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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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St. Anselm's proof for the existence of God  

2015-11-03 23:16:37|  分类: Book 4: Critical |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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St. Anselm. “The Ontological Argument.” From St. Anselm, Proslogium. Trans. Sidney

Norton Deane. La Salle, ILL.: Open Court Publications, 1903. Ed. James A. Gould. Classic Philosophical Questions. Ninth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. 84-7.

St. Anselm (1033-1109)

 [My comments are italicized in brackets]

84

       “And indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is there no such nature, since the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God? … But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this being of which I speak—a being than which nothing greater can be conceived—understands what he hears, and what he understands is in his understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.”

       [Definition of God: a being than which nothing greater can be conceived – God is the greatest being of all (that can be conceived). God exists in the understanding.]

       “And assuredly that than which nothing greater can be conceived cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

       “… if that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the understanding alone, the very being than which nothing greater can be conceived is one than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality….

       [This is St. Anselm’s argument: Since God is greater than any other being (that can be conceived), and since to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone, so God exists both in the understanding and in reality; He cannot exist in the understanding alone, for nothing greater than Him can be conceived. The assumption is faulty, for it is based on a questionable premise—the greatest being does not have to exist in reality (although it can exist in the understanding, imagination, etc.); if the greatest being does exist in reality, then St. Anselm’s definition of God as “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived” already assumes the existence of God in reality (being the greatest of all, God has to exist in reality), a point which should be proved in the first place. In other words, St. Anselm’s argument is based either on a faulty premise or on an assumption that is both premise and proof—even before we begin to find proof for the existence of God, it is already proved that He exists in reality. Gaunilo has a similar argument against it, that St. Anselm’s argument assumes the existence of a hypothetical island (analogous to God) before arguing for its beauty and fertility (its excellence). See pp. 85-6]

84-5

       “For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, [85] if that than which nothing greater can be conceived can be conceived not to exist, it is not that than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.”

       [Here St. Anselm means to say “to exist in both the understanding and in reality”]

       85

       “For, if a mind could conceive of a being better than thee, the creature would rise above the Creator; and this is most absurd. And, indeed, whatever else there is, except thee alone, can be conceived not to exist. To thee alone, therefore, it belongs to exist more truly than all other beings, and hence in a higher degree than all others. For, whatever else exists does not exist so truly, and hence in a less degree it belongs to it to exist.”

       [Assuming the Creator already exists in saying it is absurd to conceive of a being better than Him.]

Gaunilo’s Criticism

85-6

       “For example, it is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island. And they say that this island has an inestimable [86] wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest; and that having no owner or inhabitant, it is more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored.”

86

       “Now if someone should tell me that there is such an island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty. But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: ‘You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent.’”

       “If a man should try to prove to me by such reasoning that this island truly exists, and that its existence should no longer be doubted, either I should believe that he was jesting, or I know not which I ought to regard as the greater fool: myself, supposing that I should allow this proof; or him, if he should suppose that he had established with any certainty the existence of this island. For he ought to show first that the hypothetical excellence of this island exists as a real and indubitable fact, and in no wise as any unreal object, or one whose existence is uncertain, in my understanding.

       [Gaunilo has successfully used an analogy to argue against St. Anselm’s proof for the existence of God. The hypothetical island is compared to God; Gaunilo’s point is that you need to prove the existence of this island before you reason from an assumption that the island is more excellent than all lands. Through this analogy, we can see this is exactly how St. Anselm argues the case: since this island is more excellent than all lands (before he proves that the island exists in reality), it must exist both in the understanding and in reality; otherwise, the island you understand to be more excellent than all lands will not be more excellent.]

St. Anselm’s Rejoinder

       “But, you say, it is as if one should suppose an island in the ocean, which surpasses all lands in its fertility, and which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called a lost island; and should say that there can be no doubt that this island truly exists in reality, for this reason, that one who hears it described easily understands what he hears.”

       “Now I promise confidently that if any man shall devise anything existing either in reality or in concept alone (except that than which is greater cannot be conceived) to which he can adapt the sequence of my reasoning, I will discover that thing, and will give him lost island, not to be lost again.”

       “But it now appears that this being than which a greater is inconceivable cannot be conceived not to be, because it exists on so assured a ground of truth; for otherwise it would not exist at all.

       [St. Anselm reiterates his argument in the first part of the sentence: that which is the greatest (God) cannot be conceived not to exist, but the reason he gives this time is that it exists on an assured ground of truth. His proof for the existence of God is still based on the truth of His existence; that is to say, God exists because it is absolute truth that He exists—circular reasoning; it goes nowhere. The last part of the sentence is saying God cannot be conceived not be exist; otherwise it would not exist at all (in the understanding). Yes, once you conceive something, it is in the understanding. Still he hasn’t proved God exists both in the understanding and in reality—the reality part is what we are looking for.]

86-7

       “Hence, if any one says that he conceives this being not to exist, I say that at the time when he conceives of this either he conceives of a being than which a greater is inconceivable, or he does not conceive at all. If he does not [87] conceive, he does not conceive of the nonexistence of that of which he does not conceive. But if he does conceive, he certainly conceives of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist. For if it could be conceived not to exist, it could be conceived to have a beginning and an end. But this is impossible.”

       [St. Anselm is saying that if you say you conceive God not to exist, it means at the time you conceive of this, either you conceive of God or you do not conceive at all. This actually misrepresents your argument: When you say you conceive God not to exist, you do conceive—you conceive the nonexistence of God. That is, you conceive Him in the understanding, but also conceive Him to be nonexistent in reality].

87

       “He, then, who conceives of this being conceives of a being which cannot be even conceived not to exist; but he who conceives of this being does not conceive that it does not exist; else he conceives what is inconceivable. The nonexistence, then, of that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable.”

       [Again, St. Anselm proves that God exists only in the understanding: he who conceives of Him does not conceive that He does not exist (in the understanding). If God is the greatest thing you can conceive, then, it is inconceivable to conceive His nonexistence (in the understanding), because once you conceive Him, He is in the understanding. How about God’s existence in reality? St. Anselm has NOT delivered what he promised in the beginning: God exists both in the understanding and in reality. God may exist (that’s why we need to prove His existence), but we cannot argue about it like this, the St. Anselm way]

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