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St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God Essay


In this essay, through reconstructing St. Anselm’s ontological proof for the existence of God and his response to objections posed by the likes of Gaunilo, I will illustrate why Anselm’s proof is plausible. St. Anselm wrote the ‘Proslogion’, which he also titled ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’, after spending many days, restlessly, searching for one conclusive proof of God’s existence.

Starting from the dictate of faith or a general universal belief, he is able to construct his proof of God’s existence. Following the logic in his argument, this essay will establish that the ontological proof is a valid argument. However, as Gaunilo’s objection illustrates, conceptualizing alone does not proof existence in reality.

St Anselm conceived that there exists that greater than which nothing greater can be conceived (Cahn & Eckert 32). He goes further to expand that the greater than which nothing greater can be conceived must exist. Using the analogy of an art idea in the painters mind, St. Anselm distinguishes between what exists purely as an idea as juxtaposed to what is out there now in actuality (Cahn & Eckert 33).

The greater than which nothing greater can be thought is conceivable and its existence as a concept is indisputable (Cahn & Eckert 32). One would easily argue that existing concepts do not necessarily represent things existing in reality. To this Anselm responds explaining that the greater than which nothing greater can be thought exists in reality necessarily (Cahn & Eckert 33).

The greater than which nothing greater can be conceived must necessarily exist in reality because real things are superior to mere concepts. If the greater than which nothing greater can be conceived were only a concept, it would be contradictory. The contradiction stems from the fact that in reality, there exists the greater than which nothing greater can be conceived. What exists in reality is superior to what exists as a concept or idea (Cahn & Eckert 32).

St. Anselm concludes that the greater than which nothing greater can be thought is God. Just as it is contradictory to think of the greater than which nothing greater can be thought as not existing, so it is absurd to think of God as not existing. God is the creator of human beings (Cahn & Eckert 32). It is totally absurd for a human being to think of God as not existing (Cahn & Eckert 32). Further, it is absurd for a human being to conceive of anything greater or better than God.

It is absurd because according to Anselm, to do so, a human being would have become judge over his or her creator (Cahn & Eckert 32). As creator or source of being, God is the being in itself thus superior to any other being (Cahn & Eckert 32). Therefore, as Anselm expounds, it is absurd for any right thinking person to think that God exists not (Cahn & Eckert 33).

Anselm goes ahead to explain that it is not possible for one who does not know what the word God signifies to say ‘God does not exist’(Cahn & Eckert 33). Anselm contends that we think of something through a process that involves thinking of a word that signifies the thing (Cahn & Eckert 33). Therefore, understanding what the word “God” signifies should in itself make explicit to any right thinking person that the words “God does not exist” express an absurdity (Cahn & Eckert 33).

Anselm argues that the words “God does not exist” are meaningless because God is the greater than which nothing greater can be thought. The greater than which nothing can be thought necessarily exists in reality (Cahn & Eckert 33). The greater than which nothing greater can be thought necessarily exists in reality because real things are greater than mere concepts (Cahn & Eckert 33).

Gaunilo raised an objection to Anselm’s ontological proof. In his argument Gaunilo posited that if Anselm’s argument is valid then individuals would conceive of anything but the conceiving alone is no proof of existence (Eichhoefer 142).

Further, having the words or concepts in my mind is not dependent on something being out there or actually existing. For example, it is easy to conceive of a flying horse; and many people have even gone ahead and painted, curved or created movie or film animations of a flying horse. According to Gaunilo, individuals could easily be duped into believing that a flying horse exists yet the truth is that no such thing actually exists (Eichhoefer 142).

The fact that people conceive of flying horses does not provide proof of actual existence of flying horses. When an individual hears the words “flying horse”, he or she will understand what they refer to. However, the understanding per se does not warranty the existence of the understood (Popkin & Stroll 132).

This objection was aimed at countering Anselm’s claim that understanding what the word “God” signifies should help make clear to an individual that God exists. This objection is plausible because out of concepts individuals have been able to coin other concepts. Individuals are capable of imagining all sorts of things. For example, people have imagined and visualized what the end of the world will be like.

There are many movies that show what it will be like on the final day; the world coming to an end. However, the fact that individuals can conceive of the final day, end of the world, does not proof that such a day will come to pass. And even if such a day were to materialize, there is no proof that it will be as understood. Therefore, understanding what words stand for is no proof for existence (Popkin & Stroll 132).

Anselm accepted the sense in Gaunilo’s argument. However, he points out that God is a special case. God as the greater than which nothing greater can be thought is not merely a concept. When it comes to other things or beings, it is possible to conceive of them even when they do not actually exist (Eichhoefer 144).

For example, a carpenter can conceive of a new model chair and before he produces the new model chair, it only exists as a concept (Cahn & Eckert 34). However, as explained earlier, the greater than which nothing greater can be thought exists in reality necessarily because real things are superior to mere conceptions (Cahn & Eckert 33). If ‘God’ were to be a mere concept that does not signify what actually exists, the word would not be referring to the greater than which nothing greater can be thought.

St. Anselm’s ontological proof of existence is plausible, as he explains, only as applied to the greater than which nothing greater can be thought. As Gaunilo’s objection illustrated, when applied to other things, the proof does not hold water. The proof only applies to God who is the greater than which nothing greater can be thought. As Anselm argues, the greater than which nothing greater can be thought must actually exist because real things are superior to mere concepts.

Works Cited

Cahn, Stephen M. and Eckert, Maureen. Introductory Readings: Philosophical Readings. Canada: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006

Eichhoefer, Gerald W. Enduring Issues in Philosophy: Opposing Viewpoints. Pennsylvania: Greenhaven Press, 1995

Popkin Richard Henry & Stroll, Avrum. Philosophy Made Simple. 2nd Ed. New York: Doubleday, 1993

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IvyPanda. (2019, February 19). St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/st-anselms-ontological-proof-of-god/

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"St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God." IvyPanda, 19 Feb. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/st-anselms-ontological-proof-of-god/.

1. IvyPanda. "St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God." February 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/st-anselms-ontological-proof-of-god/.


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IvyPanda. "St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God." February 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/st-anselms-ontological-proof-of-god/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God." February 19, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/st-anselms-ontological-proof-of-god/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'St. Anselm’s Ontological Proof of God'. 19 February.

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