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The Ontological argument 2. This time it’s critical!. Meet the commentators. Gaunilo of Marmoutier Immanuel Kant Gottlob Frege Bertrand Russell Brian Davies. Gaunilo V Anselm . Round 1. The Perfect Island. ‘Inestimable wealth’. ‘Abundant delicacies’ . ‘all manner of riches’.

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the ontological argument 2

The Ontological argument 2

This time it’s critical!

meet the commentators
Meet the commentators
  • Gaunilo of Marmoutier
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Gottlob Frege
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Brian Davies
the perfect island
The Perfect Island

‘Inestimable wealth’

‘Abundant delicacies’

‘all manner of riches’



the perfect island5
The Perfect Island

“Anselm is trying to move from a definition of God to the suggestion of God’s existence. This is not a valid move.” Gaunilo

  • The KEY issue:

I do not deny that such an island could exist…

…I simply will not agree that it does, until I have been shown PROOF!

Gaunilo’s says: just because he can CONCEIVE of such a place, that does not actually mean such a place exists!

so this disproves the argument
So this disproves the argument?
  • Well no, not really!
  • Anselm never compares things of a like kind.

‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’

  • Whereas, Gaunilo is comparing islands
  • Islands have no intrinsic maximum

Gaunilo’s objections do not successfully refute Anselm

triangular logic
Triangular logic?
  • Kant objected to Descartes’ claim that denying God’s existence was the same as trying to deny triangles have three sides, which is contradictory.
  • Kant states that if you dismiss both the three sides (predicate) and that of the triangle itself (subject) then you are left with no contradiction.

Kant successfully refutes Descartes’ idea of existence as a predicate.

In order to deal with Anselm he serves up another argument…

So: If you say God does not exist and then cease to imagine the concept of God, there is no contradiction. Therefore it can be logical to say ‘God does not exist.’

existence is not a predicate
‘existence is not a predicate’
  • Kant states that’s saying Xexists tells us nothing about X
  • Whereas, ‘X is female, or tall’ does
  • A predicate must give info about X
  • Saying ‘X is’ does not
  • Existence does not add anything to the concept (idea of) X
  • If X exists tells us about a property that X has, then X does not exist denies that it has this property (or affirms that it lacks it).
  • Paradox!

Because ‘X exists’ does not tell us anything, Kant is saying it is meaningless and is the same as saying X does not exist

frege 1848 1925
Frege (1848-1925)

1st order predicates

Tell us about the natureof something

2nd order predicates Tell us about concepts

Frege argues that Anselm & Descartes only use 1st order predicates, when existence is a 2nd order predicate.

bertrand russell
Bertrand Russell
  • Claims Anselm uses the word ‘exist’ incorrectly.
  • Existence cannot be a predicate.
  • If it were, we could argue:

Men exist.

Santa Claus is a man.

Therefore, Santa Claus exists.

This is a syllogism.

brian davies
Brian Davies

Davies argues that is can be used to define the concept of God, as in 1), but not as in 2) which pre-supposes existence for no logical reason.

  • ‘A pixie is a little man with pointed ears. Therefore there actually exists a pixie.’
  • ‘is’ is used in two different ways
  • 1) To define something: ‘a queen is a female monarch’
  • 2) To explain there actually is something: ‘there is such a thing as a vampire’.
plantinga s possible worlds
Plantinga’s possible worlds
  • Is Plantinga’s claim coherent?
  • Even if we accept a being with ‘maximal greatness’ is possible, and therefore it is possible that such a being exists in our world…
  • …it does not follow that such a being actually exists!
  • It is possible, but not actual.


In your groups you must prepare to present your case.

‘This house believes the Ontological argument cannot prove the existence of God.’

2 groups will speak for the motion, 2 groups against.

Everybody in your group must contribute.

Elect a scribe and 2 spokespeople.


‘This house believes the Ontological argument cannot prove the existence of God.’

Order of speaking:

  • For the argument
  • Against the argument
  • Reply for the argument
  • Reply against the argument
russell s idea
Russell’s idea
  • To label & define something is to provide an intention

An animal with four legs & udders

Intention to describe a cow.

  • To say the cow exists is to provide an extension to my intention.
  • We see cows in field, so we accept they exist.
russell cont
Russell cont.
  • ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ is simply the totality of everything the human mind can conceive. That is the intention of the phrase.
  • Extension? If any idea can be said to exist, then ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ must exist as it is the totality of all ideas.