St. Anselm of Canterbury

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In the following I intend to prove that the ontological argument is in and of itself, insufficient in proving that God exists. There are a few problems with the argument that I will be discussing in detail in an attempt to illustrate exactly why ‘The Ontological Argument’ is unsatisfactory.

The Definition of ‘Greater’

St. Anselm of Canterbury defined God as “that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought” (Bailey, 2002). The problem with this definition is that the term ‘greater’ is surely up for interpretation. The term ‘greater’ requires a comparison between itself and one or more things, which could pose a problem for Anselm’s argument; however Professor Thorp states that the only difference between these two things is that one exists in the mind, while the other exists in the mind and in reality. If we understand that a God that exists in the mind and in reality is greater than one that merely exists in the mind then we must understand that God exists. We need to examine this, however, much more closely to discover the problem with this statement; and I will do so using an example given to us by Professor Thorp.

During the discussion of the Ontological argument, the professor asked us whether we would prefer ‘a real beer’ on a hot day, or ‘an imaginary beer’. The real one is preferable and it is greater than the imaginary one. But what type of beer was each person in the class imagining? There are multiple brands of beer available and it is quite possible that many people throughout the room were picturing a different beer. Which real beer was greater? This is not a question that I can answer because it lies in a matter of preference.

We experience a similar problem when we think of ‘a real God’, and ‘an imaginary God’. Perhaps I perceive God in a specific way, and to me, he is a being “that-than-which-none-greater-can-be-thought” (Bailey, 2002). This proves that my perception of God exists for me, but what of everyone else’s perceptions of God? We must recognize a problem with this, in that everyone may perceive a ‘greater’ God in a very different way. We know that there are different perceptions of the ‘greater’ God because we have evidence of it in the various religions and the contrasting views of their God. With this in mind, all Anselm is able to prove with his argument is that every person’s individual perception of God does exist, but no on...

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...comprehend or imagine Him. Because of this, God cannot be ‘thought’, he can merely be defined as infinite. Since we cannot comprehend God in our thought, he no longer exists in our minds as an entity, but merely as a definition. Thus, since he no longer exists in our minds, there is no obligation to understand that he must exist in reality; an implication made in Anselm’s argument.

Anselm’s Ontological argument is insufficient in proving that God exists. For the reasons above and further objections from various philosophers, I do not believe that Anselm can argue the existence of God with his current premises as they stand. I must say that despite my objections to Anselm’s Ontological argument, I respect his work done, and the tremendous thought process that must have occurred to conjure up such a case as was presented. It is definitely much easier to prove a mortal wrong than it is to prove the existence of something so great and so unknown. Anselm’s Ontological argument while intriguing does have some problems in my opinion that take away from its validity; but needless to say it is in and of itself quite astounding.

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