The Ontological Argument
The Ontological Argument, put forth by Saint Anselm in his Proslogium, attempts to prove the existence of God simply by the fact that we have a particular concept of God - that God is "that than which nothing greater can be conceived." Saint Anselm presents a convincing argument that many people view as the work of a genius. It is also quite often considered a failure because, in William L. Rowe's words, "In granting that Anselm's God is a possible thing we are in fact granting that Anselm's God actually exists." In other words, it "assumes the point it is supposed to prove", primarily because is assumes that existence is a great-making quality, and for God to be truly great, he must exist. I disagree with Rowe's point that Anselm's definition of God invalidates his argument because it later helps to prove Anselm's argument. I agree with Anselm's assumption that existence is a great-making quality. Therefore, I take the stance that Anselm's Argument is a valid one.
There are so many things that go into supporting an argument like Anselm's. One must definitely consider the epistemological questions, or the "How do we know what we know?" questions. One must also consider how God should be defined, especially since the definition and concept of God is so central to Anselm's point. I take the position that knowledge is belief that is reasonably and logically supported. Knowledge approaches truth, or the actuality, but is not necessarily true. I believe that knowledge is the closest we can get to truth with the information we have access to. Therefore, at the root of all knowledge is a belief that has been supported by other information that we believe. Thus, a belief may become knowledge, and knowledge is based on belief. A belief may or may not be true, but the same goes for knowledge, only we feel that knowledge is more likely to be true. A descriptive way to put it is that knowledge is simply belief that we feel safe enough to bet on. If one accepts these definitions, and understands the concepts they stand for, then one can say that Anselm arrives at the decision that he knows that God exists, and cannot be conceived not to exist. And this is as close to the reality of the existence or nonexistence of God that we as humans, relying on our senses and reasoning for knowledge of truth, can actually come to the truth.
Definitions are the other problem that I must cover, and Anselm also spends considerable time speaking of definitions and how they differ from the understanding, or concept, of something. A definition is the word or words for a concept. There is the tree itself (the truth, or reality), there is our concept of the tree (or our knowledge and beliefs of and about the tree), and there is the word "tree" and all the words describing our concepts of it, or our definition for the thing we call "tree". So, what I am illustrating is that definitions are how we put our concepts into...