Blurring the Lines Between Reality And Understanding Essay

Submitted By sibbaldr
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Blurring the Lines Between Reality And Understanding
Rhiannan Sibbald
October 17, 2014
PHI 101
Jack Kingston

In The Ontological Argument from Proslogion, Chapter II, St. Anselm argues that God must exist in reality through the process of reduction ad absurdum. Perhaps the strongest argument that St. Anselm makes of this claim lies in his idea that God is the greatest thing conceivable, and that in order for this to be true, God must exist in not only one’s understanding, but one’s reality as well. I will prove that this argument is irrational and subjective because it is not necessarily “greater” to exist in reality than it is to exist in the understanding. This argument from St. Anselm begins by asserting that (1) God is “something than which nothing greater can be conceived.” (Anselm, 125) To the theists, this is a logical notion, being that nothing is more perfectly benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent in their eyes. (2) He then goes on to mention how the fool, or atheist, challenges this belief by saying that God does not exist. When Anselm tells the fool that there is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, the fool understands what he his being told. (3) Anselm states that the concept of God can be understood by anyone, theist or not, but that it something greater to believe that God exists in reality. (4) So, therefore, if God existed solely in one’s realm of understanding, the things that existed in one’s reality would be greater than He. (5) But this is absurd, because He is the greatest thing conceivable, (6) so He must exist in reality. So far, Anselm has a sound presentation of arguments that make logical sense. But as one may notice, many of his arguments are based off of subjective assertions. He doesn’t make his points accessible to parties of different belief systems. One example of this occurrence, which happens to be the premise that I am arguing against (3), is when Anselm states that “if it stands at least in relation to the understanding, it can be conceived to be also in reality, and this is something greater.” (Anselm, 125) Anselm uses this analogy to illustrate his point: when a painter imagines what his painting is going to look like, the painting exists in his understanding. Once he executes this idea on canvas, then the painting exists in his understanding and in his reality. This scene backs up his claim that real existence is greater than conceptual existence. But is this assertion true for everyone? If not, how will Anselm’s argument proceed to convince readers that God exists? I will further investigate this question by dissecting premise four of Anselm: if God only stood in relation to the understanding, then He would be something that than which a greater could be conceived. Understanding premise four is important because it backs up my argument against premise three. To translate premise four, one could say that it is impossible for something almighty (such as God) to exist in a form where it is not almighty (such as the realm of understanding). This is where Anselm’s opponent, Guanilo, applies his “Perfect Island” analogy, to prove the subjective nature of Anselm’s argument, and that its logic can be applied to prove the existence of anything. This analogy consists of the following points: (1) An island in which nothing greater can be conceived exists in the understanding. (2) If something exists only in the understanding, then it might have been greater than it is. (3) Suppose there exists only in the understanding and not in reality an island in which no island greater is conceivable. (4) An island in which no island greater is conceivable might have been greater than it is. (5) But this is absurd. (6) There does not exist in the understanding and not in reality that which no island greater is conceivable. Guanilo’s argument is identical to Anselm’s up until the conclusion (6). This is because the definition of “the perfect island,” or in…