Free Online Bible Library | Ontological Argument

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Ontological Argument

First formulated by Anselm* (c.1033-1109) while abbot of Bec, and later by Descartes* (1596- 1650), this is an a priori argument for the existence of God, based on the idea that the concept of God as the most perfect being requires His existence, since a god that existed only in intellectu would be less than perfect (would lack the perfection of existence), and so could not be God. Another version of the argument which Norman Malcolm finds in Anselm's Proslogion involves the predication of necessary existence of God: God is the sort of being who does not just happen to exist, but exists necessarily. As Kant showed, the first version of the argument involves the unacceptable premise that “existence” functions as a predicate, while the second version, given prominence by contemporary philosophers such as Malcolm and Charles Hartshorne, involves a confusion between logical and ontological senses of “necessity.” God may be said to be ontologically necessary—i.e., His existence is not contingent upon other states of affairs-but the second version requires the idea of the nonexistence of God to be self-contradictory, which it obviously is not. The ontological argument has aroused considerable interest in modern analytic philosophers, partly because of the many independent conceptual issues it raises about perfection, necessity, existence, and so forth.

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