Objections based on the possibility of deriving existential claims from definition and the reponses

Katie Hanlon
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A-Levels R.E A2 PHILOSOPHY Mind Map on Objections based on the possibility of deriving existential claims from definition and the reponses, 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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Objections based on the possibility of deriving existential claims from definition and the reponses
1 INTRO
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 who exists is greater than a God who does not. St. Anselm of Canterbury proposed the first version in which he defined God as 'the greatest conceivable being'. Definitions can only tell us what God would be like if he existed, they cannot establish whether or not he did. There have been many objections made to the OA based upon the possibility of deriving existential claims from definition such as Anselm and Descartes.
2 GAUNILO
2.1 Gaunilo of Marmoutiers claimed that Anselm's argument allowed you to define anything into existence. He responded to Anselm's claim that even 'the fool' can accept the existence of God. He wrote 'On behalf of the fool' where he said that just because the atheist has an understanding of God as the GCB does not follow that we can conclude God exists in reality. An idea in the mind does not mean it has to exist.
2.2 Gaunilo also sets up a parallel argument for the critique of the OA where he removes the word 'being' from Anselm's concept of the GCB and substitutes it for island. He created his own version of the OA to prove this island existed, comparing it to other, less perfect islands. He argued that it would be absurd to conclude such an island existed in reality. For Gaunilo therefore, the fact you can define the greatest conceivable being does not mean that such a being exists. Therefore the structure of Anselm's argument would allow to prove the existence of anything that could exist in our minds.
3 AQUINAS
3.1 Thomas Aquinas claimed that we cannot prove 'God exists' by definition. He also claimed that we cannot prove God exists from an idea of God. In fact, God is beyond our understanding, so we cannot define him. Therefore a priori arguments to prove the existence of God fail. Aquinas claimed that the only way we can know God is through things we can experience, e.g. evidence of design in nature. The existence of God must be known from experience (a posteriori) not by a priori argument.
4 HUME
4.1 David Hume's 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion' contains an argument presented by Cleanthes against the possibility of proof of an a priori of God's existence. He argued that it is impossible to start off with a definition of God and to use logic to conclude 'God exists.' Hume was a sceptical empiricist who believed that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. Many would agree with Hume that humans base their lives on things we observe rather than things we can prove through logic. Therefore, the ontological argument can be rejected.
5 RESPONSE: NORMAN MALCOLM
5.1 For Malcolm, it is not possible to think of a being that necessarily exists to not exist. In the case of the statement 'God necessarily exists' there are 3 possibilities - impossible, this can't be the case are there are no contradictions. Probable - God is necessary, Malcolm maintains this cannot be the case and true - the only alternative left and so must be the case

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