In other words, it attempts to prove the existence of God without physical evidence, using only thought and logic. It has been argued by many that it is not intended to be used to prove the existence of God to a nonbeliever, merely to reenforce the beliefs of those who already believe. This is suggested because in the work of the original author, Anselm, he prefaces his work with the words “[or I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand”.
What he states, in effect, is that he lready believes, and he merely used the argument to reenforce this belief. Therefore, the ontological argument does not rely on physical evidence to prove the existence of God, it merely uses the purest definition of the word God in order to create a situation in which God cannot fail to exist. The argument, as laid down by St. Anselm, reads as such: “God cannot be conceived to not exist, God is that which nothing greater can be conceived, that which can be conceived to not exist is not God”.
To explain, because of the very definition of God that Anselm suggests, that of a being that isthe greatest conceivable being, God must exist because a non-existent God would not be the greatest conceivable. To simplify – to be the greatest conceivable being, the being in question must exist in order to be the greatest. A being that does not exist is not the best conceivable being. This is the basic ontological argument. This argument is simple in its brilliance – it doesn’t rely on physical proof or particularly difficult definitions.
It merely takes the purest idea of God and shows that this definition must exist. Because of this, this argument has remained on the forefront of the philosophical battleground that is religion. However, since Anselm wrote the argument, many well-known philosophers have rejected what he states. Indeed, in the time that Anselm was still alive, flaws in his argument were pointed out by another monk – Gaunilo. Gaunilo argued that the logic used by the ontological argument was flawed. He did this by using an example – that of an island, that for whatever reason could not be roven to exist.
He asks the reader to imagine that this island is the greatest conceivable island imaginable, and from there his argument becomes clear. According to the logic used by . Anselm, this island must exist because it is the greatest conceivable island imaginable. This is a flaw within the ontological argument in that it would allow the creation of almost anything. If one was to suggest the greatest conceivable cup of coffee, that cup of coffee must exist, regardless of the fact that there is no evidence to support this fact.
However, a common criticism of Guanilo’s argument is that it deals with different terms. St. Anselm’s argument deals with the greatest conceivable thing, and does not define what this thing could be. As pointed out by William Rowe, while it may be fair to say that no other island may be greater than this lost island, it is perfect reasonable to accept that a non-island could be. While Gaunilo’s argument seems to fail at defeating the ontological argument, it does at the very least point out a flaw in the logic.
To conclude, while the ontological argument at first appears to be sound, it is ttackable in many ways – two of which are detailed in this essay. Because of the nature of these attacks, it is difficult to remain in support of it. As it is, there is a general consensus among modern philosophers that the argument does not stand in its original form. Therefore, it would appear that this argument has not stood the test of time as well as some would claim. Despite this, however, it still remains an interesting footnote, if for no other reason than because of its age, and the length of time that it has survived.