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The Ontological Argument. An argument for the existence of God. Write down your response to:. What is your concept of ‘God’? What do you think of when someone says the word ‘God’?. Is this a duck or a rabbit?.

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the ontological argument

The Ontological Argument

An argument for the existence of God

write down your response to
Write down your response to:
  • What is your concept of ‘God’?

What do you think of when someone says the word ‘God’?

is this a duck or a rabbit
Is this a duck or a rabbit?

Epistemology is concerned with justifying what we perceive (or believe to know) this figure to be…

Ontology is concerned with the reality behind our perceptions.

the classical form
The Classical form
  • St Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
  • God is defined as:

‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’.

what does that mean
What does that mean?
  • Anselm said this meant God must exist because:
  • That which exists in reality is greater than that which exists purely in the mind.

Imagine being given £1000. It’s a nice thought, but wouldn’t it be better if the money really existed?

  • Since God is ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ obviously it is greater to exist, than not to exist.
  • So by definition, God must exist.
thinking point
Thinking point:

What is the difference between:

That than which nothing greater can be conceived


Something greater than can be conceived?

Is the difference important?


The ontological argument is an a priori argument.

‘God exists’ becomes an existential analytic statement.

god s existence is necessary
God’s existence is necessary
  • Ok, so Anselm has offered a proof for God’s existence, but for God to be God there must be more to Him than simply existing –after all we exist!
  • Anselm has a 2nd argument, in which he argues God’s existence is necessary.

What does he mean by ‘necessary’?

necessary means
Necessary means…
  • Anselm is referring to the eternal and transcendent nature of God.
  • There is no possibility of God not existing
anselm says we know
Anselm says we know:
  • It can be conceived that something exists that cannot be thought not to exist
  • God must be such a thing if He is ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’.
  • This is because something that can be though not to exist would be inferior to that which cannot.
rene descartes 1596 1650
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
  • Developed Anselm’s argument
  • God is ‘a supremely perfect being’.
  • We can conclude God exists, because existence is a predicate of a perfect being.
  • Therefore God must exist, to avoid being self-contradictory.
modern versions
Modern versions
  • Norman Malcolm (1911-1990)
  • A necessary God cannot be brought about nor threatened by anything.
  • God’s existence is either necessary or impossible
  • A necessary God cannot be impossible
  • Therefore God necessarily exists

Why would God be a limited being if He had been caused to come into existence, or had ‘happened’ to come into existence?

Is it acceptable and coherent to conclude that God exists because He has the property of necessary existence? Why, or why is this not, the case?


The film follows the life of Helen. The film\'s plot splits into two parallel universes which run in tandem. In one universe, Helen manages to catch a train home on time, & in the other she misses it. In the former, she gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with his ex-girlfriend; she promptly dumps him, and meets a new man. In the latter, she carries on oblivious in a miserable relationship after arriving home after her boyfriend\'s lover has left.

modern versions1
Modern versions
  • Alvin Plantinga 1974: notion of Possible Worlds
  • Also known as the modal form
  • There is a possible world in which there is a being who is maximally great and maximally excellent
  • In any possible world this being must exist if it had these attributes
  • This is a possible world
  • Therefore this being exists in our world (God).

The Ontological Argument

‘Proof’ of the existence of God by definition.