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The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God Essay

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2020

The Ontological Argument

The ontological argument is an a priori argument that attempts to prove God’s existence based purely on reason. The argument sees no reason for attempts to prove the existence of God using empirical approaches. Instead, it seeks to prove God’s existence using essence. According to the ontological argument, the existence of God is a necessary property of God in the same way that a triangle comprises three sides. Anselm, for instance, believes that the claim of God’s non-existence is in itself self-contradictory as it implies that God is imperfect. Other philosophers who adopt the same line of argument as Anselm include Spinoza, Leibniz, Godel, Descartes, and Hegel.

The ontological argument adopts a modal technique to reasoning using the concepts of necessity, possibility and actuality. The argument assumes that supreme perfection necessitates existence. It starts by defining God as a supremely perfect being who is omnipotent, omnipresent and benevolent. In the view of ontological theorists, God must exist since existence is perfection and God is perfect.

Kant’s objection to the ontological argument stems from his view of the concept that a being that is conceived in the human mind, and which exists in the real world, is superior to an idea of a being that is merely conceived in the mind. Kant questions the ontological perception of existence as a predicate that necessarily applies to the concept of God in the same way that the three angles of a triangle necessarily belong to the triangle. In contrast, Kant argues that, though existence applies as a predicate in the grammatical sense, it differs from other predicates. Kant views existence as a property, unlike all ordinary properties, and argues that existence is merely the conjecture of a thing.

What Kant’s argument means is that when one asserts that God exists, he is not alluding that there is a God, or that he holds the property of existence. On the contrary, to say that a thing exists is to allude to the notion of that thing being typified in the universe. If Kant’s take on the ontological argument that existence is not a property that can be inherently possessed is correct, then we cannot compare an existent God with a non-existent God.

I believe that Kant’s position regarding the ontological argument (that a God that exists is essentially similar to a God that does not exist) is considerably defensible. An existent God is similar to a non-existent God, since they are both omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. This implies that the ontological claim that ‘an existent God is greater than a God who does not exist’ is essentially wrong. More than anything, the ontological argument succeeds in providing the definition of God as a supremely perfect being.

Because existence is a logical predicate rather than a grammatical one, it cannot belong to the concept of God as postulated by the ontological theorists. On the contrary, existence is a predicate that merely fulfills the definition of the concept of God. What this means is that existence is not a property like the green property of a leaf that belongs to the leaf. Even if existence is to be perceived as a property, it is not the property that impacts the essence of the thing which possesses the existence. Therefore, I do not believe that the ontological argument succeeds in proving the existence of God.

The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is founded on a posteriori reasoning drawn from empirical experience of the universe. Thomas Aquinas formalizes the argument in his ‘Summa Theologica.’ Aquinas outlines five arguments in an attempt to prove the existence of God. Three arguments of Aquinas can be described as cosmological.

The first form of the cosmological argument for the existence of God is referred to as the first cause argument. This argument asserts that all things are caused by something else. If we go back through the causal sequence, we are likely to arrive at a first cause from which all else is caused. The cosmological philosophers argue that the supreme cause is God. It is important to note that the cosmological proof of God’s existence dismisses the idea of infinity or an infinite regression.

The second form of the ontological argument stems from the concept of contingency. This argument asserts that things can either exist or fail to exist. This argument implies that there is a possibility of a time when nothing existed, and some external being must have created what exists. Cosmological theorists call this external being God.

The third ontological argument considers the possibility of a prime mover or an unmoved mover. Aquinas states that everything in the world is in a constant state of motion. Since a thing cannot ‘actually be’ and ‘potentially be’ at the same time, everything that is in a state of motion must have been put in motion by a mover. Going by the trend of denying infinite regression, there must be a first mover who sets all movements in motion.

The fact that the cosmological argument applies an a posteriori system of reasoning works against as well as to the soundness of the position. Being a posteriori, the cosmological argument is easily testable using empirical data. For instance, we can test the argument by observing changes and processes in phenomena and seeking an explanation for the nature of events. The argument seems convincing since it answers the insatiable human desire to seek an explanation for natural events.

However, the knowledge acquired a posteriori cannot be absolutely trusted. Human desire to explain existence is not a reason enough to embrace the cosmological argument, since the empirical universe is filled with probabilities. What we know about the universe is obtained from the things we perceive today, rather than what existed at the time of creation. We cannot ascertain the sequence of events that took place at the time of creation to relate them with what we experience today.

Science also has the potential of working for or against the cosmological proof of God’s existence. Though science has failed to explain the happenings before the Big Bang, modern scientists have proved that there are some items, such as a particle generated by a vacuum, which can exist without being caused. This implies that God is not the only uncaused thing.

The problem raised by the ontological argument is that, even if there is a prime cause that caused the Big Bang, there is no absolute way of confirming that the cause of the Big bang is the theist God. To assume that the first cause is the theistic God requires one to take a leap of faith without logical or factual support systems.

The Allegory of the Cave

In the allegory of the cave, Plato paints a picture of prisoners held in a dark cave. The prisoners are chained around their feet and necks in a way that inhibits their movement. Plato describes a world outside the caves and a wall separating the cave and the outside world. There are shadows of people moving outside the cave which are cast on the cave walls. Since the prisoners are chained, they are unable to raise their heads to see the real people moving outside the cave and only have access to the shadows. Consequently, they believe that the shadows are real. When one of the prisoners escapes, he is not able to see anything since he is blinded by the brightness of the sun. As he stays in the outer world, the prisoner comes to realize that the outside world is the real world and that the things to which he has been accustomed are mere illusions.

The prisoner believes that it is better to live as a slave in the real world than to live like a king in the cave. When the escapee returns to the cave, the other prisoners ridicule him for leaving the world of the cave since they cannot understand a reality they are yet to experience. The prisoners warn the escapee of possible death in case he tries to release them.

The cave in the allegory signifies people who are so accustomed to what they know from empirical faculties that they do not conceive any other way of life. The shadows in the allegory signify knowledge obtained from sense perception. In his portrayal of the game played in the cave, Plato implies that those perceived as masters actually have limited knowledge of reality. The breakout prisoner in Plato’s allegory represents a philosopher who has moved away from reliance on sense perception and who seeks knowledge that is outside the realm of the senses. While the sun represents truth obtained through philosophical inquiry, the intellectual journey of the escaped prisoner represents the path followed by philosophers in their pursuit of wisdom and truth. The reactions of the other prisoners depict how most people are afraid of seeking philosophical truth and prefer to stay in their ‘safe’ worlds.

To explain true knowledge, Plato presents his model of the Forms. Plato’s forms are fixed objects described as the most real objects conceivable. The world as we perceive it is just a shadow of the real Forms, which can only be grasped through rationality. For instance, the property shared by all triangles is the Form of triangularity, which is the essence of what is called a triangle. For instance, for two or more things to belong to kind X, they must share in the Form of X-ness.

Plato, being an idealist, believes that true knowledge can only be acquired through rational faculties, rather than through sense perception. Unlike physical objects, the Forms presented by Plato are unchanging and are universally knowable.

The sun in Plato’s allegory represents a philosopher’s understanding of the Forms, particularly the Form of good. A philosopher needs to appreciate the Form of good so that he can identify and comprehend the goodness available in other Forms. I agree with Plato that the knowledge we use to understand the world is inborn and cannot be acquired by sense perception. Ideas such as roundness exist in the human brain.

Hume and Kant on Synthetic a Priori Judgments

Before we can understand the concept of synthetic a priori judgment, we must define what is meant by analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. In Kant’s view, the terms ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic’ are merely different types of judgments, which are assertions or propositions. Analytic propositions do not give us any new information about reality, but merely state that a property is encompassed by an object as part of its meaning. An example of an analytic statement is ‘husbands are male.’ The concept ‘husband’ contains the concept ‘male’ as part of its definition.

Synthetic propositions, on the other hand, are statements whose predicating concept is not part of the definition of the subject concept. For instance, the proposition that ‘all matter is heavy’ is synthetic in the sense that having weight does not form part of the definition of matter. Synthetic a priori judgments are statements that are verifiable independent of empirical experience, and which are not logically encompassed as part of the definition of the subject.

Hume builds his philosophy around an empiricist assumption that all propositions can be known through sense experience. In Hume’s view, causality is not founded on a priori judgments. On the contrary, Hume believes that the concept of causality is completely unfounded. He asserts that there is no foundation in experience to imply that a specific event must necessarily follow another event. He concludes that the causality cannot, therefore, be justified rationally.

What Hume implies is that there is no contradiction in rejecting the alleged necessity of causality. However, the refutation of a proposition is what demonstrates it to be necessary, especially when the refutation occasions a visible inconsistency. Since there is no inconsistency in refuting the assumed necessity of causality, such refutation is not tantamount to inconsistency. Since there is no inconsistency in refuting the necessity of causality, the causality cannot be said to be a priori.

In Hume’s postulation, the human mind develops a pattern when it is used to seeing an event follow another. The mind, therefore, assumes a causal relationship between the two events. Causal relationships, in Hume’s view, are just assumptions created by the human mind and are not certifiable by experimentation. Necessity of causal relations, therefore, lacks reasonable backing and must be psychologically defended.

I believe that Hume’s dismissal of the hitherto popular laws of causality and induction is what inspires Kant to try to save natural science from the implications of Hume’s philosophy. The reason Kant refutes Hume’s view on causation and induction is because Hume rejects the certainty upon which natural science is built. Kant, therefore, tries to address the problem raised by metaphysics by designing a framework of transcendental idealism that can enable people to avoid skepticism.

Kant admits that causation seems impossible, but suggests a different approach in understanding causality. Instead of looking at causality as a metaphysical process involving the organization of natural events, Kant suggests that causality should be viewed as a universally and necessarily occurring property, impressed by the human mind upon reality. This view of causality as a requirement for the intelligibility of occurrence seems more plausible than Hume’s dismissal of causality in its totality. Synthetic a priori propositions are, therefore, depicted as rationally validated since they serve as preconditions for comprehensibility.

I believe that Kant is right in his postulation that certain rational categories ought to typify objects of sense perception so that the wholeness of a person’s experience can be consistent. These innate a priori intuitions (for instance, spatial-temporal intuitions) are assumed in any act of acquiring knowledge, and are validated as sources of all conceivable experience. To reject the innate intuition of causality causes sense perception to be incomprehensible.

Hume, Locke and Berkeley on Empiricism

Hume, Locke and Berkeley are all British empiricist philosophers who believe in weeding out any concept that portray inconsistency with empiricism and believe that knowledge must be drawn from experience. This results in skepticism about most of the things that we generally assume to know. Locke, Berkeley and Hume all adopt a technique of constructing a corpus of knowledge using modest building blocks.

Locke’s philosophy seeks original and certain knowledge as well as the levels of belief. He attacks the principle of innate ideas, which asserts that human infants are born with some amount of knowledge that is not obtained from sense perception. Locke argues that the human infant is born with an empty mind, which is gradually filled with knowledge acquired through experience.

Locke also believes that the human mind resembles a mirror that only reflects objects presented to it. In his view, knowledge can be classified as sensitive, intuitive and demonstrative. Human beings often possess instinctual knowledge concerning their personal existence, sensitive knowledge about the presence of specific finite objects and demonstrative knowledge about the existence of divinity. Locke attempts to reason that human beings have knowledge of sensible things from simple ideas. However, Locke fails to support how we acquire this form of knowledge.

Locke also distinguishes between primary qualities and secondary qualities of objects. While primary qualities such as shape and motion exist in the world, secondary qualities depend on the person perceiving the object. Secondary qualities of objects include taste, smell and color as perceived by an individual.

From his arguments, Locke is depicted as an empiricist in the limited sense who believes that all materials upon which knowledge is attained are acquired through sense perception. His limitation as an empiricist stems from his acceptance of the possibility of rational, a priori knowledge of objects outside the realm of the senses.

Berkeley discards Locke’s categorization of objects according to primary and secondary qualities, and asserts that all experiences fall under the secondary category. He believes that the distinction between the qualities of objects generates unwarranted skepticism. Berkeley’s epistemological postulation only recognizes the existence of minds, in which God inputs ideas. He dismisses the concept of independently existing objects. However, Berkeley concedes that we have some amount of knowledge that we acquire through sense perception such as knowledge concerning God’s existence.

Berkeley believes that God is the greatest mind who controls the world of ideas. He distinguishes between the universe of God and human universe. Human beings cannot acquire knowledge about God’s universe except through fantasy.

David Hume improves on the premises proposed by Berkeley. In my view, Hume is the most consistent of all the three empiricists. Though he adopts the empirical approach to epistemology as developed by Locke, he refuses the idea of any knowledge obtained outside sensory experience. Hume asserts that though the human epistemological realm is limited to sensory experience, the possibility of any other realm (including God) is unknowable.

Hume also dismisses the concept of common sense since it is based on indefensible beliefs formed by the mind. He dismisses anything that cannot be empirically verified, including the idea of causation and the concept of induction. In terms of consistency and adherence to the empirical principle, Hume is the most commendable of the three British empiricists.

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