Introduction to Anselm's Argument for the Existence of God
Saint Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictine Monk who presented philosophical arguments about God.
Anselm first wrote monologion in which he stated that God was an omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) being, without attempting to prove God's existence. In Proslogion, a year later, he accounted for the necessary existence of this omnipotent and omniscient being. Anselm was the first person to argue for God's existence ontologically (from ontos, meaning 'being') - that is to argue for God's existence from God's existence. Anselm indulged greatly in 'Sapientia', contemplative knowledge of God as the supreme being. The fool in Anselm's argument lacks 'sapientia'.
Proslogion Chapter 2
The essence of Anselm's argument begins with a formula for God. He identified God as 'a being than which nothing greater can be conceived'. By this he means that God a being than which nothing more perfect can be thought of.
Suppose then, says Anselm, that the most perfect conceivable being exists in your understanding. There is, however, a more perfect being that can be thought of, which is the one that exists in reality. Something which exists in reality is clearly more perfect than the one that exists only in the mind. Therefore, the most perfect conceivable being must exist within reality as well as the mind.
Proslogion Chapter 3
Proslogion Chapter 3 approaches this argument in a slightly different way. It is not God's mere existence that concerns Anselm here, but God's uniquely necessary existence. God is defined in such a way that it it is impossible to conceive of his not existing. The central idea here is aseity, or self-existence. God is an ultimate perfection, not limited by our time. He cannot have come into existence, nor can he cease to exist. The idea is, therefore, that to have to exist is more perfect than to happen to exist.
Criticisms of the Ontological Argument
The most famous criticism of Anselm's version of the Ontological argument was put forward by Gaunilon. According to Anselm's theory, it is possible for anything to exist at all! Imagine the most perfect Island that you can think of. Now, according to the ontological argument, the most perfect Island would have to exist in reality as well as in the mind.
But, Anselm's response would be the only God has necessary existence, because God is self existing.
Is this really a 'Proof'?
Evidently, the ontological argument is unsuccessful as a proof for God's existence. It is subject to criticism, If it really was a proof, then all of the athiests in the world would have converted to theism, which is not the case. Proof means that something is true 100% and beyond reasonable doubt. However, although Anselm has not proven the existence of God, his argument can certainly add weight to that of a believer.
What do you think? Is this a sound argument? Do you agree with Anselm? Or can you think of more criticisms of his argument? I would love to hear your opinions, so please feel free to comment on my article below.