Talk:Ontological argument for the existence of God

From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Talk
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
 
To learn how to fill out this checklist, please see CZ:The Article Checklist. To update this checklist edit the metadata template.
 Definition A proof of the existence of the God through abstract reasoning. [d] [e]

down with ae ligature?

I am all for good fun, but i think it's a case of rather gratuitous pretentiousness to use the ae ligature in medieval (or anything else, really :) ). It's just not a valid letter of the english alphabet, and there is no reason to complicate things with it. comments? --Daniel Folkinshteyn

I always use it when writing or typing, I'm certainly not alone in that, and it's still in use in various contexts (see the Encyclopædia Britannica for example). (I'm not sure that accusing another editor of pretentiousness is quite the Citizendium spirit, but let that pass.) It's not a separate letter, no; as the Wikipedia article has it: "In modern English orthography Æ is not considered an independent letter but a spelling variant, for example: 'encyclopædia' versus 'encyclopaedia' or 'encyclopedia'." --Peter J. King  Talk  18:21, 15 March 2007 (CDT)
i certainly did not intend to be mean with the 'pretentiousness' comment, and i'm sorry if it came out that way. just that whenever i see the ligature i think "why?" :) it's nice that you have no trouble typing it, but i personally would have no clue how to type a ligature, and if i had to edit an article and stick with the ligature for consistency, i'd be stuck with having to copy-paste that thing. sure is easier to just type an "e". i did not say that using the ligature is "wrong" (i looked up the WP entry on it before posting, too ;) ), but it is not required. from the same WP article, the following quote is representative of my thoughts: "In the United States, the problem of the ligature is sidestepped in many cases by use of a simplified spelling with "e"; compare the common modern usage, medieval, with the traditional or obsolescent, mediæval. However, given the long history of such spellings, they are sometimes used to invoke archaism or in literal quotations of historic sources, for words such as encyclopædia or dæmon." First, note the reference to the ligature version of medieval as "traditional or obsolescent". Second, note the bit about "invoking achaism" (which is not "pretentiousness", but certainly is somewhat gratuitous-sounding, at least). I understand that my view may be very US-centric, and that you are not from the US (as i now realize having looked at your user page). So anyway, don't know where i'm going with all this, as i certainly dont care that much one way or the other, and you should feel free to keep doing whatever you are comfortable with, but it seems it would just be "simpler" to eschew the ligature in favor of the "e". [and on a side note - how /do/ you type that thing?] --Daniel Folkinshteyn 19:24, 15 March 2007 (CDT)
æ = æ

also, while we are at it and larry is looking ;), what about the different spelling standards between british and us english (e.g. favour vs favor, analyse vs analyze, etc.). is there an "official" convention for CZ, or do we just helter skelter it? --Daniel Folkinshteyn 19:24, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

I assume that the Wikipedia approach (first contributor sets the style, unless the article is specifically related to a style) applies. As it's impossible for me to write in U.S. English (oh, I can do some of it, though it would slow me down enormously, but I'd not get it all right), I'll continue as I am. I imagine that it's being discussed at the boards (as is my following point).
I'd be interested in the question of contractions, though. Wikipedia sticks to a very out-dated notion of acadmic style, and says that contractions shouldn't be used. Most academic journals and books are happy with them; shouldn't we be too? --Peter J. King  Talk  05:16, 16 March 2007 (CDT)

That lower-case g

This article should be fun.

But I have to say...I have never encountered a discussion of the traditional arguments for the existence of God that did not upper-case 'God'. Is this a case where we can agree to use the upper case, purely on grounds of common usage? --Larry Sanger 18:07, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

Well, the way that the argument works is to argue for the instantiation of a concept, then to declare that that instantiation is a god, and then sometimes to assume, but usually explicitly to argue that there can only be one such being — that it's the god of Christianity. As we discussed at Talk:Philosophy of religion, neither Anselm nor Aquinas capitalised "deus"; I haven't yet had a chance to check the original typography of the early-modern philosophers (Edward Buckner's research tends to indicate that capitalisation had become common by the mid-seventeenth century. All my enquiries among mediævalists and early-modern historians have so far come up blank; they're all fascinated, but none of them actually knows anything about it). As there, I won't battle over it, but my opinion is that the lower case is correct, whatever the current common (and mostly unreflective) usage hapens to be... --Peter J. King  Talk  18:21, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

Whether or not a philosopher writing in Latin capitalized the Latin word for 'God' is irrelevant to the fact that today in English, when philosophers write about these arguments, they almost always use the upper case. (As I confirm for myself as I look through my philosophy of religion books, now finally unpacked. Even George H. Smith, in Atheism: The Case against God--a polemic if ever there was one--uses the capitalized form.) Whether there is some recondite philosophical argument that it is incorrect--because, as you and others say, philosophers, and particularly non-theists, want to say that 'god' is a job description not a proper name--the fact is that the lowercase form in this context is jarring to virtually everybody. It instantly raises a suspicion in many people's minds (regardless of our scholarly explanation): "If these people can't see fit to capitalize the name of my God, they certainly won't do a good job of explaining anything about God." We ought to take such considerations into account, I think: they are part of the constituency of such articles as this and thus the neutrality policy acts as a constraint.

Besides, what we are talking about is, after all, whether 'god' is a proper name (in the sense that philosophers of language use 'proper name': so 'Apollo' isn't a proper name). If an ontological argument establishes the existence of the Christian God or a reasonable facsimile, then we're talking about God, not god--because 'God' then names an individual, according to the conclusion of the argument. In short, nobody argues for the existence of god; they only argue for the existence of God, i.e., something that can be named/denoted.

So...and since you say you won't battle over it...I will go ahead and move the page. --Larry Sanger 19:05, 15 March 2007 (CDT)

I haven't come across the Smith book; do you have the publishing details (is it likely to be in print)? My favourite defence of atheism is Robin Le Podevin's Arguing for Atheism (Routledge, 1996).
I think that your second paragraph is open to rather a lot of argument as to the philosophy of language and the notion of a proper name, but this isn't the place for it. To the best of my knowledge, though, "Apollo" is pretty universally considered to be a proper name, regardless of its lack of reference. --Peter J. King  Talk  05:23, 16 March 2007 (CDT)

It's George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case against God, Prometheus Books. Not that great, it's a popular polemic, but it isn't terrible. I prefer Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification which is much more scholarly and in-depth.

As to the Apollo stuff, I won't embarrass myself any further. --Larry Sanger 09:50, 16 March 2007 (CDT)

Did you notice?

Ontological argument -- shall we delete it? --Larry Sanger 10:34, 18 March 2007 (CDT)

Oh dear, no I didn't notice it — I should have checked before starting this one. It's pretty well just a copy of the Wikipedia article I think, with a little bit of editing. I feel bad about just deleting it, but the person who imported it seems to have disappeared for the moment. Should I leave a mesaage for him? --Peter J. King  Talk  14:48, 18 March 2007 (CDT)

Pari ratione

Hello Peter. I liked this article - the first accurate statement I've read of Anselm's argument i've read for some time. However, is Gaunilo's reply a form of 'argument by analogy'. Isn't it in fact a form of argument 'by equal reasoning'? You say A proves A*. But then the inference from B to B* has the same argument form, thus 'by equal reasoning' (pari ratione) we conclude B*. But clearly that is not valid, for B is true and B* is not. Thus, A cannot prove A*. Edward buckner 10:35, 9 April 2007 (CDT)

Nice to see you back. I'm glad that you like the article so far; care to join in?
The overload objections are normally explained in terms of analogy (which is, after all, a form of equal reasoning); I think that mediæval writers made more and finer distinctions than most modern philosophers... --Peter J. King  Talk  13:08, 9 April 2007 (CDT)
I've been pretty busy with the Bonaventura project, Book II Dist 3. I am working on an alternative version to Alexis' translation. It will be published on his website together with the incunabulum version, rendering it into digital Latin. It's a lot of work. On the ontological argument itself, I still don't understand it. Edward buckner 11:09, 11 April 2007 (CDT)

On the Ontological argument, is it 'the' or 'a'. Some people say that it is an argument with a form similar to Anselm's. Others, e.g. the SEP, seem to include any argument for the existence of God, so long as from first principles. If the latter, then the history of ontological arguments does not begin with Anselm (as the SEP assumes) but much earlier. E.g. Aristotle has one in the Metaphysics, book 12, another in the Physics, Plato has one somewhere. Also Leibniz, Berkeley. Augustine has one as well. Where does one stop? Best Edward buckner 11:16, 11 April 2007 (CDT)

It's normally called "the ontological argument", even though everyone acknowledges that there's more than one form (the same goes for the other standard arguments). I'd definitely say that it goes back to Aristotle — in fact I do, in the lead. --Peter J. King  Talk  13:42, 11 April 2007 (CDT)

I'm not making myself very clear. The question is whether

(1) an ontological argument is any first-principles argument whatever for the existence of God. Thus ontological argument is genus, of which cosmological argument, Augustine's argument from Truth, Anselm's argument are three different species.

Or (2) 'ontological argument' is reserved specifically for arguments with a logical form close to Anselm's argument, thus 'ontological argument' is species, and 'any old first principles argument for the existence of God', genus.

SEP sticks to the definition (1). It says 'Ontological arguments' are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, based on reason alone. So also, in my view, does the article here, at least in the intro. However it's clear from the body of the article that the Anselm argument, i.e. definition (2) is intended. Hence you are getting inconsistencies like 'it can be traced, in various forms, back to the work of Aristotle' (but Aristotle's was a cosmological argument) and 'its earliest formulation being found in the Proslogion of the eleventh-century philosopher and theologian Anselm of Canterbury' (hey, but how do you then trace it back to Aristotle).

My instinct is for (2) i.e. that 'ontological argument' is not any old first-principles argument for God, but one that has the distinctive logical features of Anselm's argument. After all, that's how Kant defined it, and he invented the term.

I'm not being quibblesome, the whole form of the article depends on whether we are talking about one species of a family of arguments, or the whole family. I think there should be an uber-article which threads together all the many arguments for existence of God, one of them being about the 'ontological' argument proper. Perhaps with a short sentence or two summarising the issue I've raised here! Edward buckner 08:55, 12 April 2007 (CDT)

Hope that's clearer.


Also, to say the argument "was for some time neglected" after Aquinas is somewhat cavalier. Scotus spent many volumes trying to improve on versions of the cosmological argument, thousands of nested syllogisms and subtle distinctions too painful to record. And it was not neglected in the sense of being talked about – Suarez has an excellent summary of the arguments here for example. Descartes may have been the first to introduce a materially new form of the argument, but even then, how do we know? There are whole libraries full of late scholastic philosophy (i.e. 1350-1700), who knows what are in them? Also, other philosophers like Locke and Berkeley had 'ontological' proofs (in the sense of first-principles arguments, rather than Anselmian). There's material for an interesting set of articles here, if only one had time. Edward buckner 08:55, 12 April 2007 (CDT)

I'm not sure about the distinction you're making in your fist point, largely because I take the cosmological argument to be a posteriori in all its forms; it starts either from the observation that the world exists, that it contains contingent or moving or temporally limited things, etc. (I don't know much about Augustine's argument, and none of the books I've looked at mention it; when I've managed to track it down I'll come back to it.)
The reference to Aristotle is something that I've seen claimed in a number of places, and I simply passed it on unquestioningly; it seemed perfectly possible, but perhaps the claim was made on the basis of a confusion of the kind you've mentioned. The apparent contradiction in the text arises from an unclarity: "...in the context of the Abrahamic religions, its earliest formulation being found in the Proslogion of the eleventh-century philosopher and theologian Anselm of Canterbury". The "first formulation" is meant to refer to its first formulation in the context of the Abrahamic religions.
The uberarticle will be either Philosophy of religion or god I think.
I suppose much depends upon whether "neglected" means "ignored by everyone" or "out of the mainstream of philosophical and theoological thought"; I bow to your (vastly) superior knowledge of mediæval writings, though. --Peter J. King  Talk  15:07, 12 April 2007 (CDT)

What is an ontological argument

  • 1. OK I take the point about 'Abrahamic religions' (though the original syntax is unclear).
  • 2. Still not sure about Aristotle. The argument I have in mind is in book 12, chapters 6 through to 8. In 6 he proves, ahem, that there is a first efficient cause, the prime move. In 7, that there is just one of these, in 8 that there are in fact 47 of these, though at the end of 8 he reduces the figure back to one. The argument is not remotely the same as Anselm's, however.
  • 3. I also take your point about 'a posteriori'. Indeed I referred to Kant last night, and he says there are exactly 3 kinds of argument. 1. Physico-theological, which rely on 'determinate experience', 2. Cosmological, which rely on non-determinate experience 3. Ontological, which abstract from all experience. Thus only 'ontological' arguments in Kant's sense are strictly a priori, correct. Kant even says that they rely on 'concepts' alone (or whatever his German says), so your definition at the beginning is spot-on.
  • 4. However, I still come back to my point that an 'ontological argument' in the Kantian sense may not be an ontological argument in the Anselmian sense. The characteristic features of Anselms argument being the use of 'exist' as predicate, and the assumption that the property of existence makes something better or greater. If there is an argument that is strictly a priori but not of this form, it counts as ontological in Kantian sense, but not in the 'popular' sense.
  • 5. Note also there are at least two forms of the Anselm argument. There is the Gaunilo form, later used by Descartes. This is not Anselm's argument, indeed, Anselm's reply is that Gaunilo is attacking a straw man. Also, I wonder which form Kant had in mind – the discussion in the Critique suggests the Gaunilo form.
  • 6. I will locate the Augustine argument tonight. It is somewhere in my library. It's on the lines of, what is true must be real. But some things are true, ergo some things are real, then takes it from there. Very Platonistic.
  • 7. On the difference between "ignored by everyone" and "out of the mainstream of philosophical and theological thought" there are subtleties. The usual story is that everything stopped after 1350, Black Death and all that, and that nothing really happened until the 17th century, scientific revolution and all that. Thus, since there was no " philosophical and theological thought" until Descartes, ergo there was no mainstream. But the fact is that, while there was a sort of mini Dark age in the Black death period, it was nowhere near as dark, nor as long as from 5th to 9th century. And there was in any case the period of second scholasticism, school of Salamanca &c which is generally and unfairly ignored, and is pre-17C. Was the ontological argument "out of the mainstream of philosophical and theological thought"? Hard to say. I linked to Suarez XXIX disputation above, I also found Doyle has written a book about it. But I haven't studied the argument in detail. There is also a good list, not exhaustive, of primary sources here.
  • 8. The Catholic encyclopedia, too, has a good overall summary. It defines 'ontological' as 'a priori' – see section 2. "A Priori, or Ontological, Argument". Note the statement of Anselm's argument seems to be in the Gaunilo form.
"As stated by St. Anselm, the argument runs thus: The idea of God as the Infinite means the greatest Being that can be thought of, but unless actual existence outside the mind is included in this idea, God would not be the greatest conceivable Being since a Being that exists both in the mind as an object of thought, and outside the mind or objectively, would be greater than a Being that exists in the mind only; therefore God exists not only in the mind but outside of it. "

(Of course I've assumed that there is a real difference between the Gaunilo form and the Anselm form – enough to say that Anselm thinks there is a difference, since he would agree that, as stated above, the argument is vulnerable to the Island objection, but he thinks this is an objection to a straw man, not the 'real' argument).

Hope all this makes reasonable sense. Edward buckner 03:25, 13 April 2007 (CDT)

I've found it. On Free Will. Book II. Quite a long and complex argument, but clearly intended as a demonstration. I can't locate any Internet copies, however. Edward buckner 13:23, 13 April 2007 (CDT)

(update) Augustine's argument is as follows. My question is, whether this is an 'ontological argument' or not. It works, or is intended to work, on a priori grounds. On the other hand, it is not what is popularly called an ontological argument, IMHO.


  1. You cannot be deceived that you exist, because to be deceived is to exist (cum utique si non esses falli omnino non posses).
  2. Therefore, reason exists.
  3. Reason is superior to the senses, hence, Beings with a rational nature are superior to beings without it.
  4. By definition, anything superior to reason is either God, or there is something greater, which is God.
  5. Truth is superior to reason, because if it were equal or inferior, because we do not say of (eternal) truths that they ought to be so, e.g. we do not say that 7+3 ought to equal 10 (Cum enim quis dixerit septem et tria decem esse, nemo dicit esse debuisse)
  6. Thus there is something, namely Truth, which is superior to the human mind and reason. Either this is God, or there is something greater, which is God. Ergo, God exists "Ecce tibi est ipsa veritas".

Edward buckner 04:24, 15 April 2007 (CDT)

I asked Brandon Watson about this, who is pretty good on this sort of thing. His reply is too long to quote but can be found here. Edward buckner 12:11, 15 April 2007 (CDT)

Other article about the ontological argument

I've made a redirect and placed the article at Talk:Ontological argument for the existence of God/Other article.

Also, here is a message taken from Talk:Ontological argument, which now redirects to the present talk page.

I am also working on the Wikipedia version as well. I have started reviewing my source material, and am going to check out some suggested reading. I propose starting with the introduction, and the description of the argument. There is one particular source that I think might be helpful to reckon our article with, The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Ed. Geisler. I will also post the suggested bibliography from another of my texts either later today, or tomorrow. My level of education is still at the B.A. level when it comes to this subject, however, my dear colleague is currently in a Ph.D. program at Claremont for Religion and Philosophy. I intend to convince him to assist as well. If you are the chosen editor for this area, please let me know who you are. I happen to find this argument fascinating, but would gladly work in tandem with any who have made this a career objective. I enjoy editing as much as I enjoy writing.
D.M.Arney 14:45, 27 December 2006 (CST)