – Similarly, we could define a sasquatch as a hair apelike being that inhabits the mountains without saying they exist Premise 2: Other things being equal, a being that exists is greater than one that does not So, Anselm’s idea is this: – Take two gods, alike in every respect, except that one exists, one the other does not, but is purely imaginary…. The God that exits is greater than the one that does not – If God is purely imaginary but does not exist, then he (she/it) is not “that being than which none greater can be imagined”. Th
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