Critiquing The Ontological Argument Of St. Anselm

Project and Seminar Material for Theology and Biblical Studies

Critiquing The Ontological Argument Of St. Anselm

Chapter One

General Introduction

General Background To The Study

One of the most fascinating arguments for the existence of an all-perfect God is the Ontological argument in its different versions. Though there are several different versions of the argument, all purports to show that it is self-contradictory to deny that there exists a greatest possible being. Thus, an this general line of argument, it is a necessary truth that such a being exists; and this being is the God of traditional western theism.

Throughout the years since St. Anselm of Canterbury first published the original version of his ontological argument for God’s existence in the Proslogium, many have come to criticize and analyze the logic behind his famous argument. What separates this argument from others in providing a formal proof for God’s existence, was that it had used entirely a metaphysical, apriori method of establishing the existence of God, rather than an empirical method as was used by the cosmological argument. Anselm began his argument, claiming that there were two types of existent beings within this world, those who were necessary, that is beings who were needed to exist and contingent beings who existed, but whose existence was not entirely necessary. He then continued to define God as “something that than which nothing greater can be conceived” (12).

It is worth reflecting for a moment on what a remarkable (and beautiful) undertaking it is to deduce God’s existence from the very definition of God. Normally existential claims don’t follow from conceptual claims. If I want to prove that bachelors, unicorns, or viruses exist, it is not enough just to reflect on the concepts. I need to go out into the world and conduct some sort of empirical investigation using my senses. Likewise, if I want to prove that Bachelors unicorns, or viruses don’t exist, I must do the same. In general, positive and negative existential claims can be established only by empirical methods.

There is, however, one class of exceptions. We can prove certain negative existential claims merely by reflecting on the content of the concept. Thus, for example, we can determine that there are no square circles in the world without going out and looking under every rock to see whether there is a square circle there, we can do so merely by consulting the definition and seeing that it is self-contradictory. Thus, the very concepts imply that there exist no entities that are looth square and circular.

The ontological arguments, then is unique among such arguments in that it purports to establish the real (as opposed to abstract) existence of some entity. Indeed, if the ontological arguments succeed, it is as much a contradiction to suppose that there are square circles or female bachelors. In this study, we will evaluate a number of different attempts to develop this astonishing strategy.

St. Anselm the originator of the ontological argument, which he describes in the Proslogium as follows:

Even a fool, when he hears of a being than which nothing greater can be conceived understands what he hears and what he understands is in his understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater. Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exits in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality (46).

What constitute the problem of this study includes:

Is it a conceptual truth to speak by definition that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined?

Does God exist as an idea in the mind? Can a being exist as an idea in the mind and reality?

If God exist only as an idea in the mind then we can imagine something that is greater than God.

Can we imagine something that is greater than God?

Aim And Objectives Of The Study

The study is aimed at critiquing the ontological argument of St. Anselm. To achieve this, the study sets out the following objectives.

  1. To examine the ontological argument for God’s existence.
  2. To know whether God exists as an idea in the mind only.
  3. To find out whether is only a fool that thinks there is no God.
  4. To re-state the implication of St. Anselm’s ontological argument
  5. To know whether something can bring himself into existence
  6. Finally, this research will invoke the moral consciousness about the existence of God.


To enable us achieve the objectives of the study, the research adopts critical and analytical methods.

The critical method will enable us to bring to the limelight the major idea of St. Anselm’s ontological argument.

The analytical method will be used to analyze the ontological argument and to examine all the criticism given to the argument. To achieve all these, the study employed a secondary format of data collection which involves the use of published materials relevant to the subject matter such as text books, journals, encyclopedia, dictionaries and internet sources that will lead to the conclusion of this work.

Significance Of The Study

This study is relevant because it reassures the commitments of philosophy in handling human challenges to discover or define issues and concepts. Through this study we can get closer to God and find out more things about him. The study provides a tool to enrich our faith as a philosopher and as a religious person. The study will expose us to the reality of the existence of God and how he relates with us through our activities as humans.

This research will also augment the already existing body of literature on the subject matter under discourse and to bring ideas to harness on the study.

This study will be a source of motivation to all those who genuinely want to serve God and learn about him in the future.

Scope And Limitations Of The Study

The study covers St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. The study x-rayed the nagging issue whether God exist or not as the fool thinks there is no God. To do justice to this study, efforts were made to review other works of philosophers who attempt to prove the existence of God. It study will bring into limelight the importance of the ontological argument and also to offer useful criticisms of it. The research is limited to the ontological argument of God’s existence which is the subject of this study.

Definition Of Terms And Concepts

There are very important key concepts that in writing this work must be properly defined for the purpose of clarification. The following are: Ontology, God.

1.7.1 Ontology

According to Oxford Dictionary of philosophy, ontology is derived from the Greek word for being, but a 17th century coinage for the branch of metaphysics that concerns itself with what exists (261).

1.7.2 God

The concept of God from the anthropomorphic and polytheistic conception of the divine which prevailed in Gre-Roman culture was challenged by an absolutely new concept in which we see an admirable balance of some qualities expressing his infinite distance from man and the world (such as uniqueness and infinity) and his closeness and intimacy to man and the world (such as paternity, goodness, providence, mercy, etc) (Mondin, 8).

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