A Return to the Ontological Argument

I came across a video on another blog that depict’s the age-old ontological argument by Anselm.

Apparently it’s been modified heavily since (I don’t really keep track of the philosophy world as I should). If you don’t care for the video, here is the argument in its syllogistic form:

  1. It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

 

Something doesn’t sit right with me about the argument. I hate modal/what-if/alternate universe-and/or-world arguments. So let me see if I can dissect it a bit further.

Here is the argument turned into symbols (I know any logician reading this will be angry at me. It’s been a few years and I don’t remember what symbols I should be using. I also want to say I haven’t really slept either, so excuse me and correct me if I’m wrong in the comments below):

Q = it is possible that
P = a MGB exists

QvP = it is possible that a MGB exists

X = possible world
Z = actual world

QvP
If QvP, then P in some X.
If P in some X, then P in all X.
If P in all X, then P in Z.
If P in Z, then P.
Therefore, P actually.

 

The argument seems pretty tight and straight forward. However there are a few leaps of logic in the conditional statements. So let’s try to iron those out.

 

QvP
If QvP, then P in some X. (For QvP is logically coherent, therefore it exists actually in some way)
If P in some X, then P in all X. (For a P would not be P unless it could be in all X)
If P in all X, then P in Z. (For Z is found in the set of all X)
If P in Z, then P.
Therefore, P actually.

I think this is a good rendition of how they explain it in the video as well. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve been staring at this for a few hours and my brain is kinda fried.

I pointed out to the blogger that I found premise 2 at fault.

Interestingly enough, after a bit of Googling, most are either at issue with premise 1 or 3. The reasoning for the conditional statement for premise 3 does seem a bit shaky as it begs the question, and of course if everyone cannot agree to the definition of MGB for premise 1 then it falls apart altogether.

So why am I picking on premise 2 like a bully does to a nerd? Logical incoherence implies impossibility; however, logical coherence (consistency) does not imply actuality in any given world without additional reasoning/cause. Unicorns are logically coherent; that is, there is nothing within the defintion of the unicorn to contradict itself like a married bachelor. However, though it is logically coherent within the mind, it is not the same as saying it exists within a possible world.

This, I find, is the blunder within premise 2. As the video states around 1:07:

…possible worlds are simply ways the world could have been. To say that something exists in a possible world is just to say that if the world were that way then the thing would have existed. For example even though unicorns don’t exist in the actual world it seems at least possible that they could have, so we can say that unicorns exist in some possible world. On the other hand a married bachelor does not exist in any
possible world because the idea of a married bachelor is logically incoherent.
It could not possibly exist..

Just as this age-old argument was brought forth, I must also bring forth the age-old argument against Anselm. No, I’m not talking about Kant and whoever else. I’m talking about Aquinas:

..granted that everyone understands that by this word “God” is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. (Summa I, Q.2, Art. 1, ad. 2)

So what do you think?

Did I do a good job? Did I mix my terms? Did I mess up a middle term somewhere? (For the longest time I thought I was). Am I wrong? I have no idea; I’m tired. Let me know.


 

Author’s sidenote: Just a small argument that I made myself from all of this from throwing terms all over the walls and stuff:

If it is possible, then it is not actual*; and, if it is not actual, then it is not necessary**. Theforefore all possible things are not necessary.

*For a possible thing is not actualized, rather it is in potency.
**For it is contingent thing.

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “A Return to the Ontological Argument

    1. Considering that God created everything in creation, such as our rational nature, and likewise that God is the way, the truth, and the light, I believe it follows that God would want us to be intellectually honest with ourselves.

      Men will certainly have questions about things. Often times the questions of such things lead to divides and heresies, such as when it was brought into question about Christ’s human nature and what it entailed. It’s important to understand what one understands within Faith, so he can avoid willful error. This is where philosophy and scholastic theology come into play.

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  1. Great article, you’ve definitely done some thinking about the argument. I think the mistake you’re making, is viewing possible worlds as potential candidates for a Maximally Great Being. As if the MGB might or might not be in one of them. If it is possible for a MGB to exist, then it is possible for some world to have a MGB, and that is the possible world that has the MGB. That’s why anything that is possible exists in some possible world. I’m not trained in philosophy or logic, sorry if I’m not very clear, but I think you understand what I’m saying.

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    1. I understand what you’re saying, but that’s the issue I find here however. My thinking of a possible world *as* a possible world does not mean said world exists. A possible world =/= (does not equate) an actual world. Hence why the two are separated with the words ‘possible’ and ‘actual.’ I cannot think something into existence. Likewise, even if I were to consider possible world α or possible world β, I cannot interject the MGB into those worlds without sufficient reason. After all, if I can interject him into those worlds precisely because its a MGB, why not just skip the middle man (the possible worlds) and just interject it into the actual world? As the video began and concluded: If its possible, then its actual. But clearly this cannot be.

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  2. Interesting. I think this article will be helpful to you:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/misunderstanding-the-ontological-argument

    Specifically, Craig states, “For example, his objection to (2) is based upon an apparent unfamiliarity with possible worlds semantics. To say that some entity exists in a possible world is just to say that such an entity possibly exists. It isn’t meant that the entity actually exists somewhere. Look again at my explanation: “To say that God exists in some possible world is just to say that there is a possible description of reality which includes the statement ‘God exists’ as part of that description.” Only if that description is true will the entity, in this case God, actually exist. So (2) is definitionally true.”

    I hope that helps, let me know what you think.

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    1. It actually seems to me he’s involved with some sophistry outright now. If it is descriptionally true, it is therefore actually true? Unless I’m mistaken, that is what he seems to be affirming, and taken at that, it is wrong.

      That we’re dealing with possible world ‘semantics’ is likewise dubious. Again, why not cut out the middle man and just speak of the actual world in regards to this? It seems, to me at least, that we’re driving from California to New York, and we’re saying the fastest way there is through Brazil.

      Also, if he’s literally meaning that it “isn’t meant that the entity actually exists somewhere,” then it doesn’t exist somewhere, period. And we’re back to thinking things into existence.

      If ‘God exists’ is part of the description of a possible world, and the actual world is a part of all possible worlds (as the case is made in premise 4), then it seems to follow that ‘God exists’ as part of the description of the actual world. But this is precisely what started the debate. So we must ask: How is ‘God exists’ a description of the world, possible or actual, without us just saying ‘It is so.’ ? Then we must consider his earlier statement: “It isn’t meant that the entity actually exists somewhere.”

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  3. Well, I must admit, you’re certainly more educated about this than I am. For what it’s worth, I think the reason for invoking possible worlds, is that Atheists don’t want to accept that God exists in the actual world. So the Atheist is asked, “Would you be willing to accept that God’s existence is possible?” Because if God’s existence is even possible, it follows logically that he exists. As Craig says, “It all hangs on whether you think that (1) is true. (2)-(5) are true whether or not (1) is true. But if all the premisses are true, the conclusion logically follows.” I have serious gaps in my knowledge of philosophy, so I can’t really argue the validity of 2-5, I choose to trust Craig when he says they are uncontroversial.

    Thanks so much for discussing with me.

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    1. Philosophical and scientific arguments won’t always win over someone, and I’m wary of it doing so (ex. If a person believed because of one specific argument, will they stop believing if it is shown 100% that said argument is false?). In like manner, I don’t think it’s appropriate to go through a bunch of hoops in this way just because Atheists don’t view God as existing in this world. There are other, simpler ways (and arguments) of doing it.

      Anytime.

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  4. “Philosophical and scientific arguments won’t always win over someone,” I agree, but apologetics definitely helps. Just telling someone to believe for no reason at all is problematic.

    “I’m wary of it doing so (ex. If a person believed because of one specific argument, will they stop believing if it is shown 100% that said argument is false?).” Some people will stop believing, but the hope, is that having been helped by the arguments, they’ve studied the Bible, and been ultimately convinced by the light of Christ.

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