Examine the ontological argument as presented by Descartes and responses to it

Katie Hanlon
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A-Levels R.E A2 PHILOSOPHY Mind Map on Examine the ontological argument as presented by Descartes and responses to it, created by Katie Hanlon on 06/09/2014.

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Katie Hanlon
Created by Katie Hanlon over 5 years ago
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Examine the ontological argument as presented by Descartes and responses to it
1.1 The ontological argument, which uses a priori logic, states that God being defined as most great or perfect must exist, since a God that exists is greater than a God who does not. St. Anselm of Canterbury proposed the first version in the second chapter of his Proslogion in which he stated 'God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.
2.1 Rene Descartes proposed another version after Anselm, for the existence of God based on perfection as a necessary attribute of God. He defined God as a 'supremely perfect being' with omnipotence and omniscience and claimed that a perfect being must exist in order to be perfect. Therefore existence is a perfection that God cannot lack, and so his existence is necessary and he must exist. He claimed as an imperfect being, he could not have made up this definition. His argument is focused on a conceptual basis as it starts with the idea of God and so even the atheist must accept is as it would be illogical not to do so.
3.1 Descartes guarded against the attack Gaunilo developed against Anselm by saying that 'God possess' all perfections', the argument applies only to an absolutely perfect and only necessary being, it cannot therefore be applied to something like a lost island. His second premise was that 'existence is a perfection', not everyone thinks of God, but if they do then God cannot be 'thought' to exist and instead he must, linking him to the concept of perfection. From this he deduced that God must exist, as a 'supremely perfect being' must possess the perfection of existence. God alone is the being who entails God's essence, there cannot be 2 or more such beings. Because we can know God's essence, we can say he exists.
4.1 To illustrate his view, Descartes argued that the essence of a triangle is a '3 sided plane figure' and all the internal angles add up to 180 degrees. A triangle must maintain these predicates in order to be classified as a triangle. To say that God does not exist, is like saying a triangle does not have 3 sides or the internal angles do not add up to 180. In the same way, existence cannot be separated from the concept of God and therefore is a predicate of God. From this he concluded God is a necessary being and is non-contingent and claimed his argument is proof that 'God cannot not exist'
5.1 A priest called Caterus responded to Descartes argument. He argued using the statement 'If God exists then he is the highest being', emphasizing the word 'if'. He said it was not illogical to say 'God does not exist therefore there is no highest being'. All Descartes is establishing is that if there is a triangle then it must have 3 sides, it does not actually mean there are any triangles. If there is a God, God must exist but the problem is 'if'. All this concludes is a statement about triangles. It is equally coherent to say 'triangles do not exist therefore 3-sided plane figures do not exist'. Likewise, we might say unicorns have one horn but that does not mean they exist.
6.1 Until recently, most scholars rejected Descartes argument in favour of Kant. Kant thought he made an illegitimate jump from ideas to reality. He said we may not be able to rejected the idea of a triangle with 3 sides but we can reject the triangle all together. Descartes argued that God has existence in the same way a triangle has 3 sides but if you do not have a triangle you neither have its 3 sides or 3 angles. If you accept that there is a God it would be illogical to accept his existence as necessary, but you don't have to accept there is a God at all.
7.1 Thomas Aquinas stated that we cannot argue from knowledge of essence of something, even God to the conclusion that he exists. He believed that to define something implies that we have an understanding of it, but we as weak limited human beings have no way of knowing if our definition of him is correct because he is beyond our understanding. 'A supremely perfect being' is not a meaningful concept as it does not have a maximum. With numbers, you can never come to an end as you can add to them, in the same way perfection can be added to.

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