6. The ontological argument of St. Anselm of Canterbury and its critique by St. Thoma Aquinas.
- Argument itself
- In the Proslogium St. Anselm develops the so-called 'onto logical argument', which proceeds from the idea of God to God as a reality, as existent...requests of his brethren and consideration of the complex and various arguments of the Monologium led him to inquire whether he could not find an argument which would be sufficient, by itself alone, to prove all that webelieve concerning the Divine Substance,
- God is that than which no greater can be thought:
- But that than which no greatercan be thought must exist, not only mentally, in idea, but also extramentally: Therefore God exists, not only in idea, mentally, but also extra mentally.
- The Major Premiss simply gives the idea of God,
- the idea which a man has of God, even if he denies His existence.
- The Minor Premiss is clear, since if that than which no greater can be thought existed only in the mind, it would not be that than which no greater can
- be thought. A greater could be thought, i.e. a being that existed in extramental reality as
- well as in idea.
- Now, if such a being had only ideal reality, existed only in our subjective idea, we could still conceive a greater being, namely a being which did not exist
- simply in our idea but in objective reality.
- St. Anselm argues that in this case no one can at the same time have the idea of God and yet deny His existence. If a man thought of God as, for
- instance, a superman, he would be quite right to deny 'God's' existence in that sense, but he would
- not really be denying the objectivity of the idea of God. If, however, a man had the right idea
- of God,conceived the meaning of the term 'God', he could indeed deny His existence with his will, but if he realises what the denial involves (i.e. saying that the Being which must exist of its essence, the
- necessary Being, does not exist) and yet asserts the denial, he is guilty of a plain contradiction:
- Gaunilo in his Liber pro
- Insipiente adversus Anselmi in Proslogio
- ratiocinationem, wherein he observed that the idea we have of a thing is no guarantee of its extramental existence and that St. Anselm was
- guilty of an illicit transition from the logical to the real order. We might as well say that the most beautifulislands which are possible must exist somewhere, because we can conceive them. if the idea of the all-perfect and necessary Being contains no contradiction, God must exist, since it would be absurd to speak of a merely possible necessary Being (it is a contradiction in terms), whereas there is no contradiction in speaking of
- merely possible beautiful islands. The main objection to St. Anselm's proof, which was raised against Descartes and which Leibniz tried to answer, is
- that we do not know a priori that the idea of God, the idea of infinite and absolute Perfection, is the idea of a possible Being. We may not see any
- contradiction in the idea, but, say the objectors, this 'negative' possibility is not the same as 'positive' possibility; it does not show that there really is no contradiction in the idea. That there is no contradiction
- in the idea is clear only when we have shown a posteriori that God exists.back gound St. Anselm, like St. Augustine, made no clear distinction be tween the provinces of theology and philosophy
The Christian should try to understand and to apprehend rationally all that he believes, so far as this is possible to the human mind.Now, we believe in God's existence and in the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. We should, therefore, apply our understanding to the understanding of both truths. From the point of view of one who, like the Thomist, makes a clear
distinction between philosophy and dogmatic theology the application of reasoning to the first truth, God's existence, will fall within the province of
philosophy, while the application of reasoning to the second truth, the Trinity, will fall within the province of theology, and the Thomist will hold that the first truth is demonstrable by human reasoning, while the second truth is not demonstrable by human reasoning, even though the human mind is able to make true statements about the mystery, once revealed, and to refute the objections against it which human reasoning may raise.
- St. Anselm was certainly no
- rationalist, since
- he accepted the primacy of faith and the fact of authority and only then went on to attempt to understand the data of faith. If,
- however, one is going to extend the term 'rationalism' to cover the attitude of mind which leads to the attempt to prove mysteries,not because the mysteries are not accepted by faith
or would be rejected if one could not prove them, but because one desires to understand all that one believes, without having first clearly defined the ways in which different truths are accessible to us, then one might, of course, call the thought of St. Anselm 'rationalism' or an approximation to rationalism.
- But it would show an entire misunderstanding of Anselm's attitude, were one to suppose that he was prepared to reject the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, if he was unable to find rationes necessariae for it: he believed the doctrine first of all, and only then did he attempt to understand it.: if we insist on inter preting St. Anselm as though he lived
- after St. Thomas and had clearly distinguished the separate provinces of theology and philosophy, we shall only be guilty of an anachronism and of
- a misinterpretation.
St. Anselm develops the proof of God's existence in the monologium from the degrees of perfection which are found in creatures....In the third chapter of the Monologium St.Anselm applies the same sort of argument to being. Whatever exists, exists either through something or through nothing. The latter supposition is absurd; so whatever exists, must
exist through something....Enough has been said, however, to show that St. Anselm made a real contribution to natural theology. The Platonic element is conspicuous and, apart from remarks here and there, there is no considered treatment of analogy; but he gives a posteriori arguments for God's existence which are of a much more systematic character than those of St. Augustine and he also deals carefully with the divine attributes, God's immutability, eternity, etc. It is clear, then, how erroneous it is to associate his name with the 'Ontological Argument' in such a way as to imply that St. Anselm's only contribution to the development of philosophy was an argument the validity of which is at least questionable.