Thursday, June 16, 2005

Anselm's Ontological Argument

Here is the essence of Anselm's Ontological Argument: Assumption One: God (or the concept of God) is something than which there is nothing greater. Assumption Two: That which exists in reality is greater (or better) than that which merely exists in understanding or imagination. Inference One: Based on assumption one, God is something greater than which we cannot conceive, because there is nothing greater than God. Inference Two: But based on assumtion two, it is greater to be in real existence than to be in just imaginary existence, therefore that concept of the greatest must include the attribute of real existence to be fully great (or perfect). Conclusion: Therefore, the concept of God being the greatest must possess the attribute of existence to be complete and therefore God must exist. =========== My rebuttal: The entire argument has atleast (that I can think of) TWO major problems. First, this argument is begging the question. It basis its definition of God as having all the attributes of perfection, including the attribute of existence. But that is the very point of contention that needs to be proven. So it starts out by saying that the GREATEST BEING should possess existence, and then concludes that because it should possess it, it infact DOES possess it. God exists because He should EXIST. This is a begging-the-question fallacy. Another BIG problem is with the assumption that "existence" is necessary for complete perfection. Why is the attribute of "existence" necessary for perfection? Why is it greater or better for something to be existent than for it to NOT be existent? Is it greater (better) for EVIL to be existent? Can I conceive of anything to possess existance and call it perfection or good? No. This ontological argument is a farce.

3 Comments:

Blogger JeffCR07 said...

First, you should use the outline of the ontological outline which I provided for two reasons: 1.) it is more true to Anselm than what you have above, and 2.) it is good to be consistent with one another as we discuss.

Now, you have two objections, I will deal with each in turn:

1.) You are quite a bit muddled here, but it seems you are making the claim that the ontological argument commits the logical fallacy of petitio principii, or "begging the question."

However, it seems that you are confusing quite a number of Ontological Arguments and viewing them as if they are one thing.

First, disregard any discussion of "attributes of perfection" - that is the ontological argument of Descartes, and has no direct relation to the Anselmian argument.

Second, your discussion of the "should"-"does" transition is more akin to Plantinga's modal ontological argument than to the argument which Anselm put forward. (It is interesting to note, however, that Plantinga's argument is valid in S5 Modal Logic, though this has no bearing on the topic at hand).

This having been said, let's look at your claim -

"this argument is begging the question. It basis its definition of God as having all the attributes of perfection, including the attribute of existence."

In fact, it does not base its definition of God as "having all attributes of perfect" it defines God as "that than which nothing can be conceived" (Thomas Williams’ translation, in Monologion and Prosologion with the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., copyright 1995)

Having defined God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived, it then DEDUCES from this that God must exist, given the premises.

This is very similar to geometry: If I define a circle as "A two dimensional figure in which all points are equidistant from the center" you can then deduce that the circle has no sides.

Just because the definition of something leads logically to a particular conclusion does not mean that the argument which gets you to that conclusion begs the question. If that were the case, all a priori arguments would beg the question.


***********


Your second argument is "with the assumption that "existence" is necessary for complete perfection."

I wish you would stop using the Cartesian "perfection" argument as if refuting it would somehow refute Anselm.

Strengthening your position, the argument would go as follows:

"Jeff, nice try, but I do not accept Premise 3 of the argument - namely, I reject the notion that a being which exists in the understanding and in reality is greater than a being which exists only in the understanding. Therefore, I can reject the ontological argument."

However, even after being strengthened to specifically attack the Anselmian Ontological Argument, this rebuttle still fails. Here is why:

We can consider the "greatness" of a thing in one of two ways.

First, we can understand "particular greatness." This would be like saying "which is greater as a computing device, a computer or a guitar?" Clearly, the answer is that the greatness of the computer AS A COMPUTING DEVICE (particular greatness) exceeds that of the guitar.

Now, what is the particular greatness being discussed in this case? Because our discussion is focused totally on an existential question, it is clear that we are discussing the greatness of each AS A BEING (particular greatness). It is clear also that existing in reality is one degree of being, and existing in the understanding is another (note, I am not saying that one is "better" than the other, only that they are different degrees, or ways, of being).

Where does this lead us: If one thing exists only in the understanding, then it has a degree of being = X. If another thing exists both in the understanding and in reality, it will possess a degree of being = X + Y. Thus, the degree of being of the second exceeds that of the first and the second is greater AS A BEING.

So, if we take it from a "particular greatness" standpoing, then a being which exists both in the understanding and in reality is greater, and Anselm's Argument works.

The second way that we can approach it is from the standpoing of "greatness simplicitur" or the overall greatness of a being. This would be the greatness of a being when all particular greatnesses are taking into account.

If we compare the "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" that exists only in the understanding with the "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" which exists both in the understanding and in reality, we find something startling:

The two have exactly the same greatness in every aspect of their particular greatness except one: their greatness-as-a-being. Therefore, the greatness simplicitur of the one existing both in the understanding and in reality is greater than the greatness simplicitur of the one existing only in the understanding.

Thus, the true "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" must be the one existing in both reality and in the understanding.

*********

Please don't feel bad about the mistakes above, they are common arguments against the OA, and ones that I made as well before I had done my research. If you would like any more info, feel free to write back.

Yours,

- Jeff

6/17/2005 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Well, first - there are no mistakes in the logical arguments I made. Regardless of the philosophical perspectives you say I use (Cartesian or any else), precise logic and disciplined thinking is all it takes to understand and recognize when an argument is logical and correct based on solid premises, and when an argument is a farce - based on flimsy, capricious premises.
I will respond point-to-point to your comment on my rebuttal to Anselm. However, I will say this much now, your comment still in no way salvages Anselm's argument from the fallacy of question-begging nor does it offer any validation to the premise of "existent in reality and in understanding is greater than existent only in understanding."

Also, your analogy of the definition of God being akin to that of a circle is glaringly erroneous! You define God as "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" (let's not even tackle the question WHY is this the definition of God, and not of Superman).
Then you say it's similar to geometry, a circle is a two-dimensional figure with all points equidistant from the center. You can then deduce that a circle has no sides.
The difference between the two situations is that the circle is a geometric figure having an a priori property of existence and understanding. It is a axiom that has to be accepted in order to begin any conception or discussion of a circle. Thus, as an a priori, you must accept the Circle as a figure in BEING and having those properties (being equidistant and all.. blah blah).
Now, God, on the other hand -- first off, HIS WHOLE EXISTENCE IS AT QUESTION HERE!! You CANNOT treat the CONCEPT of God as an A PRIORI!! His CONCEPTION (the concept "God") is NOT an AXIOM and CANNOT BE AN A PRIORI --- not even merely by definition.

You said, "Just because the definition of something leads logically to a particular conclusion does not mean that the argument which gets you to that conclusion begs the question. If that were the case, all a priori arguments would beg the question."

But, my dear friend, THIS IS PRECISELY SO! If the definition of something LEADS me to a logical conclusion that simply AFFIRMS or CONFIRMS my definition, then I have precisely drawn a full circle argument and have begged the question.
A proper logical argument should be based on PREMISES that a valid, on definitions that are clear and accurate, and their logical conclusions should lead NOT BACK TO THE SAME DEFINITIONS but SHOULD LEAD TO ANOTHER NEW PIECE OF INFORMATION OR KNOWLEDGE.
Knowledge-creation, heuretic fuction, is the reason we engage in logical reasoning and in science. We don't do this to merely go around the same bush over and over.
So, are all a priori arguments question-begging? YES!! They all are, but we must accept them as they are because they have AXIOMATIC quality, the a priori quality. These statements are the most fundamental and basic reduced statement of elements or ideas. They cannot be reduced anymore, they are self-evident, and therefore need no proof.

There's more I will say about this... as I said, I will respond to your entire comment, point by point. Later.

6/20/2005 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger JeffCR07 said...

I agree, precise logic and disciplined thinking will indeed bring us to the correct conclusion concerning the matter. On this note of unity, let us proceed to your most recent comments:

First, you call into question the parallel form of a priori argumentation between the ontological argument and the geometry of a circle. Your argument is very muddled here, but I will try to do it justice in my response.

You say that "the circle is a geometric figure having an a priori property of existence and understanding."

I have never heard any philosopher discuss a circle having, a priori (or even a posteriori), the property of understanding. Thus, I will take your comment to read:

"the circle is a geometric figure having an a priori property of existence in both reality and in the understanding"

However, this is simply not true. The only existence that a circle MUST have in order to be discussed is existence in the understanding. Our a priori knowledge of a triangle can never lead us to the conclusion that it exists in reality, nor must I conceive of a triangle existing in reality.

All that is necessary is to admit that the CONCEPT of a triangle exists, and to define that concept in order to make the a priori argument. In the same way, all that must be admitted regarding the ontological argument is that the CONCEPT of God exists.

Now, later on you argue that the CONCEPT of God cannot be asserted.

Either you understand what is meant by the term "God" or you do not. If you do understand, then you have a CONCEPT of God, and God exists at least in your understanding.

If you do NOT understand what is meant by the term "God" then you cannot deny the existence of God, because the word "God" has as much meaning to you as the word "AEFQF."

So, either you admit that the conception of God exists, and therefore is a perfectly legitimate axiom, or you admit that you cannot deny God's existence, because you don't understand what the term "God" means.

********

Now, your second point is an attempt to push the argument that the OA is question-begging.

However, you have seriously hurt your credibility in this discussion, as you have asserted that all a priori arguments are question-begging. This is, quite bluntly, a tragicly flawed notion, and has not been supported, to my knowledge, by any philosophers ever.

A priori arguments do indeed lead to "new" information, and follow logical forms of argumentation given certain premises and drawing new conclusions - lets use an example:

1.) Twins are siblings born from the same conception/pregnancy (Premise)

2.) Two people born within the same year are in the same generation (Premise)

3.) Twins are in the same generation


This argument follows from nothing but the definitions of the terms. I need not appeal to experience in order to understand that this is true, it is true by definition. Therefore, this argument is a priori, just like the circle argument, and just like the ontological argument.

However, this argument does not beg the question, it only elucidates NEW truths that must be true if the first premise is granted.

6/21/2005 04:42:00 PM  

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