The Ontological Argument for the existence of god
has a pretty bad rap in Debate & Discourse. I don't feel like it has any credence as for somehow proving god's existence, but I do feel that the argument itself reveals problems for every philosophical stance. The ontological argument, as first formulated by St. Anslem, was never fully adopted by Christian philosophers and theologians. St. Thomas Aquinas famously argued against the ontological argument. It was picked up by Descartes as a way for a self to know something other than itself. The argument can be formulated in the following syllogism:
Major Premise: God, by his concept, is the most perfect being.
Minor Premise: Existence belongs to the concept of the most perfect being.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
To expand upon the two premises:
God is a concept that, as a society, we have. The god of this particular argument is formulated as essentia dei est existentia
, that God is a being whose essence is existence. This is the god that is discussed in metaphysics. Perfectionm here, is not a value judgement, but a quality judgement: what is perfect is completely actualized possibility; i.e.,
anything that can be, God is.
It is important, here, to restrict the usage of "God" to "the most perfect being." The common attributes of "all good," "omnipotent," and "omniscient" are much more difficult to discuss and really have no bearing on the ontological argument. We are simply seeking to understand an ontology of God.
Since the essentia of God is existentia, it is argued that any conception of God already contains knowledge of his existence, because even the possibility of talking about any beings at all is allowed only by the existence of God. Thus, God necessarily is because there is possible existence for everything that is possible.
The most successful attack against the ontological argument was put forth by Kant, by attacking the minor premise "Existence belongs to the concept of the most perfect being." Contrary to this, Kant argues that "existence is not a predicate." He does this by structuring his Table of Categories
: all predications are assertions about reality and either positive or negative; all propositions about reality are relative The proposition about the existence of something is neither positive or negative and is absolute. Existence is not a predicate of anything, but rather is a sort of "presenting" to thought by existence itself.
The problem with this, however, is that in separating existence from the subject of a proposition, Kant makes existence transcendent: that any subject could be predicated already posits existence; indeed, predication itself is "predicated" on existence. Wherever and whenever there is anything, there is existence. By denying God existence, Kant thus turns existence into God.