An argument for the existence of some being---usually God---which relies on some ordering of levels of being. Probably first developed by Anselm. Essentially, his version of the argument proceeds as follows. "We" (that is, Anselm and those who agree with him) claim that God is that entity such that no greater being can possibly be conceived (in the usual translation, ``that than which no greater can be conceived''). Anyone, even the fool (Anselm here refers to Psalms 14:1; note that fool here does not denote an idiot, but an immoral person), can understand the description ``entity such that no greater being can possibly be conceived''. In other words, the fool can conceive of such a being. Now, according to Anselm, anything that can be conceived of in the mind can be conceived of as existing in reality. It is better to exist in reality than not to do so; thus, if the being conceived of by the fool does not exist in reality, then it is not the entity such that no greater can be conceived---for one could conceive of that being existing in reality. Since the assumption that the being conceived of by the fool does not exist leads to a contradiction, Anselm concludes that the being then must exist.

In addition to being repeatedly attacked (by the likes of Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, who were no atheists), various philosophers have tried to recast the argument to avoid the objections of its detractors. This has led to so many different ontological arguments that Alvin Plantinga has claimed that it is impossible to refute more than a handful at once. Plantinga himself has contributed an interesting revision of Anselm's argument. Suppose the actual world is a world (a fairly safe assumption). Further, suppose some entity B's being of unsurpassable greatness is logically equivalent to (that is, entails and is entailed by) the statement that for any world W, B exists in W and B has maximal excellence in W. Finally, suppose there exists a world Q and a being B such that B exists in Q and has unsurpassable greatness. From this it follows fairly directly that B exists in the actual world and has unsurpassable greatness. A problem I have with this argument is that the third premise is equivalent to the conclusion (that is, granting the conclusion and the first two premises, the third premise follows, so that with respect to the first two premises, the third premise and the conclusion are equivalent); it thus seems question-begging to me. In The Nature of Necessity, Plantinga claims that this argument is not question-begging, but I am not convinced.

I have several problems with the ontological argument. In Anselm's version, there are two premises I do not accept: first, that there are different levels of greatness (or in some interpretations, amount of reality) among objects; and second, that there is some limit to such greatness (or reality). On the greatness interpretation, Anselm's argument seems to require that things have greatness. One thing can be better than another. I don't think this should be required. I might be able to accept situations or other states of affairs as being better or worse than others, but things? On the reality interpretation, I'm not sure what it is supposed to mean to say that something is more (or less) real than something else.

At least Descartes picks something---perfection---which may reasonably be assumed to have an intrinsic maximum. But still, I think it's really unclear what a perfection is supposed to be. What little of a modal realist there still is in me wants perfections, if they are indeed possible, to exist in some world or other, but I don't understand why they need be vested in a single being, or how the perfections must reside in a being in the actual world.

Perhaps this is not a solution to the ontological argument; I hope at least that it will help continue discussion of this argument or similar ones.


One flaw we can poke at the ontological argument is that it treats existence as a predicate. It is not. It differs subtly from stuff like being red.

In fact, "existence" is never a predicate. Certainly not in mathematical logic or other modal logics or formal logics. There, it even has different syntax from a predicate: you say "x is red", but you cannot say "there exists an x", only "there exists an x such that x is a red lycanthrope".

Closer syntactic examination of typical ontological arguments reveals that in fact the "predicate" being used has the form "there exists an x such that P(x)", for various predicates P. Call this "meta-"predicate O: O(P) (a predicate on predicates!) means that P is satisfiable. The argument aims to show that if G(x) is the predicate "x is God", then O(G). Note how we've left the realm of first order logic without noticing it -- a situation which can only be described as sophistry.

By contrast, the predicate R(x) "x is red" is first-order: it takes objects (not predicates), and assigns them truth values.

If following St. Anselm's version of the argument (the original and the best!), we now introduce a second meta-predicate, G(P) = "P(x) is a Good Thing for x". If P(x) is "x is pink", for instance, we may make up our minds that G(P) (in this Barbie-led society of ours, it is good to be pink). The argument now claims that G(O): "existence is a Good Thing"!

But what's that bold font doing inside the argument of G? Oops, that's a second-order predicate O inside our second-order predicate G. Immediately G becomes an amazing predicate, able to apply to both first-order predicates and second-order predicates equally well!

To conclude the argument, we need to define the Godliness predicate B(x) as "x satisfies all good predicates" (i.e. "for every predicate T, T(x) iff G(T)"). B(x) is a first-order predicate (it applies to objects), but writing it down requires second-order logic (it talks about "all predicates T", and uses G). The claim is that O(B) ("there is an x for which B(x)", i.e. "there exists a God"); this follows from G(O).

Or it would follow, if we could work out some (any!) logical framework where we can play so hard and fast with the types we allow in our logic. It's not clear what we'd need from our logic even to write it down in a syntactically valid form.


Another flaw with St. Anselm's reasoning is how very much more than the existence of God it manages to prove. Suppose I suspend my logical disbelief and accept the argument. Then O(B), i.e. there exists some g ("God") for which B(g). As we've already agreed that G(P), it immediately follows (from the definition of B) that P(g): God is pink.

If, on the contrary, you refuse to accept that G(P), then you must think that G(~P) ("it is not good to be pink", therefore "it is good not to be pink"; St. Anselm's argument requires that for every predicate Q either G(P) or G(~P)!). It follows that you would then believe not only that God exists, but that S/He (more below) is not pink!

By ruminating further on the nature of sex, we will immediately conclude that God is either male or not male (female? Who knows?). In the course of a few short hours, we will be able to ascribe many Godly properties to God, all within the ontological framework.

If it works at all (see above for why I think it doesn't), then the argument proves far more than it should. One should be very wary of proofs that show too much.

"Imagine the most perfect being possible. Anything that you can imagine that would make this being better, add it in. Omnipotent? Immortal? All knowing? Add them all in. Now, thinking of this great being, surely one characteristic that it must have is the property of existing. If it doesn't exist, it's not very great, is it? So it must exist. (If what you are imagining doesn't exist, you're imagining the wrong thing, a less-perfect thing.) So, let us call this great thing God. And so, we have proven that God exists."

The above is an informal form of the ontological argument. There are certainly more complex formulations (see the other writeups in this node), but I'd like to try making it simpler, so that you can see one logical fallacy that often (perhaps always?) sneaks into the argument. Next I'm going to give you a formal statement of the argument above:

1. God is not flawed in any way.
2. A flawless being must have all properties that are desirable for a being to have.
3. It is desirable to have the property of existing.
4) Therefore, God exists.

That's certainly a simplified version of the ontological argument, but it gives you the basic idea, and it helps prepare you for my next simplification. It is an attempt to put the ontological argument in such simple terms that the logical flaw becomes obvious.

Umit's Ontological Argument

1) God, by definition, is a necessary being
2) By definition, a necessary being exists
3) Therefore, God exists.

This argument assumes what it is attempting to prove, begging the question. The first premise states that 'God is, and the conclusion is also 'God is. So let's fix that. The correct form should be:

1) If God exists, Then he is a necessary being.
2) By definition, a necessary being exists
3) Therefore, If God exists, then he exists.

Not quite as impressive once you state your assumptions correctly. But then, this is an extremely simplified version of the ontological argument. The ontological argument is tricky, because you are assuming that the 'if' in 'if God exists' is actually the case; assume that God does exist. What qualities does E have? Well... obviously, since you're assuming that E exists, E does, but more than that, E must exist.

Compare this to a unicorn. Assume that a unicorn does exist. Now imagine; the unicorn exists, but while it exists (in this imaginary world of yours), you can still imagine (in this imaginary world of yours) that a unicorn might not exist. Unicorns are like oranges and Vikings -- it's easy to imagine them not existing. But when you imagine God, E seems to have as one of Ier properties that E must exist. Otherwise E wouldn't be truly be God.

It is comparatively easy to alternate between believing that all forms of the ontological argument are slight-of-hand tricks and believing that "Eureka!, it does work!" However, it is not unfair to say that the great majority of analytical philosophers do not believe that any form of the ontological thus far developed actually proves the existence of God. Some theologians would disagree.

And so it goes.

A fellow by the name of Charles Hartshorne created a very interesting version of the ontological argument in his essay "The Logic of Perfection". It is in modal logic, for those of you familiar with it. Not too hard for those who aren't.

v = Or, ~ = Not, -> = Implies, <> = Possible, n = Necessary
Let P be a perfect being, i.e. God.

1. P -> nP //Anselm's Postulate, perfection cannot be contingent.
2. ~n~P //Anselm again, perfection is possible
3. nP -> P //Modal axiom
4. nP v ~nP //Principle of the excluded middle
5. ~nP -> n~nP //Becker's postulate, all modal status is necessary
6. nP v n~nP //Substitution
7. n~nP -> n~P //Modal modus tollens
8. nP v n~P //Substitution
9. nP //See number 2
10. P

Everybody got that? It takes a little knowledge of logic, but it's not too hard. The main points of contention are number 2, and the concept of necessary existence applied to a being. The second questions both whether the proof has stable underpinnings, and even if it does, what kind of being you have proved to exist. Any being that exists as the same entity in any possible reality could be argued to be trivial. As a final note, the Catholic Church used to(might still, I don't know) take it as a tennant of faith that the existence of God could be proven with the unaided reason, quite an odd thing for an article of faith in my opinion.

Descartes (yeah, the 'I think therefore I am' blokey) formulated another version of this argument.

He claimed that there were two types of statement: analytical and synthetic.

A synthetic statement is one which may or may not be true, such as 'bears are brown'. One must go outside the statement to look for evidence for or against it.

An analytical statement is one which is a priori true, such as 'triangles have three corners'. It is impossible to seperate the subject (triangles) from the predicate (having three corners).

In other words, an analytical statement states a defining characteristic of the subject, and so needs no external evidence to prove that it is true.

Descartes maintained that 'God exists' is an analytical statement: existence is one of the defining characteristics of God and so needs no outside evidence.

About Anselm's ontological argument of The existence of God:

It might be enlightening to consider Anselm's prefatory remarks, in which he avers that he "believes in order to understand". (Anselm's Latin: credo ut intelligam) This is a very interesting idea, and not so very antithetical to Pyrronian skepticism as it might appear. Must it be a contradiction in terms for a person to both have faith and be intellectually honest and curious? For medieval philosophers such as Anselm, certainly, there was no felt contradiction. I think, you must either quit the field of inquiry or keep an open mind. And if you lose your faith, you are better off with no faith than bad faith.

The very idea of proving God's existence is somehow wrong-headed (Da Free John wrote a book with a great title, "Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Be Announced From the White House"). If Anselm's proof held water, then it would be incontrovertibly established not only that God exists, but that He is surpassingly good (indeed, posesses all the perfections: unbounded intelligence, power, wisdom, etc.). Faith itself would be nugatory in a world in which Anselm's proof was valid. This is in my opinion an extremely important point.

It is a profound misundertanding to suppose that faith is a stop-gap until we have something better, something like a genuinely verifiable proof (scientific or otherwise!). Or even a sign from God! Faith is a good thing in itself. What better thing should it be exchanged for at first opportunity? The world and humanity are so contituted as to make faith operable.

Specifically, faith is the social virtue par excellance. To be capable of trust, and to be worthy of it yourself, is what faith is really all about. One cannot read other minds; one cannot, as the solipsist knows, even establish their existence! Imagine a world in which minds can be read, a world in which the last redoubt of privacy has been destroyed. That would be a bad world!

The concept of faith is routinely confounded with that of belief, specifically religious belief. Ths constitutes an immense distraction from the very thing these religious beliefs are about!; which is more than a little ironic. But to be fair, faith and belief naturally intertwine. A subject for another essay.

To return to Anselm's proof. While it fails to establish the existence of "that than which nothing greater can be thought", it does somehow penetrate to the very essence of monotheistic faith, the great world-historical project initiated by the ancient Jews. Here's my thought: suppose that God is really a rather unsavory character. Say he's more interested in his amusement than in the welfare of his creatures. --Which would certainly fit the observable facts fairly well, would it not! Now imagine another God, a better God, who though he may not exist, would care about His creatures if he did. (Not that he wouldn't enjoy himself too! -- As God, He really ought to!) Now this God deserves the respect and love that the real God does not deserve. In fact, we would do well to withhold our tribute and worship and whatever else the real God might demand of us, and give them instead to the God who by all rights Ought to be God. Are you still with me? See, the thing about faith in a monotheistic context is that it sanctions taking the next step -- not a step in a logical argument! -- it sanctions recognizing the deserving God as the real God. And this is the sense in which Anselm's argument bootstraps (Cf. bootstrapping) God into existence. In short, if God exists, then by the inexorable "logic" of faith, He is indeed that than which nothing greater can be thought. If He is not, or indeed, if He does not exist, then faith is, as a proposition, as a belief, incorrect. And that has to be epistemically possible for faith to make any sense! And even if incorrect (and we may never know), faith might still be good, might still be the right thing for humanity.

These issues are so subtle that even my best attempt to unpack them would necessarily fall short. All I can reasonably hope is to help the conversation along.

By the way, I do no see that Eastern non-dualism is necessarily at odds with monotheistic faith.

Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

Is there a God? While philosophers throughout the ages have attempted to determine the answer to this question through various means, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the eleventh century, devised one of the most intriguing "proofs" of God's existence. His Ontological Argument is intriguing not only because of its claim of proving God's existence, but also because it uses the traditional properties of God such as omnipotence, omniscience, and other characteristics to do so.

Below is a simplified version of Anselm's Proslogion II:

  1. God is a being than which no greater can be conceived. {Definition of God}
  2. God exists in the understanding, but not in reality. {Assumption for reductio}
  3. Existence in both reality and the understanding is greater than existence in the understanding alone. {Premise}
  4. A being is possible that has all of God's properties which exists in both reality and the understanding. {Premise}
  5. A being is possible that is greater than God (who exists only in understanding) {From 2, 3, and 4}
  6. A being is possible that is greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. {From 1 and 5}
  7. Therefore, it is not the case that God exists in the understanding but not in reality. {From 1 – 6 and reductio ad absurdum}
  8. God exists in the understanding. {Premise}
  9. Therefore God exists in reality. {From 7 and 8}

At first glance, even this simplified interpretation of Ontological Argument seems to be a complex puzzle of words. If one takes the time to understand each line, a possibly valid argument appears. Step one simply gives a short, yet fully encompassing, definition of God. A being than which no greater can be conceived implies an all-knowing, ever present, eternal, loving, and perfect God.

Step two is Anselm's assumption for reductio. Anselm does not at all agree that God exists in the understanding, but not in reality. In fact he quotes the Bible saying, "the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God".

His first premise in step three states that to exist in reality is better than to exist only in understanding. This is saying that if a thing exists in one world (not our own), it has a greater existence than if it only exists in understanding (in our world). The second premise in Step four says that it is logically possible for God to exist both in reality and in understanding. From steps two through four comes step five that says that if God only exists in understanding, it is logically possible for a being that has all of God's properties to exist in reality, and would therefore be greater than God. Step 6 follows that there then exists a being greater than God, or in other words, a being who is greater than the greatest being that can be conceived.

Step six is a logical impossibility, which is where step seven comes in. From this inconsistency, using reductio ad absurdum, we know that it is not and cannot be the case that God exists in the understanding but not in reality. The final premise, step eight, asserts that God does actually exist in the understanding. How else could we even speak of God if we did not have some understanding of Him? It might also be said that if the existence of God was logically possible, then there must be some sort of understanding of Him for anyone to be able to say this. Therefore, in step nine, if God does exist in understanding, but He cannot exist in understanding only, then He must exist in reality as well.

Anselm creates a very strong argument for his case. In fact, it is a deductively valid argument meaning that if all the premises are true, then the conclusion is true. Of course if any one of the premises is not true then the conclusion does not necessarily follow. From this fact come the many objections to his argument.

We shall assume that the definition of God in step one shall not be attacked because though there are several different gods worshipped or "understood" in most cases this definition of a being which no greater can be conceived is about as general a description as our language allows.

Step two is an assumption for reductio, so is therefore in itself assumed to be false, and is above reproach. Since step eight states that God actually exists in understanding, we shall discuss that at a later time. If one argued that God does not only exist in the understanding Anselm's point would already be proven. So again, there is no argument against step two.

His first premise is the first to be disputed. One might ask why something is greater if it only exists in understanding but not in reality. Is existence an additive or great-making quality? For example – picture a square in your mind. It has four equal sides, four right angles, and meets all the requirements known for a square. Is it any less of a square than the square pictured below? (Forgive the ASCII, but you get the point.)

|     |
|     |

Anselm and his proponents would say that the square on the paper is the greater of the two squares, while opponents of his argument (and of the separate argument that existence is an additive quality) say that both squares hold equal value. One way that Anselm could be supported would be this logic. In the scope of all possible worlds, imagine that there exists two worlds (W1 and W2) where the man John Doe exists. If in world W1 John Doe is twice as smart as he is in world W2, then he is greater in world W1. On this same logic if there is a world W3 in which John Doe does not exist at all (i.e., he only exists in understanding), then either of the John Doe’s in W1 or W2 are greater than in world W3. If this is the case Anselm’s argument is still valid.

His second premise is also open to attack. Why should it be true that it is possible for God to exist both in understanding and reality? This is much more difficult to refute. All that can be said is, "Why is it possible for anything to be true?" Note that in this step Anselm never says that God actually does exist; only that it is a possibility. Why should it be impossible for a "greatest possible being" to logically exist?

As stated before, the argument, as a whole is deductively valid, and therefore specific disputes against steps five, six, and seven are few. This brings us to the final premise which states that God exists in the understanding. For someone to contest this, they couldn’t say, "I don’t believe God exists in understanding", they would have to say something to the effect of, "What/Who is God?" or, "What are you talking about?" To understand what is meant by saying, "God exists in understanding" implies that He actually does exist in understanding. One cannot talk about God if there was no concept of Him. God's actual existence has no bearing on the understanding of Him.

In conclusion, Anselm provides a praiseworthy proof for the existence of God with only slight problems. It might be that unconditionally proving God’s existence on paper is an impossibility. Perhaps it can only be confirmed through personal experiences, understanding, and faith.

Saint Anselm's Ontological Argument vs. David Hume

David Hume ponders the question of god’s existence in his essayWhy Does God Let People Suffer?”, suggesting that it is patently impossible for an omni benevolent god to allow such a great amount of suffering on earth. Saint Anselm’s “Ontological Argument” makes the claim that only a “fool’s misunderstanding” of the god concept will account for such a disbelief in god. Assumptions and direct contradictions from both pieces, though, only proves further that god’s existence is either unfathomable or impossible to prove. Human perception and experience gives us no basis for a belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, omni benevolent, or omnipresent god, but the possibility of lacking the knowledge needed to understand god’s design of the world does leave open the possibility of his existence. Therefore, although this possibility exists, humans do not know and will never be able to know whether or not god exists for sure.

Anselm’s argument about what “a fool hath said in his heart” presupposes the conclusion that he intends to arrive at. The lord, who he intends to prove the existence of, gives “understanding to faith”, a faith he already has. This is made clear in the very first sentence, and Anselm shows his argument’s circular assumption by saying that “what I formerly believed by thy bounty, I now understand by thine illumination”. One cannot set out to objectively prove the existence of something they already believe in. One would only subconsciously seek to strengthen their own beliefs in their supposed search for truth rather than weigh all arguments equally.

David Hume assumes that the terms “good” and “bad” are an objective truth, which cannot be taken for granted in this instance. Hume presupposes that all suffering is bad, preventable, and will be seen as bad by all people (and the “all powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity”). Yet, without a prescribed set of morals or values, there would be no “good” or “bad”, simply “survival”. Animals do not perceive good or bad, they run on simple instinct. Hume inadvertently comments on the natural world, where morals are nonexistent, using it as an argument for the possibility of “the Business of Life without any pain”. Where humans feel both pleasure and pain, at opposite ends of a moral spectrum, Hume notes that animals, “instead of Pain, they might feel a Diminution of Pleasure.” But “neither action nor character is moral at all unless there is something mental in it”, therefore, our mental cognition forces morals upon us. Some judgments of “good” or “bad” can be subjective, when a human action or idea lacks a mental aspect.

One of Hume’s core arguments is based on the assumption that we would be able to understand an omniscient god’s purpose for the world, and in turn we would be able to see that there is unnecessary suffering and be justified in wondering wonder why such an omniscient god would allow such anguish. Within the limited scope of human knowledge, though, there would be no way for use to determine what god’s ultimate plan is, and furthermore be able to judge whether that plan is good or bad, considering god’s omniscience and omnipotence. If such a being existed, his knowledge would have to go far above and beyond our reasoning skills. Our judgments of an omniscient, omnipotent god’s purpose for suffering and anguish in the world cannot be based upon mankind’s own limited view of the cause of suffering. If we are not able to know god’s plan or design behind all suffering and pain in the world, then we cannot wonder why such a god would not eradicate all suffering. In addition, without some sort of suffering to oppose pleasure, there would be no way in the human experience to know that “good” is actually good, since there would be no comparison or gauge for what we know to be good. Mankind “has to take evil with good or give up good with evil.”

Saint Anselm’s core argument for the existence of a “being than which no greater can be conceived” (BNGC) is invalid when considering the implications behind an “ideal”, which the BNGC would have to be. Anselm claims that, since we can perceive nothing greater, god has a “necessary existence”, which constitutes his perfection. An ideal and perfection alone do not give us a basis or firm proof for such a being to exist. As far as humans know, and in all that we know, an ideal can exist only in the mind. A BNGC “can at most be thought, but in-itself-being cannot enter into perception at all”. One would think that this perfect being (“god”) would give us a mental capacity or ability to perceive that there is even the possibility that a perfect being can exist in reality. But since such a god hasn’t given us even a capacity to conceive that perfection can exist in reality, then our current perceptions and realm of knowledge does not allow for the existence of god.

“Greater” is a purely human characteristic or judgment, something that could hardly be applied to god, yet Anselm claims that this being holds the attribute of being “greater” than all else. The only possible way for such a being to exist is to intellectualize a perfect being, an ideal, and in turn, this being “will be greater if it exists than if it does not exist”. The possibility, though that god’s existence is simply beyond our comprehension still exists. We may be able to intellectualize him and understand the concept of god‘s existence, but we cannot understand god himself if he did exist in reality. As much as we understand the concept, his existence may still be beyond our comprehension. It is possible that “He is, in His very nature, unconceptualizable sic, that His Mystery and incomprehensibility are absolute attributes of Him.” This forms a kind of common ground between Hume and Anselm: since we do not have the mental capacity to understand him if he did exist, but conceiving the concept may be implausible, then we cannot know either way whether god does exist.

Evil is a problem addressed more by Hume than Anselm, but Anselm’s statement about something that is the “greatest” must beg the antecedent. What about something that is the worst, such as the devil? Greatness, which has been established as subjective, now has a rival. Two things that exactly oppose each other, at the opposite ends of the spectrum (one the BNGC and one “that which nothing lesser can be conceived”), can almost be seen as the same being. Anselm argued “for the necessary existence of ‘God’, via the assumption that ‘God’ is the creator of the universe”, therefore, everything came from and will go to god, including that of evil and the devil. This would answer Hume’s question “Why Does God Let People Suffer?”: people suffer because of evil, and in god’s great plan, this evil must serve some purpose because he himself created it.

If suffering is so important and will serve its purpose through god’s plan, one would think he would be able to at least reduce suffering, or in the very least, prevent the suffering of children, who have done nothing through free will to deserve it. The needless suffering, and that of children, seems to be simply too high a price to be paid for such final harmony, especially when considering the amount of time and effort humans spend trying to cure the world of suffering. Couldn’t a little less suffering could be doled out to serve this high and mighty plan? Yet there is no evidence that any suffering has been withheld when looking at the course of human history, which would point to the conclusion that there is no god, or if there is, he is either not omnipotent or not omni benevolent.

Saint Anselm and David Hume make cases for and against the existence of god that may be invalid after close scrutiny, in turn only providing proof that we cannot know whether god exists at all. If he does exist, he has not given us the capacity nor any reason to believe in him. If he does not exist, then through virus-like memes and the dismissal of atheistic ideas which cause cognitive dissonance, the idea of god has propagated itself among cultures with a need for a belief in god. Based merely on current, empirical knowledge, and barring further understanding, there is no reason to believe in the existence of god. But since we could not know what future understanding may bring, and we may not currently posses the ability to understand god fully, we cannot know for sure whether god does exist.

Works Cited

Anselm, St. “The Ontological Argument”. Twenty Questions, an Introduction to Philosophy. Ed. Bowie, Michaels, Solomon. Thomson Learning, USA. 2000. pp. 55-57

Beiswanger, George, “Right Against Good”. Ethics. Jan., 1950. P. 118

The Bible. Psalms 14, Verse 1

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. “Rebellion”. Twenty Questions, an Introduction to Philosophy. Ed. Bowie, Michaels, Solomon. Thomson Learning, USA. 2000. p. 70

Gellman, Jerome I. “The Name of God”. Noûs. Dec., 1995. p. 540

Hume, David. “Why Does God Let People Suffer?". Twenty Questions, an Introduction to Philosophy. Ed. Bowie, Michaels, Solomon. Thomson Learning, USA. 2000. pp. 62-67.

Laird, J. “‘Subjective’ and ‘Objective’ in Morals”. Mind, New Series. Jan., 1941. P. 43

Malcom, Norman, “Anselm’s Ontological Arguments”. The Philosophical Review. Jan., 1960. pp. 43, 46

Puccetti, Roland, “The Concept of God”. Philosophical Quarterly. Jul., 1964. P. 243

Stace, W.T. Time and Eternity. Princeton, NJ. 1952. pp. 48-49

Swabey, William Curtis, “On the Reality of Things”. The Philosophical Review. Jul., 1930. P. 367

A simple, devastating blow to the Ontological Argument can be laid down by a confrontation with the liberties which the first requirement takes with the very nature of conception itself. As the first step in the argument is to define "God" as "that than which no greater can be conceived," we must consider: what exactly is it which we are capable of conceiving?

The Ontological Argument requires us to first conceive something which is perfect, as a step towards requiring the actualisation of this perfection on the basis of existence itself being a higher state of perfection. Though Immanuel Kant's refutation, denying existence itself as a quality, goes to the heart of such a claim of existence being tautological, he is applying that, I think, to a purported conception which itself never exists in the first place. For, in fact, it is impossible for something approaching "perfection" in any capacity to actually be conceived.

Picture, for a moment, an infinitely long piece of string. Try and get that image in your head. Well, really, whatever you've thought of, it is a certainty that you are not actually picturing something "infinite" -- perhaps you imagine infinity by picturing that string trailing off into the distance, to the point where we can no longer see it at all, but (we tell ourselves) it continues on forever outside of our view, or ability to picture. Or, you may picture a string running straight across a horizon, your image pulling back from it as your field of view expands by orders of magnitude.

We do these things in place of undertaking the impossible task of picturing such a string as it actually goes on, forever. To contemplate an actualisable infinite string, we would need to spend an infinite amount of time on the thought itself. And so it is this way, in which we imagine perfection, by modeling an actually imperfect mental construct that comes as close to perfection as our minds are able to contemplate, but does not in fact achieve the conceptual step prerequisite to actualisation. Seeking a more abstract conception, consider the greatest or most perfect piece of music composable. The phrase "the greatest piece of music composable" is not, itself, utterly devoid of meaning, as we can imagine that such a thing might be -- but there is no means to conceptualise the actual tune for which that description would be universally true. We can not hum a few bars and know our conceptualisation to be objectively correct.

Simply put, perfection -- being "the greatest conceivable" in any field -- is a form of infinity, a projection that is infinite along the lines of perfectness. And, since we really can't truly conceive of an infinite, no conception actually exists to require this illusory conceived infinite be perfected along some tautological additional dimension of actual existence. Not only can we not conceive the infinite, we are, in fact (indeed, by definition) unable to truly fully conceive of things that are merely incomprehensibly large. For example, we can look at a book's worth of pictures of Jupiter and descriptions of its characteristics, but we can no more construct a fully accurate mental image of the sheer vastness of that planet than we can circumnavigate it by crawling naked for the length of the Jovian equator.

Reflecting upon the limitations of the human mind to do anything more than model limited versions of abstract infinites, we can see the impossibility of actually conceiving "that than which no greater can be conceived." Where David Hume, in the previous node, says the ideal can exist only in the human mind, he has already gone a step too far, for it is only model of the ideal that can therein persist. And, anticipating one remaining possible challenge, if we remove this humanistic consideration, then the Ontological Argument itself ceases to exist, for it is only a construct of human thought. As an absolute premise, the argument requires the human reader giving it consideration to first conceive the perfection suggested -- to suppose that God must exist because God would be able to conceive God is to beg the question.

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