Friday, March 28, 2014

Ontological argument - some Religious Studies A2 notes

Notes on Ontological Argument from today's A2 Teachers First conference Bloomsbury (from ppt)


n  Ontological argument
n  Stephen Law
n  Heythrop College, University of London
n  The ontological argument
n  An argument that attempts to prove the existence of God a priori, from the definition or concept of God.
n  An “armchair” proof!

n  Ontological argument
n  Almost everyone thinks there is something wrong with the argument.
n  The question is: precisely what is wrong with it?
n  We will look at versions from Descartes and Anselm.
n  Descartes version
n  God is supremely perfect
n  Existence is a perfection
n  Therefore: God exists
n  Descartes’ argument
n  The idea seems to be that the concept of God logically includes or entails the idea of perfection and thus existence (cos existence is a perfection).
n  So to claim God does not exist is to contradict yourself.
n  Like claiming there is a triangle without three sides.
n  Descartes’ argument
n  We can know from the comfort of our armchairs that all triangles have 3 sides…
n  …So we can know from the comfort of our armchairs that God exists!
n  My Schmartian objection
n   If this were acceptable, then surely we could define anything into existence.
n  Add to the concept of a Martian that of existence to give the concept of a Shmartian.
n  Schmartian objection
n  Then we know from our armchairs that Shmartians exist!
n  To deny that Schmartians exist would be to contradict yourself!
n  Defending the argument
n  Reply: Existence is not a merely arbitrary addition to the list of Gods attributes, as it is in the Schmartian example. Perfection necessarily includes existence. So we cannot subtract the concept of existence from that of God as we can subtract it from the concept of a Schmartian.
n  Counter: Is existence a perfection?
n  Further objection
n  Second objection. Gaunilo’s perfect island. If existence is a perfection, then the concept of the perfect island must include existence.
n  Existence is not an arbitrary addition. Yet the ontological proof of the existence of the perfect island clearly also fails.
n  Kant: Existence not predicate
n  Existing is not a further property possessed by a thing, as being red or being tall is.
n  Kants argument: first imagine a pile of coins; now imagine this pile existing.
n  What you imagine is exactly the same: you do not mentally add any property in the second imagining that you leave out in the first.
n  Kant’s objection
n  But if existence is not a property that can be included in ones idea of a thing, then it is not a property that might be included in the concept of God.
n  As the ontological argument requires that it is such a property, the argument fails.
n  St Anselms argument
n  1. God is a being than which nothing greater can be conceived
n  2. I can conceive of such a being
n  3. It is greater to exist in reality than merely in the imagination
n  4. Therefore the being of which I conceive must exist in reality
n  St. Anselm on fools
n  It is a contradiction to suppose that I conceive of a being greater than which cannot be conceived, and also to suppose that this being exists only in my imagination.
n  Thus someone who supposes this is a fool, says Anselm.
n  Kant again
n  Again, Kant’s objection is that existence is being treated as if it could be included in ones concept or idea of a thing.
n  I.e. Anselm supposes that the idea of God involves the idea of existence because if it did not it would not be the idea of the greatest conceivable being.
n  Is Kant right?
n  Actually, I am not sure Kant is right that the idea of existence cannot be built into an idea of a thing…
n  BUT, in my view, Anselm’s argument fails even if Kant is wrong…
n  My worry about Anselms argument
n  Suppose I define a wibble thus:
n  Something is a wibble iff. (if and only if) it is: (i) red, (ii) spherical, (iii) weighs one ton, and (iv) smells of fish.
n  My worry
n  Now suppose I define a wooble thus:
n  Something is a wooble iff. it is: (i) red, (ii) spherical, (iii) weighs one ton, (iv) smells of fish, and (v) exists.
n  Wibbles and woobles
n  I can conceive of a wibble.
n  But can I conceive of a wooble?
n  No. Not if there are no woobles!
n  I might think I am conceiving of a wooble, but if there are none, the most I can be conceiving of is a wibble, as what I am conceiving of will not possess the further property of existence (though I may think it does).
n  Wibbles and woobles
n  Similarly, if for something to be God it must exist, then I cannot prove God exists by supposing that I can conceive of him. For it may be that I only think I can conceive of him.
n  If there is no God, then I cannot really conceive of him (just as, if there are no woobles, then I cannot really conceive of one).
n  Anselm begs the question
n  Anselm begs the question by supposing he can conceive of God.
n  In order to establish this, he would need first to establish that God exists, which is what his argument is supposed to establish. Therefore his argument is question-begging.
n  This objection is in my The Great Philosophers book (Anselm)
n  No armchair proof
n  The general consensus amongst philosophers is that ontological arguments do not work.
n  Heythrop College
n  Consider Heythrop College for BA hons Philosophy (and joint degrees).
n  Univ. London.
n  Small & friendly.
n  One-to-one tutorial system.
n  I am admissions tutor.

9 comments:

Michael Bigg said...

Hi Stephen,

Two quick questions. Firstly, if Kant is wrong about using existence as a predicate (which, as you suggest, he may well be) does Descartes' argument succeed? I think you may be right about rejecting Kant's objection (it seems to me that existence can be used as a predicate, although one that functions differently to others).

Secondly, doesn't Anselm attempt to start by defining God in "wibble" terms and then conclude he must be more of a "wooble"? Descartes argues that God must be a "wooble" form of a "wibble". Anselm argues that if God is defined in a certain way then we must conclude that such a being exists (ie. he adds the existence rather than starting with it).

Hope that makes some sense!

Edward Ockham said...

"The general consensus amongst philosophers is that ontological arguments do not work."

True IMO but statements like "there is a consensus among X's that p is false" are notoriously hard to establish.

Also true IMO that there is no consensus about why ontological arguments do not work. I once had a long and inconclusive argument with a set theorist about whether mathematical sets exist. His argument was on the same lines: without sets, we have no mathematics, we can conceive of mathematics, ergo sets exist.

Edward Ockham said...

"We can know from the comfort of our armchairs that all triangles have 3 sides". I.e. for every x, if x is a triangle then x has three sides, which is the same as the negative existential statement "it is not the case that for some x, x is a triangle and x does not have three sides".

Likewise, the negative existential statement "it is not the case that for some x, x is an existing F and x does not exist" is true. But this (since it is a negative existential) only proves that non-existing Fs do not exist, not that some existing F exists.

“Kant’s argument: first imagine a pile of coins; now imagine this pile existing.” I understand the second part, i.e. imagining that for some x, x is a pile of coins. I’m not getting the first part. What is the difference between imagining a pile of coins and entertaining the proposition “some x, x is a pile of coins”? Can we imagine anything other than a proposition, and if we can’t, doesn’t the proposition have to be existential? So there is no difference between the first and the second imagination. But this is not what Kant appears to be saying. He appears to accept that there can be non-propositional imaginings, i.e. as well as imagining that an A is B, we can just imagine an A, and then he claims that there is no difference between imagining an A, and imagining an existing A. So his argument has psychological, rather than logical grounds.

But I question whether we can simply imagine an A. We can only imagine or entertain that some A is B, or C, or D, i.e. imagine or entertain some proposition. And if that’s the case, it follows by logic that there is no difference between imagining that some A is B, and imagining that some existing A is B. “Some buttercups are blue” means the same as “blue buttercups exist”.

Perhaps my claim that we cannot imagine except through some proposition is a psychological claim? Not sure.

Philip Rand said...

Dr Law

The wibble wobble model essentially boils down to this:

Is it possible for the human mind to think what is unthinkable?

I mean, scientifically it has been demonstrated that chimps do in fact think...

What is interesting here though is to ask the question:

Can a chimp think about quantum physics?

Quantum physics appears to exist in the world and yet a chimp would not be able to think about it.

Isn't this state of affairs with the chimp similar to the your wibble wobble model?

Philip Rand said...

What you might also consider concerning ontological arguments not working is this.

The LHC has pretty much destroyed the idea of supersymmetry...now, supersymmetry is essentially based on the ability to measure something, i.e. if we can't measure a physical thing we can't explain the existence of the universe.

Several theories other than supersymmetry exist...one interesting one that is pertainent to the ontological argument is the "Dimensional Transmutation" theory....in this model model...mass say, is not measured (it can't be) but is instead simply calculated using numbers like "pi" and nothing else.

I kinda like this theory because if one draws a grid of vertical and horizontal lines on a sheet of paper and tosses a needle say, onto the grid the average number of lines on the grid the needle crosses approaches pi....for examlpe...ten tosses gives one 3.15...

You can do this experiment yourself...

This would tend to leave open the idea that an ontological argument "could" work.

mwmovr40 said...

I am no philosopher, but it seems to me if we assign subjective attributes to our constructs we are changing the parameters of the problem as defined by Anselm. It seems that any subjective attribute (color, texture, structure, etc.) is limited and thus a greater construct would be one that either does not have that attribute or has it to the degree of being beyond our ability to imagine. Thus the wibble to which there are none greater would be the wibble which has transended its own attributes.
I know we can debate whether "existing" is an attribute or not, but if it is, it probably isn't subjective. Therefore the wibble to which no greater wibble is would not be the wooble, but the transendent wibble which does exist. However, the wibble for which all of its attributes transend that which is greatest would mean that the wibble is the same as God. That wibble would have to be unity, of course, so to be the same as God means that we have proven God does exist and all we have done is to have changed the name from God to wibble.

Anonymous said...

i can think up a unicorn.
I can think up God
From my experience of things that are "round" I can think of circle
a perfect form or mathematical model
of the real world
Man's need:
I am in the real (physical) world and it can make me despondent (natural disasters, death, loss,
pain, suffering,greed ,violence,enslavement of various kinds including drugs..)
I need very strongly an antidote to this.
we refer to hope and other mechanisms to give us power over despondency.God is one that seems to work.Homeopathy works on average for 3 weeks it seems.
Being in love lasts around 2 years.
as einstein said the problem is solved at a different level to the problem.
so create an abstract or metaphysical entity and endow it with all power goodness etc and you have solved the problem of despondency created by the physical world.
this may not work for mental illness such as depression as it is seems to be a problem in the abstract world too or at least is not amenable to reason.

Anonymous said...

i can think up a unicorn.
I can think up God
From my experience of things that are "round" I can think of circle
a perfect form or mathematical model
of the real world
Man's need:
I am in the real (physical) world and it can make me despondent (natural disasters, death, loss,
pain, suffering,greed ,violence,enslavement of various kinds including drugs..)
I need very strongly an antidote to this.
we refer to hope and other mechanisms to give us power over despondency.God is one that seems to work.Homeopathy works on average for 3 weeks it seems.
Being in love lasts around 2 years.
as einstein said the problem is solved at a different level to the problem.
so create an abstract or metaphysical entity and endow it with all power goodness etc and you have solved the problem of despondency created by the physical world.
this may not work for mental illness such as depression as it is seems to be a problem in the abstract world too or at least is not amenable to reason.

Anonymous said...

i can think up a unicorn.
I can think up God
From my experience of things that are "round" I can think of circle
a perfect form or mathematical model
of the real world
Man's need:
I am in the real (physical) world and it can make me despondent (natural disasters, death, loss,
pain, suffering,greed ,violence,enslavement of various kinds including drugs..)
I need very strongly an antidote to this.
we refer to hope and other mechanisms to give us power over despondency.God is one that seems to work.Homeopathy works on average for 3 weeks it seems.
Being in love lasts around 2 years.
as einstein said the problem is solved at a different level to the problem.
so create an abstract or metaphysical entity and endow it with all power goodness etc and you have solved the problem of despondency created by the physical world.
this may not work for mental illness such as depression as it is seems to be a problem in the abstract world too or at least is not amenable to reason.