To Shred an Ontological Argument

Anselm’s Ontological Argument is summarized by Wikipedia as follows:

1. If I am thinking of the Greatest Being Thinkable, then I can think of no being greater
1a. If it is false that I can think of no being greater, it is false I am thinking of the Greatest Being Thinkable
2. Being is greater than not being
3. If the being I am thinking of does not exist, then it is false that I can think of no being greater.
4. If the being I am thinking of does not exist, then it is false that I am thinking of the Greatest Being Thinkable

Conclusion: If I am thinking of the Greatest Being Thinkable, then I am thinking of a being that exists

This argument has been around for a while and has been attacked many times… Yet its use still persists.

It’s attractiveness to certain groups is obvious and presumably the reason for its endurance. Anselm himself writes: “I give thanks, good Lord, that what I formerly believed through your gift of Faith, I now understand through the light which you bestow…”

Regardless, I would like to present five ways of knowing that this argument is not valid:

  1. One can conceive of something to have a certain property (ie. real) without it being the case; in this case, a god conceived of to be real has the same greatness whether it actually exists or not.
  2. It is not clear that there exists a metric to measure `greatness.’ Greatness is subjective.
  3. It is not clear that there should be a greatest thing that humans can think of, even if there is a well ordering by greatness: perhaps greatness is like the natural numbers with every item having a successor.
  4. One could conceive of a conception of greatness in which it is greater to not be than to be (eg. things that are not are unsullied by reality…)
  5. Surely God is greater than anything the Human Mind can conceive of? (This seems to be a key component of the Abrahamic tradition (consider Moses looking at God’s receding side) and thus a god proved to exist in this way can not be the Abrahamic God and another God in a monotheistic tradition is problematic. And Anselm is clearly arguing for the Abrahamic God.)
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