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:
- 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.
- It is not clear that there exists a metric to measure `greatness.’ Greatness is subjective.
- 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.
- 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…)
- 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.)