On the Ontological Argument

The Ontological Argument (OA) is one of the more interesting a priori arguments in philosophy – it’s had both noted champions and critics, and it generally seems that although it is in fact interesting it is not compelling as an argument. I definitely agree – as an argument, it’s not that compelling.

But I was thinking about it last night – suppose it’s not necessarily meant to be a compelling argument. I mean, look at the context – it’s smack dab in the middle of a work of devotional/mystical prayer (indeed one of the great works of devotion and prayer of the middle ages, in my opinion). Anselm does indeed seem to want to prove ‘the fool’ wrong – but perhaps not so much in an analytic way but rather in a religious way.

In a nutshell, I think the OA is an excercise in allowing the mind to ascend to the most pure communion with God – in a sense, to find God in His most real or ultimate form. Anselm’s famous definition of God as that which no greater can be conceived isn’t so much of an analytic axiom – rather it is the full force of the reality of God upon the mind. Anselm has arrived at God – in a ‘this is *it*’ kind of way. It’s God in His full reality of being, or rather a glimpse of that, being had by the mind, and all Anselm can say is ‘no greater can be conceived’. While differing in content and form I think there is a family resemblance with the theologies of Bonaventure and Eckhart here. Anselm is seeking true communion with the Reality that is God, and as he continually ascends towards God’s reality he finds His most perfect form as that which no greater can be conceived.

Now this is a pretty brief and broad exposition, and I haven’t really gone into a lot of depth and suspect that this isn’t really a majority opinion as to the meaning of the argument. But it’s what I get when reading the work.

4 thoughts on “On the Ontological Argument

  1. Chris Falter October 13, 2013 / 11:20 am

    It had never occurred to me that the real value of the OA is more devotional than philosophical. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking perspective.


    • whitefrozen October 13, 2013 / 11:55 am

      Barth wrote a very small, obscure book on the OA – I read it once and it’s a heck of a dense little book, and I’ve forgotten most of it. But his ideas are kind of where I drew from in this post. I don’t even remember the name of the book.


  2. guymax October 31, 2013 / 9:41 am

    Like Chris, this had not occurred to me either. Thanks for the thought. I suspect Eckhart would have argued that God cannot be conceived, which is a slightly different claim.


    • whitefrozen October 31, 2013 / 3:09 pm

      Indeed – the similarities are more in spirit than in actual form. Though now that I think of it, Eckhart doesn’t sound too far from Tillich in ‘The Courage to Be’. The similarity I was thinking of is that both Anselm and Eckhart see various ‘levels’ of knowledge of God, but obviously they develop it in different ways.


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