Anselm’s Ontological Proof of the Existence of god
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:
God is the best.
II.It is better to exist than not to exist.
Stop laughing. Here are some of the errors in no
"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
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
Modus tollens. Using the above sequence we get:
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:
better than anything else exists.
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:
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."
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
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
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.
731-734) provides an intriguing mathematical model for the Xtian
doctrine of the trinity.
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 "...at 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
Scholium 7: Advice to young fuckosophers: Avoid
concepts like all and most. You’ll get in trouble.