The father of Ontological arguments is often considered to be Anselm of Canterbury who was a monk and abbot of Bec in Normandy, and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. Anselm when discussing topics with his pupils mainly focused on the nature and the existence of God. Throughout history there have been many disagreements over whether Anselm’s argument is sound and actually valid. Perhaps one of the more famous counter arguments against Anselm’s famous Proslogion II is that of Gaunilo. However his counter argument against Anselm has been refuted to the point where Anselm is still regarded to have been correct. Centuries later a man by the name of Immanuel Kant arises to challenge Anselm’s theory as to the existence of God. Perhaps Immanuel Kant’s most famous theory is the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant is said to have finally brought down Anselm’s argument. However just like any other argument, Kant has many people that are against his argument as well. The battle to prove the existence of God has gone on practically since the birth of man and in order to truly prove the existence of God it must be done through logic and reasoning in order to convince the masses, this was what Anselm was the first to due. In order to be able to determine whether Anselm’s argument is in fact sound and valid it must be compared to other ontological arguments and of course compared to counter arguments. A deep understanding of Anselm’s Proslogion II is needed in order to better understand where the flaws can be found. After examining his argument it will be compared to any followers of the ontological argument to check for validity and finally contrasted against Kant’s argument to check for soundness. With the compare and contrast it should become clear as to whether Anselm’s argument is sound and valid, and not just based on emotions.
The Proslogion was written as a response to Gaunilo’s Lost Island argument in which he preceded to debunk Anselm’s argument particularly his reasoning as to why God has to exist. Anselm replies and at a glance it appears as though Anselm ignores Gaunilo’s argument however, upon close inspection Anselm does respond to the criticisms of Gaunilo. Anselm’s main argument in the Proslogion is thought to be the Proslogion II titled That God Truly Exists. Many philosophers treat the Proslogion II as a standalone argument. At the beginning of Anselm’s argument he begins with “you who grant understanding to faith” and asks God to help him with the understanding “you are, as we believe you are and that you are what we believe you to be”. This would indicate that Anselm’s argument will begin from faith. Anselm goes on to say “that you are something than which nothing greater can be thought” . This will serve as the premise for Anselm’s first argument that is God is something than which nothing greater can be thought. Which would make sense seeing as how God is suppose to be the ultimate being so there can be nothing greater than God. Of course if God does not exist however than his reasoning is flawed for if God does not exist than there is something greater that can be thought to exist. Thus the premise makes it hard to prove that God does exist however, when Anselm says ” something than which nothing greater can be thought” he already has a concept as to what that something is , thus it is safe to assume that which nothing greater can be thought exists in the understanding of the individual. Thus Anselm believes that if something exists in the understanding it must also exist in reality. Even if it were not to exist in reality it can still be thought to exist in reality. When humans believe that something in the understanding can exist in reality, than that thought alone is greater than believing God can only exist in the understanding therefore, God exists in reality. This is where Gaunilo’s argument comes into play. Gaunilo uses the idea of a lost island filled with riches and greater than any island previously found by humans. He goes on to prove the existence of this great island through the same manner as Anselm proves the existence of God. Gaunilo responds to Anselm “For you do not doubt that this island exists in your understanding; and since it is more excellent to exist not merely in the understanding, but also in reality, this island must also exist in reality. For if it did not, any land that exists in reality would be greater than it”. Gaunilo is thus arguing for the existence of the island in much the same way Anselm argued for the existence of God. If there is no doubt in the mind about existence of this great island however if the island does not exist that would mean that something greater does exist which would prove the statement wrong, which would in turn prove Anselm wrong. This does not only apply to the island but can apply to anything such as an apple an animal and so on. There has to be solid proof in order to believe that something is there, arguing saying that God has to exist because in order to understand something, the object has to exist for understanding to be possible is false. There are many things in our world that cannot be proven to exist, yet we understand them. An example of this could be ghosts, ghosts are understood to be spirits of departed ones we understand this concept however that does not mean they exist. Perhaps another example of the success Gaunilo had at disproving Anselm was that in his reply to Gaunilo, Anselm fails to reply to Gaunilo’s argument. This could mean that either Anselm did not feel the need to reply to Gaunilo, or that Anselm knew that Gaunilo had disproved his theory for the existence of God and did not know how to reply.
When closely examining Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo it becomes clear that Anselm actually does reply to Gaunilo. However he does not reply directly to Gaunilo or his Lost Island argument which could throw some readers off and give off a false idea of what Anselm’s intentions truly were. At the beginning of his reply Anselm identifies two issues that he thinks are the most important in his response to Gaunilo. Anselm interprets that Gaunilo has raised two objections against his claims. Gaunilo’s first argument is “That than which nothing greater can be thought cannot be thought “and his second argument “It does not follow that if that than which nothing greater can be thought can be thought, it exists in reality”. Anselm than responds to both of these claims indirectly, as such his first response is “That than which nothing greater can be thought can be thought” and “If that than which nothing greater can be thought can be thought, it exists in reality”. This entails that “That than which nothing greater can be thought exists in reality”. Anselm is able to successfully defend his arguments and as such he is able to prove he has a sounds argument. In his first argument Anselm clarifies what he means by thinking or understanding. The kind of issue that Anselm believes is at fault in understanding his arguments is mental conception. In mental conception “things themselves, whether they already exist or are yet to exist, are examined within the mind by the gaze of thought”. This means that we have the potential to examine things that do not yet exist. That also means we can have mental conceptions of things that are imaginary. But it is not possible to think of something that is impossible. This is probably the most important part as Anselm than has to prove whether nothing greater can be thought is possible. Anselm’s theory suggests that the thought process or thoughts in general can go wrong. It is possible to think that you are thinking of something when in reality you are not. This would occur if I failed in getting my mind the thing that I intended to “examine with the gaze of thought”. So if anyone has that than which nothing greater can be thought in his mind sees that that being must exist. This would mean that that than which nothing greater can be thought “cannot be thought not to exist”. In Anselm’s view to think and to believe are the same thing. This would mean that if someone believed that god did not exist he would have also thought that god did not exist. However to fix this obvious counterclaim Anselm goes on to say ” there must be more than one way in which something is said in one’s heart or thought” therefore the thing is thought of when the word that represents that thing is thought. It would than make sense to say that no one who understands what God is can think that God does not exist. Although the individual might believe this to be true that is not the case. Thus his words would mean nothing at all. Anybody who truly thinks that than which nothing greater can be thought “understands that this being exists in such a way that he cannot, even in thought, fail to exist”. When Gaunilo denies that God can be thought at all he is then suggesting that the ordinary person cannot have any notion at all of God. Gaunilo believes that if we do not have firsthand knowledge of something, it is still possible for humans to “form an idea of it on the basis of something like it”. However he believes that is not the case with God, “Since you yourself claim that it is so great that nothing else could be like it”. Since God does not belong to any species that we know of it becomes impossible to form an idea of an unknown entity. Thus in God’s case it than only becomes possible to think of him based solely on the basis of the word. However it is impossible to base truth just on the basis of a word and that would lead it to have little to no validity.