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Anselm’s Ontological Proof of the Existence of god

Monologion and Proslogion

Sa perfection excluait sa réalité

 Simone de Beauvoir

I’m only going to concern myself here with Anselm’s proof of the existence of god. The fact is as soon as he completes that proof he promptly goes off the deep end and starts proving things like god (or "the supreme nature") has bigger boobs than everybody else. My favorite section, by the way, is 49 "The Supreme Spirit Loves Itself." It should have been Section 69.

Ok, here’s Johnny:

I. God is the best.

II.It is better to exist than not to exist.

III.God exists.

Stop laughing. Here are some of the errors in no particular order:

1. "Good" is an evaluative term. One man’s good could be another man’s bad. For example, I like fake boobs. Many men say they prefer natural boobs. Since they show no signs of deceiving themselves, such as a concern for political correctness, I can assume they speak sincerely. For me fake boobs are good. For them fake boobs are bad.

Someone might argue that Anselm does not use "good" in the sense of subjective preference. Rather for him there is an objective standard of goodness. Anselm apparently would hold that if fake boobs are good then they are good for everybody no matter what some sexual illiterate says. But if this is going to be a logically necessary proof, as Anselm says it will be ("ex rationibus, quae mihi videbuntur, quasi necessarium concludatur" Monologion, Sec 1), then he must prove some sort of lemma to the effect that goodness is not in the eye of the beholder, e.g. (Ia) If something is good then it is good for everyone and any proposition to the effect that it is not good is false. But he does not argue for any such lemma. While he does begin his argument with the concept of individuals making independent decisions about what is good, he immediately leaps to the conclusion that everyone will always call the same thing good and begins to ask for the source of this goodness

One could also take a historicist position and say that the concept of good as something subjective was not available in Anselm’s time, but one would be wrong. The concept of good as something relative obviously appears in Plato. And, even if Anselm had no concept of the subjectivity of good, we have it now and so Anselm is wrong now, or at least his argument does not have logical validity now.

This is not the place to enter into a discussion of secondary qualities, Platonic essences, etc. The point is, Anselm is the plaintiff and so he has the burden of proof. In order to substantiate this proof of the existence of god he must prove that to say something is good is completely different from uttering a subjective value judgment.

2. Modus tollens. Using the above sequence we get:

     IV. God does not exist.

V. It is not better to exist than not to exist or god is not the best.

                         If we re-phrase things in Anselm’s interactive language (Indeed Anselm seems to believe that his

"conceivability" phrasing produces the real proof) his proof runs:

                                        VI. We can conceive of something that is better than anything else.

                                        VII. What we conceive of exists.

In that case the modus tollens runs:

                                         VIII. Nothing better than anything else exists.

                                          IX. Therefore we cannot conceive of something that is better than anything else.

Anselm in his reply to that ass-licker Gaunilo mounts a rhetorical campaign to the effect that we can of course conceive of something better than everything else. In fact, such a conception is self-evident. It’s too bad he isn’t around to read the following point:

3. Saying or conceiving that there is something better than everything else is just verbal mumbo jumbo. Its source lies in our ability to arbitrarily combine words and then assume that there is some meaning to the result. Empiricists keep going on about unicorns but I find it rather a shame that there are no unicorns and that concept does have some meaning. But what about green numbers or hornless unicorns or a soup with a view? The fact is, Anselm found the blocks for "better" "than" "anything" and "else" one night while playing scrabble with the abbot. It’s a good thing he didn’t find "smart as twenty Pepsis."

4. Comparative and superlative terms require qualification in order to be meaningful. They must be qualified with a phrase like "with respect to…." The qualifier is not evident in many statements simply because it is hidden by the economies of English grammar. For example, when we say, "My apple is redder than yours," we are usually saying "My apple is more saturated than yours with respect to the color red."  But, if someone were just to say, "My apple is more saturated than yours," we have the right to ask "with respect to color or has yours been macerating longer than mine"  Likewise, "Jesse Ventura is a bigger man than Hulk Hogan" needs to be qualified. Are we talking about physical dimensions or are we saying he can better stand humiliation? "More," "better," "most" and "best" don’t carry hidden qualifications and so they always need explicit qualification if they are to be used meaningfully. "Tera Patrick is better than Dascha" is meaningless without qualification. Does that mean she is a better actress, a cuter girl or a better cook?

Anselm, of course, would say that when he says, "god is the best," he means "in every respect."  I suppose this means that god is a better wrestler than Ventura and a better porn star than Dascha (Obviously false since no one is a better porn star than Dascha). But this means that god is a better murderer than Charles Manson and a better liar than George Bush (also obviously false). And it also means that god is better at being bad than anything else, an obvious paradox. For if god is bad then he is not good and so he is not the best. Consequently it is paradoxical and/or meaningless and probably both to try to escape the qualifier requirement by simply saying that god is the best in every respect. At the very least Anselm would have to enumerate the respects in which god is better and explain why existence is included in the meaning of at least one of those respects. Note, existence must be included in the meaning of the qualifier. We could say that Dascha is better at DP than Tera Patrick but that does not mean that Dascha exists. At best it is an argument that it would be desirable for Dascha to exist. Even the qualification, "god is better at existing than anything else," won’t solve the problem since that nearly meaningless statement retains whatever meaning it does have if god doesn’t exist. It would just be false.

5. Anselm makes an effort to fill in the blanks between the rather abstract concept of a most perfect substance and the Godot who has all the good qualities of your average boy scout leader, just in spades. But he does not even try to get to the burning bush god. He seems to have exhausted himself in showing how god the spirit could become god the meat. Spinoza showed that you can't get from abstract substances to burning bushes (unless she's really into mathematical proofs) because there is no relation.

Scholium 1: In the Monologion Anselm uses several terms to describe how wonderful god is. I have conflated "optimum," "maximum" and  "summum" into "best" because, for the purposes of his proof he does not distinguish between them. In the Proslogion Anselm settles on "maximum" ("nihil maius cogitari possit"). In English "greatest," when used with a noun refers either to spatial dimensions or an appreciation of someone who has done us a favor. Calling something the greatest without specifying "the greatest what" is barely legible English. This word exposes the fault that "the best" is also meaningless unless we specify "the best what."

Scholium 2:  I’m going to ignore everything else in Anselm because life is short and the ontological argument is the only thing that has any real interest. The rest is theological mumbo jumbo that reads as if one of the brothers put too much horse tranquilizer in the gruel. Here’s a good passage: "The son... has his essence from the father, as well as having the same essence as the father. ....he has the father’s essence…. The son not only shares one and the same essence with the father, but also has one and the same essence from the father. And the result of this: The son is the father’s essence, i.e. the son does not differ in essence from the father’s essence, from the father-essence." (Monologion, Sec. 44) or "Socrates, who is a man having the learning constituting literacy man, is a literate man man, and since a literate is a man having the learning constituting literacy, it follows that Socrates is a man having the learning constituting literacy man man, and so on to infinity" (De Grammatico)

Scholium 3: Commentators have tried to provide a context of plausibility for Anselm by stating that he lived in a Platonic world where much besides what could be located in space and time was believed to exist. I don’t care what kind of world Anselm lived in. His arguments are either valid or not valid. And, since he claims that his arguments are logical, those arguments are not valid in case they are based on logical fallacy. These are philosophical arguments, not an edifying discourse and they must pass the test of philosophical scrutiny.

Scholium 4: Anselm's proof was obliterated from the official Romish party line with the new enthusiasm for Aristotle's philosophy in the 13th century. Descartes' revival of the ontological proof may have been motivated by its similarity to the form of reasoning Descartes used in the Cogito wherein someone effectively contradicts himself in the course of making a statement or expressing a doubt. Much of the confusion in Spinoza's version of the proof stems from his attempts to recast it in a deductive quasi-Euclidean format. Spinoza did not recognize that the sort of give and take so well dramatized by Descartes and apparently discomforting to anyone for whom deductive derivation is the only acceptably rigorous form of proof,  is not a literary flourish. It is essential to the success of the proof. As Spinoza himself successfully shows in his genetic and historical derivations of our religious beliefs: while small ball philosophizing might not produce the rush of the logical three-run homer, it seems to lead to more championships.

Scholium 5: Jarry (pp. 731-734) provides an intriguing mathematical model for the Xtian doctrine of the trinity.

Scholium 6: What about restricting the goodness of the proof to moral goodness? The idea would be that god is just such a gosh darned good guy, he has to exist. Assuming for the sake of argument that there are no ambiguities as to what constitutes moral goodness, this restriction still doesn't work. For one thing the ontological proof depends on the entity in question being perfect, that is the best in every way and not just morally good. "Morally" is a qualification of good just like " sucking cock," and there's nothing in "morally" that entails existence. As a matter of fact moral perfection would seem to be more of an argument against rather than in favor of something existing.

Scholium 7: Advice to young fuckosophers: Avoid concepts like all and most. You’ll get in trouble.