the ontological presuppositions of the ontological argume .the ontological presuppositions of the
Post on 10-Mar-2019
Embed Size (px)
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.
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(1970), 175-88; and an unpublished paper by Alvin Plantinga, "God and Possible Worlds.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
(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
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
(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
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.
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.
(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