Anselm's Ontological Argument and the Philosophers

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Saint Anselm of Aosta, Bec, and Canterbury, perhaps during a moment of enlightenment or

starvation-induced hallucination, succeeded in formulating an argument for God's existence which has

been debated for almost a thousand years. It shows no sign of going away soon. It is an argument

based solely on reason, distinguishing it from other arguments for the existence of God such as

cosmological or teleological arguments. These latter arguments respectively depend on the world's

causes or design, and thus may weaken as new scientific advances are made (such as Darwin's

theory of evolution). We can be sure that no such fate will happen to Anselm's Ontological

Argument (the name, by the way, coined by Kant).

In form, Anselm's arguments are much like the arguments we see in philosophy today. In

Cur Deus Homo we read Anselm's conversation with a skeptic. This sort of question-and-answer

form of argumentation (dialectic) is very much like the writings of Plato.

The skeptic, Boso,

question's Anselm's faith with an array of questions non-believers still ask today. Anselm answers in

a step-by-step manner, asking for confirmation along the way, until he arrives at a conclusion with

which Boso is forced to agree. This is just like Socrates' procedure with, say, Crito.

Later philosophers have both accepted and denied the validity of Anselm's famous

ontological argument for the existence of God, presented in both the Proslogium and Monologium.

Anselm did not first approach the argument with an open mind, then examine its components with a

critical eye to see which side was best. Anselm had made up his mind about the issue long before he

began to use dialectic to attempt to dissect it. 'Indeed, the extreme ardor which impels him to search

everywhere for arguments favorable to the dogma, is a confession his part that...