Thomas Aquinas, also known as Aquino, was a prominent philosopher of 1200s who attempted to argue God’s existence through criticizing other philosophers’- such as Anselm- arguments. In his argument, Aquinas states that the existence of God is a self-evident because God appears to be something known by everything alive.
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According to Aquinas (207), “everything in the nature is aware of God’s existence.” He says that whenever people know the meaning of the term “God”, God becomes self-evident. He further argues that if for instance a person does not believe in God, this would not be self-evident. For example, there have been reported cases of children been raised by wild animals such as monkeys or wolves.
Nevertheless, these children are still human with human intelligence but they are not able to know God or even know that he even exists. Even though they have human intelligence or potential for it, they will never know God hence it would not be self-evident.
According to Aquinas (90), a thing can be self-evident in itself and to us. In a nutshell, whenever a whole phrase such as “the universe is round” is known to everyone, the self-evident is to all. However, if either one element or all in the phrase is unknown to all, the self-evident is considered to be in itself as it is absence to those who the phrase element is not clear.
As a result, according to Aquinas (473), “there are some mental concepts that are self-evidence only to the learned, as those incorporeal substances are not in space.” I tend to view this explanation as a fact since the preposition “God exists,” is self-evident in itself since the predicate and the subject are same thing.
God is his own existence. This means that since the real meaning of God is not known to us, the preposition is self-evident in itself, thus calling for demonstration of things that are known to us in a more clear way even if they are less known in their nature.
Anselm, a renowned philosopher, used ontological arguments to explain the existence of God. Anselm believed that nothing greater than God can be conceived and if other things do exist, then God must exist. According to Anselm (88) “it is ridiculous if God does not exist, because there would be a possibility of conceiving of ‘a Being which would be greater than the one who no other greater can be conceived.’ In his argument, at least one empirical premise is used in an attempt to prove God’s existence.”
In this empirical premise, it is normally deduced that there could have not been life if certain essential things existing in the universe were to hold a different appearance, no matter how minimal, from what they are. His ontological argument further emphasizes that from the very definition of term “God”, it is possible to prove that he exists.
However, as Aquinas (78) states out, it is important to note that conceptual claims do not bring about existential claims. In order to prove that a certain thing does exist, for instance bacteria, one needs to understand that more than concept reflection is crucial. Instead, more solid facts from empirical research from the field are needed to explain the existence of such a thing.
From his much concern of nature of being, Anselm (365) came up with ontological argument through distinguishing contingent being from necessary being in four philosophical statements. First, he stated that if the Being he was imagining about was the greatest imaginable, it meant that he was not greater.
Secondly, if it was not true in imagining that he was not greater, it was then not true that he was imagining of the Greatest Being imaginable. Thirdly, “Being is greater than not being”, and fourthly, if the being he was imagining does not exist, then it was not true that he was imagining the Greatest Being imaginable. According to Anselm (49), “This meant that if whatever he was thinking was of the Greatest Being Thinkable, it was therefore true that that being exists.”
In trying to emphasis on the existence of God, Anselm (23) explains that even a foolish person will understand when he hears of a being which is greater than anything else that can be conceived. Anselm (8) further explains that “whatever a person understands will be according to his understanding, in which it assuredly understands alone, is not enough to conceive that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
This according to Anselm (110), means that, “supposing it exists in understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater and therefore if that, which nothing is greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived.” However, this is not possible. Therefore, Anselm (9) argues that a being greater than anything thinkable do exist not only in understanding but also in reality.
The argument brings out God as the ‘being which is greater than any other imaginable being’ and that He exists in people’s mind in form of an idea. Also, Anselm (63) argues that “if all other things are considered to be equal, it implies that that beings that exist in peoples mind in form of an idea as well as in reality is greater than any being existing only in people’s mind as an idea.”
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This shows that if God was to exist in peoples mind as an idea, there could be another thing greater than God. However, it is a fact that we cannot think of anything that is greater than God, since “it is impossible to think of something greater than the greatest possible being that can be imagined” Anselm (309). Thus, God exists.
According to Anselm (109) “if the existence of a being is necessary, then, ‘that being is greater than one which existence is not necessary’.” This is another way of saying that if God only exist in people’s imaginations without existing in reality, there could be another being perceived, greater than God.
However, because God is the only greater being thinkable existing, he necessary exist in reality. This shows that necessary existence is a property. For example, if “m” necessarily exists, it means that its existence is independent and does not rely on any other being’s existence.
Moreover, if a being is considered to necessarily exist, it means that it exists eternally in the world logically. According to Anselm (127), “such a being is not just, so to speak, indestructible in this world, but indestructible in every logically possible world- and this does seem, at first blush, to be a great-making property.” This is a true nature of God. His indestructibility in this world shows that His existence is eternally.
Aquinas however argues that God’s existence is self evident. Aquinas brings out an argument that God’s existence is self-evidence. Aquinas opposes the idea that claims regarding the God’s concept can be used to deduce His existence. According Aquinas (26), “not everyone who hears this word ‘God’ understands it to signify ‘a being that which nothing greater can be imagined,’ seeing that some have believed God to be a body.”
For this idea to be practical, it requires conviction of people to perceiving God’s definition similarly. Nevertheless, despite the criticism, the ontological argument can be explained without using the term ‘God’, by replacing the term with “A being than which none greater can be conceived.” However, ‘a being than which none greater can be conceived’ will be another form of a statement referring naturally to the name of God.
In addition, according to Aquinas (39), even if it was possible for everybody to hold the same picture of God as ‘a being than which none greater can be imagined,’ “it does not prove that a person understands what the word signifies, rather, this shows that it only exists mentally.”
Aquinas (41) argues that though we can understand the phrase “a being than which none greater can be imagined” we do not have a clue what this series of words really denotes. This view according to Aquinas (74) indicates that, “God is unlikely than any other reality known to us; while we can easily understand concepts of finite things, the concept of an infinitely great being dwarfs finite human understanding.”
No matter how appropriately we can try to intertwine the phrase “a being than which none greater can be conceived” with a finite concepts that we are aware of, it is clear that an appropriate description of God is nowhere near these finite concepts. This simply means that they do not provide us with clear information of Gods existence.
All in all, the effectiveness of the argument does not require us to have a complete knowledge of the concept of “a natural thing which none greater can be conceived.” This is so because even if we do not know what is meant by this concept, we will still understand the thing in an appropriate way which can enable us to know such a thing does or does not exist.
Therefore according to Aquinas, the success of Anselm’s argument does not rely on how well one understands the concept. Instead, if the concept is logical even mere understanding of it is enough in making the argument successful.
One of the Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence, which brings out the difference with Anselm approaches, is the aspect of “things that move things.” In his explanation, he argues that each motion has something that causes it to move. He also explains that there is in the very first thing that causes motion to everything including the universe.
He considers this to be God. Through this proof, Aquinas shows that to understand the existence of God, He is to be understood. Unlike Anselm who argues that every person will understand the presence of God through internal understanding of existence of a being which no other imaginable being is greater than, Aquinas’s approach indicates that it is through understanding the meaning of the term ‘God’ that brings out his existence through self-evident.
Nevertheless, it is evidential that Aquinas approach constitutes an improvement over Anselm’s. Despite the argument that understanding God’s existence requires one understanding of the term itself, Aquinas (34) approach revolves around the phrase “God is a being which none greater can be imagined.”
Through understanding God in a self-evident perspective, it requires this knowledge to exist in that persons mind as an idea from what the person knows, an argument initiated by Anselm. Further understanding of God’s existence through evidences such as motion of things, order efficient causes, nature of being and not being in things, gradation in things and world governance, is an integrated way of Anselm’s (96) argument of “a being that exists as an idea in mind as well as in reality.”
This is because these are thing that requires supernatural power to control hence bringing the controller as being the greatest. Furthermore, the argument that ‘the existence of God is self-evidence’ is a fact that brings out Gods great nature as seen by people, a completion of Anselm’s argument of ‘a God greater than any other imaginable thing.’
This is because to understand God is to understand his mighty doings. However, there is evidence of originality in Aquinas argument on the “effect of a person not believing in God” in proving the ‘self-evident’ argument. This is so because if a person is not exposed into an environment which will provide him with the meaning of God, his human intelligence will not give him understanding pertaining God and his existence.
Anselm Saint. The major works. London: Oxford University press. 1998. Print
Aquinas Thomas. Theologian of the Christian life. London: Ashgate Publishing 2003. Print