Explain the development of the Ontological Argument
The Ontological Argument was constructed differently to arguments such as, the Cosmological Argument and the Teleological Argument. Whilst, these two were developed through revelation by drawing conclusions from observing external factors. The Ontological Argument was brought together through reason, this is the process of drawing conclusions through the mind’s logic.
The Ontological Argument was based on the idea that we can prove the existence of God using our reason alone, therefore using a priori knowledge. According to the Ontological Argument, the definition of God is “that then which nothing greater can be conceived”. This is a logical tautology, meaning it is true by definition.
The key figure that created this definition was St. Anselm of Canterbury whose essential claim was that “existence is a predicate of God”, which is an intrinsic quality of God’s nature. It should be noted that in the historical context that the Ontological Argument was written, the idea of God was a given. It would be incredibly rare to find a medieval scholar who did not believe in God.
St. Anselm presented this argument in his works, Proslogion. This started from a theistic stance, it was an argument in response to Psalms 14 and 53. These biblical teachings began as “The Fool says to himself ‘There is no God,”. Although, this argument may appear to be attempting to convert, it is actually a “faith seeking understanding” argument. The majority of Anselm’s audience were theists.
The first part of his argument was concerned with proving God’s existence. He began with the definition “God is that then which nothing greater can be conceived” (Id quo nihil maius potest). From this definition, he argued that “Something that exists in reality (in re) is bound to be greater than something that exists in imagination (in intellectu)”. If this is true, Anselm concluded that as the “greatest conceivable thing” – God must exist in “both reality and thought”.
This is a complicated argument to comprehend, as a result Anselm use “the Painter” illustration to help explain his argument. A painter imagines what he is going to paint before he begins painting, the idea exists in his mind. When he/she paints it, it then exist “both in reality and thought”. Finally, the painting in reality is greater than the idea alone. This illustration can be related to the idea of God.
A key quote that is part of his argument is questioning the fool. “Why then, did the fool say in his heart ‘God is not’, since it is so obvious to the rational mind that you exist supremely above all things”? Through a philosophical device known as “reductio ad absurdum”, he argued the following.
Suppose this concept: “God only exists in one’s imagination”, this would mean that God is not the “greatest conceivable thing”. However, this conclusion is a contradiction of the definition of God. “That then which nothing greater can be conceived” which is...