the ontological presuppositions of the ontological argume .the ontological presuppositions of the

Download The Ontological Presuppositions of the Ontological Argume .THE ONTOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE

Post on 10-Mar-2019

215 views

Category:

Documents

0 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

THE ONTOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS OF THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT*

WILLIAM E. MANN

JLhe most recent stage in the analysis of St. Anselm's Ontologi cal Argument is the modal-logical stage : if one wants to get clear

as to what is wrong (or right) with it, one should phrase it in S5.1 I have misgivings about this maneuver, if it is claimed in the name of historical exegesis. While I think that the connnections between the Ontological Argument and modal logic are insightful and exciting, I also think that the arguments presently offered in

Anselm's name, even though they might be better than his, are

revisionary or revolutionary. What I wish to do in this paper

is reactionary. I shall first set out what I take to be the argu

ment contained in Proslogion II. I shall then point out that the

argument rests on a set of assumptions which reveal a conceptual scheme different from that of the sober, twentieth century modal

logician. Finally, I shall show that the assumptions in question lead to a novel criticism of Anselm's argument, a criticism that

does not require of us, for instance, that we deny that "exists"

is a predicate.

I

Here is the crucial passage from Proslogion II:

Thus even the fool is convinced that something than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding, since when he hears

this, he understands it; and whatever is understood is in the under

standing. And certainly that than which a greater cannot be con

ceived cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is even in the

understanding alone, it can be conceived to exist in reality also, which

# This is the prize-winning essay of the 1971 Dissertation Essay Com

petition.?Ed. 11 have in mind the following articles : Robert Merrihew Adams,

"The Logical Structure of Anselm's Arguments," The Philosophical Re

view, 80 (1971), 28-54; David Lewis, "Anselm and Actuality," Nous, 4

(1970), 175-88; and an unpublished paper by Alvin Plantinga, "God and Possible Worlds.

' ' The latter two explore the alleged connections between

Anselm's argument(s) and the "possible worlds" semantics for quantified modal logic.

ONTOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS 261

is greater. Thus if that than which a greater cannot be conceived is in the understanding alone, then that than which a greater cannot be conceived is itself that than which a greater can be conceived. But

surely this cannot be. Thus without doubt something than which a greater cannot be conceived exists, both in the understanding and in reality.2

I offer the following argument as a reconstruction of the

passage :

(1) Whatever is understood is in the understanding. (2) If that than which nothing greater can be con

ceived is understood, then that than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding.

(Instance of (1)) But: (3) That than which nothing greater can be conceived

is understood.

Thus: (4) That than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding. (From (2) and (3))

Suppose: (5) That than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding only, and does not exist in

reality.

(6) For whatever is in the understanding only, and

does not exist in reality, something greater than

it can be conceived.

(7) If that than which nothing greater can be conceived is in the understanding only, and does not exist in

reality, then something greater than that than

which nothing greater can be conceived can be con

ceived. (Instance of (6)) Thus: (8) Something greater than that than which nothing

greater can be conceived can be conceived. (From

(5) and (7)) Thus: (9) That than which nothing greater can be conceived

exists in reality. (From (4), (5), and (8))

2 St. Anselm, Proslogion II, my translation. The Latin edition from which this and subsequent translations are based is 8. Anselmi Cantuarien sis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia, edited by Franciscus Salesius Schmitt, O.S.B. The edition is now reissued in two tomes at Stuttgart-Bad Cann statt by Friedrich Frommann Verlag (G?nther Holzboog), 1968. The Latin text for Proslogion II is in Tome I, Volume I, 101-02.

262 WILLIAM E. MANN

Note that the argument is comprised of two sub-arguments.

Steps (l)-(4) purport to establish the in intellectu existence of that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Steps (5)-(9) purport to establish, in reductio fashion, the in re existence of

that than which nothing greater can be conceived by showing that

the contrary hypothesis, (5), leads to a contradiction, (8). Each

sub-argument has its own characteristic axiom?(1) and (6), re

spectively. About (6) I shall have little to say in this paper, except to point out that it is more modest in its claims than other similar principles which have been ascribed to Anselm on occa

sion, e.g.:

For whatever is in the understanding only, everything in

reality is greater than it.3

For anything of kind K, if it is in the understanding only, then there is something of kind K greater than it.4

(1), however, is intriguing, and an exploration of (1) will lead us into the heart of Anselm's conceptual scheme.

II

Let us begin, then, by marking one feature of Anselm's

thought, the existence of which cannot be gainsaid. Anselm dis

tinguishes between a thing's existing in intellectu and its existing in re. Two questions are important concerning the distinction.

First, exactly what is the distinction, and how does it work?

Second, what is the point or purpose of the distinction? I shall

consider these questions in turn.

Consider (1). Anselm regards (1) as obvious,5 but it is not

3 Adams thinks that Anselm "would probably have assented" to this

principle, although he acknowledges that the argument of Proslogion II does not require it. (Adams, op. cit., 30.) I know of nothing in Anselm's

writings that would indicate his acceptance. But see fn. 13. 4 See Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds (Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell

University Press, 1967), pp. 67-79, for a discussion of some other (6)-like principles. 5

"Observe, then, that since it is understood, it follows that it is in the understanding. For just as that which is conceived is conceived by conception, and that which is conceived by conception, just as it is con

ceived is thus in conception, so that which is understood is understood by understanding, and that which is understood by understanding, just as

ONTOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS 263

as innocent as it may at first appear. Anselm is indifferent as

to whether it is linguistic entities or ontological entities that are

understood,6 but it is clear that the things that are in the under

standing are things, and not words or phrases. Here we begin to see part of the character of Anselm's thought. A necessary condition for one's understanding something is that that some

thing be in the understanding: if it were not the case that some

thing is in the understanding, then it would seem to follow that

nothing is understood. Thus, although (1) may have the appear ance of a tired truism, it is metaphysically loaded. It tells us that whenever anything is understood, that thing has a mode of

being : it exists in intellectu.

For Anselm, there is no difference between a thing's being in the understanding and its being conceived.7 We can express the connection in terms of two alternative principles:

(A) A thing is in the understanding if and only if it is conceived.

Or:

(A/) A thing is in the understanding if and only if it can be conceived.

(A) tells us that a thing is in intellectu if and only if it is being conceived or thought of by someone, while (A') tells us that a

thing is in intellectu if and only if it can be conceived, irrespective

it is understood is thus in the understanding. What is clearer than this ? ' '

St. Anselm, Quid ad haec respondent editor ipsius libelli, in 8. Anselmi . . . Opera Omnia, I, I, 132 (Chapter II).

Anselm did not think, however, that (1) held in the case of "in definite nouns," such as "not-man," and words that signify the absence of something, such as "injustice" and "nothing." See his fragment on

"Aliquid" in Franciscus Salesius Schmitt, O.S.B., Ein neues unvollendetes Werk des hl. Anselm von Canterbury, in Beitr?ge zur Geschichte der

Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, 33/3 (1936), 42-43. 6 "But if it were true that that than which a greater cannot be con ceived cannot be conceived or understood, it nevertheless would not be false that 'that than which a greater cannot be conceived' can be conceived and understood." St. Anselm, Quid ad haec respondeat editor ipsius libelli, in 8. Anselmi . . . Opera Omnia, I, I, 138 (Chapter IX).

7 This needs to be argued for, and I do so in Chapter III of my Ph.D.

Dissertation, The Logic of Saint Anselm's Ontological Argument (The University of Minnesota, 1971).

264 WILLIAM E. MANN

of whether anyone is in fact conceiving of it. I do not claim that Anselm ever distinguished between (A) and (A'), although, as we shall see, (A') fits nicely with another feature of Anselm's thought.

According to (A'), the class of beings in intellectu is identical to the class of conceivable beings. The class of in re beings is a

subclass of the

Recommended

View more >