The Ontological Argument
by Stephen Chapman
Truly there is a God, although the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
- St. Anselm
The ontological argument is thought by many to be among the most venerable
philosophical arguments of all time. The original argument, despite having first
been put to paper almost one millennia ago, is still debated fiercely at all levels
of philosophical thought, be they academic or merely amateur. This essay will
explain the argument, and then question it on a fundamental level â€“ does it
To begin, we must explain the argument in its entirety. The ontological
argument exists to prove the existence of God using nothing but a priori
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To simplify â€“ to be the greatest conceivable
being, the being in question must exist in order to be the greatest. A being
that does not exist is not the best conceivable being. This is the basic
This argument is simple in its brilliance â€“ it doesn't rely on physical proof or
particularly difficult definitions. It merely takes the purest idea of God and
shows that this definition must exist. Because of this, this argument has
remained on the forefront of the philosophical battleground that is religion.
However, since Anselm wrote the argument, many well-known philosophers
have rejected what he states. Indeed, in the time that Anselm was still alive,
flaws in his argument were pointed out by another monk â€“ Gaunilo. Gaunilo
argued that the logic used by the ontological argument was flawed. He did this
by using an example â€“ that of an island, that for whatever reason could not be
proven to exist. He asks the reader to imagine that this island is the greatest
conceivable island imaginable, and from there his argument becomes clear.
According to the logic used by St. Anselm, this island must exist because it is
the greatest conceivable island imaginable. This is a flaw within the ontological
argument in that it would allow the creation of almost anything. If one was to
suggest the greatest conceivable cup of coffee, that cup of coffee must exist,
regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to support this fact. However, a
common criticism of Guanilo's argument is that it deals with different terms.
St. Anselm's argument deals with the greatest conceivable thing, and does not
define what this thing could be. As pointed out by William Rowe, while it may
be fair to say that no other island may be greater than this lost island, it is
perfect reasonable to accept that a non-island could be. (Rowe, 1975). While
Gaunilo's argument seems to fail at defeating the ontological argument, it does
at the very least point out a flaw in the logic.
A second argument that can be used against the ontological argument is one
that is perhaps more difficult to refute. This argument uses similar logic to the
original argument, and while may be considered parody by some,...