St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Anselm (c.1033–21 April 1109), Archbishop of Canterbury was an extremely political cleric at a time of conflict between the Vatican and the rulers of Europe. The investiture controversy was essentially the fight over control of appointments, or investitures, of church officials such as bishops and abbots. These positions came with considerable wealth and political power, and virtually ensured a conflict between church and state. While the specific details were ironed out by the Concordat of Worms in 1122, the battle continues to this day.

Anselm was also a philosopher and theologian who is best known for developing the first and most well known Ontological Argument for the existence of God. One version of this argument can be summarized as:

  1. It is a conceptual truth (or, so to speak, true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (that is, the greatest possible being that can be imagined).
  2. God exists as an idea in the mind.
  3. A being that exists as an idea in the mind and in reality is, other things being equal, greater than a being that exists only as an idea in the mind.
  4. Thus, if God exists only as an idea in the mind, then we can imagine something that is greater than God (that is, a greatest possible being that does exist).
  5. But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God (for it is a contradiction to suppose that we can imagine a being greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined.)
  6. Therefore, God exists.

These arguments have been discussed and revised by such philosophers as DesCartes and continue to the present day. They have also been critiqued by philosophers since Anselm’s time. In simplified terms the controversy over the acceptance of these arguments is based on the fact that those who are not theists have no concept of any God or perfect being, thus negating the entire argument out of hand. Of course, even if one accepts the arguments s valid, there is nothing to specifically connect this being to the Christian God, which is usually the conclusion drawn by supporters.

Of course, there have been parodies of these arguments since the time of Anselm, and this being Saturday:

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