Challenges to the argument

Click on a Philosopher to read their views and then consider what you think the criticism might be before clicking the reveal button.

Then based on their view and the criticism of their view, rank them according to how convincing you think they are.

The ontological argument – Page 4

Gaunilo

Gaunilo attacked the Anselm form of the ontological argument

Replacing the word ‘God’ with ‘the greatest conceivable lost island’ led to an argument which had the same form as Anselm’s, with true premises, and yet which leads to a false conclusion:

  1. I can conceive of a ‘lost island’ that than which no greater island can be thought
  2. Such an island must possess all greatness
  3. It is greater to exist in reality than just in the mind
  4. Therefore the ‘lost island’ must exist in reality

Kant

Kant attacked Descartes form of the ontological argument, but it also applies to Anselm’s form.

Kant challenged Descartes view that God’s existence was a necessary predicate. He said:

  • ‘Existence is not a real predicate.’ It does not add anything to the concept.

  • More recently, A similar criticism centres around first and second order predicates. The former tell us about the nature of something eg. ‘the cat is black’. The latter tell us about concepts eg. ‘there are lots of cats’.

It is argued that Anselm and Descartes wrongly defined existence as a first order predicate when it really is a second-order concept. Existence is the property of a concept not of an object. Hence the affirmation of existence is nothing more than the denial of the number zero. Existence is not something that can be added to or subtracted from something.

We do not add anything when we declare that it ‘is’. In the sentence ‘God exists’, the subject is really ‘the concept of God’ and the predicate ‘exists’ means that ‘the concept of God applies to something.’ Existence is not a property.

  • The real contains no more than the merely possible, so a concept is not made more perfect (or greater) by adding reality.

Another criticism by Kant attacked Descartes form of the ontological argument. It concerned the rejection of both subject and predicate:

  • If you have a triangle, then you must have three angles.
  • But there is no contradiction in rejecting the triangle with its three angles.
  • If you do not have a triangle, then you don’t have three angles.
  • Likewise, if there is no God, then there is no being with necessary existence.
  • If God exists he will have necessary existence, but it is not a contradiction to say that such a concept does not have an actuality.

Frege

Frege attacked both Anselm’s and Descartes forms of the argument

  • There are ‘first’ and ‘second-order’ predicates.
  • The former tell us about the nature of something eg. ‘the cat is black’.
  • The latter tell us about concepts eg. ‘there are lots of cats’.

Frege argued that Anselm and Descartes wrongly defined existence as a first order predicate when it really is a second-order concept. Existence is the property of a concept not of an object. Hence the affirmation of existence is nothing more than the denial of the number zero. Existence is not something that can be added to or subtracted from something.

We do not add anything when we declare that it ‘is’. In the sentence ‘God exists’, the subject is really ‘the concept of God’ and the predicate ‘exists’ means that ‘the concept of God applies to something.’ Existence is not a property.