Aquinas and Russell Against Anselm

In his essay on the ontological argument in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of ReligionGareth B. Matthews makes an interesting observation about one of Aquinas’s lesser-known objections to the argument. The objection is fleshed out by reference to Russell’s theory of definite dsecriptions, and forms a pretty solid argument against Anselm. Continue reading

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.