Not every great writer can be correct in what he or she is saying. This is the idea that Gaunilo had in mind when he wrote his criticism to St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument which states that if something greater than anything else that could be thought of is conceived in the understanding then it must exist. Gaunilo says it is foolish to believe in the existence of something just because it is understood. He says there must be some kind of other explanation. In this paper, I will try to explain both Anselm’s theory and Gaunilo’s argument by first breaking each of them down in simpler terms. I will attempt to show what Gaunilo is trying to discredit with his objection.
One of St. Anselm’s theological topics deals with the Ontological Argument in which discusses the idea of existence. He gives a definition of God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” (69). His idea being that God is the ultimate being or “the greatest possible being” (68). He says there is nothing anyone can possibly imagine that could be better than Him. This argument gives God the highest human qualities possible. He is omnipotent as well as omniscient. Anselm suggests that there is no one or nothing in this world that is greater than God is (69). This perfection that God possesses leads into the fact that He must exist. He is trying to create the idea that God exists and nothing can be better than he can be. However, one must ask where Anselm gets his proof. What evidence does he have to back up his argument?
If nothing greater than God can be conceived in anyone’s understanding, God is said to be humanly perfect. Since to be perfect, in part, is to exist; something that does not exist cannot be perfect. Something that exists has to be better than something that does not exist simply because it is here. If a child imagines the greatest toy he can think of and then is able to play with it, it has to be better than just the image of the toy in the child’s mind. He can feel it and hold it and play with this perfect thing that nothing, in his eyes, can beat. He says it is perfect and part of that perfection comes from the fact that he can play with his creation. If God is perfect in human terms then he must exist, because if he did not then one can imagine something greater that does. What Anselm is saying is that God is perfect, to be perfect is to exist; therefore, God exists.
Anselm uses an analogy of a fool to try and display what is meant by his idea. First, he says, “Truly there is a God, although the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (68). The fool is questioning whether or not God exists. He understands what God is, and he knows that God is the greatest being that can be conceived. He understands that this being known as God possesses every human perfection possible. This then, puts God into his understanding or rather, into his mind just as the toy was in the mind of the child. ...