Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ontological Argument: Pulling a rabbit out of a philosopher's hat.

I thought Christians are not using this argument anymore.


On the 13th of July 1087 after finishing his breakfast, Anselm (1093-1109) Bishop of Canterbury, claimed that God sends him an argument in a vision and it goes like this:

That God Really Exists Therefore, Lord, you who give knowledge of the faith, give me as much knowledge as you know to be fitting for me, because you are as we believe and that which we believe. And indeed we believe you are something greater than which cannot be thought. Or is there no such kind of thing, for "the fool said in his heart, 'there is no God'"

(Ps. 13:1, 52:1)? But certainly that same fool, having heard what I just said, "something greater than which cannot be thought," understands what he heard, and what he understands is in his thought, even if he does not think it exists. For it is one thing for something to exist in a person's thought and quite another for the person to think that I thing exists. For when a painter thinks ahead to what he will paint, he has that picture in his thought, but he does not yet think it exists, because he has not done it yet. Once he has painted it he has it in his thought and thinks it exists because he has done it. Thus even the fool is compelled to grant that something greater than which cannot be thought exists in thought, because he understands what he hears, and whatever is understood exists in thought. And certainly that greater than which cannot be understood cannot exist only in thought, for if it exists only in thought it could also be thought of as existing in reality as well, which is greater. If, therefore, that than which greater cannot be thought exists in thought alone, then that than which greater cannot be thought turns out to be that than which something greater actually can be thought, but that is obviously impossible. Therefore something than which greater cannot be thought undoubtedly exists both in thought and in reality.

The truth was, by the early part of the 10th century, most Christian theologians defend their religion in matters of faith. The Arabs were beginning to translate most of Aristotle's work making them available to Jewish and Christians. Induction and systematic testing have entered religious thoughts. Reason has an influence medieval theology.

Because of these developments, Anselm claimed that it is possible to affirm God's existence through reason as he was noted in saying, "It seems to me a case of negligence if, after becoming firm in our faith, we do not strive to understand what we believe."

In Proslogion 2 Anselm wrote his argument. The argument can be summarized as:

(1) On the assumption that God is the greatest object of thought. Nothing can be greater than that. Even the fool understands this.

(2) Now a God who exists in the real world is greater than a God who only exists in the mind.

(3) Since it exists in the mind of the fool and God is that which nothing greater can be conceive must also exist outside his mind. Therefore,  God exists!

Since even fools (or atheists) agrees with the definition that Anselm gave about God, he will be facing a contradiction (reductio ad absurdum) If it is possible to think of a being that is nothing greater can be conceived, does it follow that it will be greater to exist outside of the mind rather than just inside the mind?

The ontological argument is an attempt to prove God exists by definition.

There are other versions of this argument.

Rene Descartes stated the argument in a slightly different way. Descartes wrote in the Fifth Meditation:
But if the mere fact that I can produce from my thought the idea of something that entails everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it, is not this a possible basis for another argument to prove the existence of God? Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number. And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in the early eighteenth century, attempted to fill what he took to be a shortcoming in Descartes' view. According to Leibniz, God is at least possible since the concept of Him as the infinite implies no contradiction. If  He is possible then He must exist because the concept of Him involves existence.

Ok…ok…nose bleed?

The ontological is really this simple: God is the perfect conceivable being. Now since God is perfect it will be some sort of a defect if it doesn’t exist, right? That will be a contradiction. If the most perfect conceivable being doesn’t exist, we’ll be able to conceive of a more perfect being, namely the one who does exist. It follows that the most perfect conceivable being must actually exist. VIOLA! God just pop out of the philosopher’s magic hat!

The ontological argument is an A Priori argument. That means the argument comes purely from reasoning. No experience necessary.

Anselm’s argument was parodied by another monk in the name of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers (1033-1109) who said that the argument is an example of a reductio ad ansurdum – an argument that could be only valid once proved by means of an actual experience.

He used an imaginary island which he called the fable Isles of the Blessed, as Gaulino wrote on “On Behalf of the Fool.”

For example, they say there is in the ocean somewhere an island which, due to the difficulty (or rather the impossibility) of finding what does not actually exist, is called "the lost island." And they say that this island has all manner of riches and delights, even more of them than the Isles of the Blest, and having no owner or inhabitant it is superior in the abundance of its riches to all other lands which are inhabited by men. If someone should tell me that such is the case, I will find it easy to understand what he says, since there is nothing difficult about it. But suppose he then adds, as if he were stating a logical consequence, "Well then, you can no longer doubt that this island more excellent than all other lands really exists somewhere, since you do not doubt that it is in your mind; and since it is more excellent to exist not only in the mind but in reality as well, this island must necessarily exist, because if it didn't, any other island really existing would be more excellent than it, and thus that island now thought of you as more excellent will not be such." If, I say, someone tries to convince me though this argument that the island really exists and there should be no more doubt about it, I will either think he is joking or I will have a hard time deciding who is the bigger fool, me if I believe him or him if he thinks he has proved its existence without having first convinced me that this excellence is something undoubtedly existing in reality and not just something false or uncertain existing in my mind.

Anselm replied that the argument is not intended to finite ideas,  but only to the strictly infinite. In short, the ontological argument is applied only to God.

But suppose Gaulino’s island is some kind of a God island, a super island where all other islands came from… Come on guys, we’re just rationalizing here. That what philosophy is all about.

Anyway, given that Gaulino’s Isles of the Bless is the most perfect island that which no greater island can be conceived, does that follow that this island must exist in real life to be more perfect?

Is Existence a Property?

Base on Alselm’s argument (and the other derivatives of the Ontological argument), existence is a property and is part of the intrinsic greatness of God.

What does that mean?

Let us ponder a little. Is existence a property of an object?

Is it true to say that my dream house will be more perfect if it exist compare than if it does not?

Well, for God not to exist means an imperfection to the idea of God since perfection is a part of God’s definition.

It really doesn’t make any sense? Existence is taken as fact by perfection and imperfection. If something exists, it then acquires properties whether it is perfect or imperfect and if something doesn’t exist or loses its existence it is not an imperfection of anything.

You must have experience knowledge of something first before we can talk about its properties. Simple put it; Exist first before you have a property!

Immanuel Kant chose to criticize the Ontological Argument on the grounds that it treated existence as though it were a characteristic of an object. He believed existence was not a characteristic of anything. According to Kant, to say that a thing exists is not to attribute existence to that thing, but to say that the concept of that thing is exemplified in the world.

Also, there is the problem on the Fallacy of Equivocation. The guy who is using this argument is just switching the meaning of some terms in the course of the argument. In this case, the magic word is “greater than” or “perfect”.

Let see, is the word “perfect” (or greater than) here means “…compare to the most perfect thing to be imagined or is the word “perfect” (or greater than) here means that an existing God is perfect (or greater than) a purely imaginative God?

Greatest Conceivable Thing?

Remember when Anselm created this argument,  he was thinking of the Western God concept. You know the omni-all God of the Christian lore. But what will happen if we asked those Asian philosophers who believes that perfection is inconceivable? In Zen Buddhism for example, as soon as God was given a name he ceases to being God. Now what if the greatest conceivable thing is the one that cannot be conceived?

How about if the greatest conceivable thing is a God that can create the Universe in a blink of an eye compared to a God that took six days to create a universe? There are a lot of “perfect gods” we can produce with our mind.

In a different argument against Anselm, David Hume used the difference between the relation of ideas (abstract ideas, logic and mathematics) and matters of facts (what exist in the world inductively known through experience). Hume argued that questions regarding the existence of God are matters of facts that require empirical evidence.  All assertions about existence of things are matter of facts - and it must be empirically demonstrated.

As Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in his The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, “…without prejudice, this famous ontological proof is really a charming joke.”

I think he’s right.

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