1. God is the greatest of all possible beings. You can’t argue with this, because it is a definition. It is just stating what the word ‘god’ means.
2. If god does not exist, then another being that has all of the attributes of god, and in addition exists would be greater.
3. This is impossible, because it contradicts the definition given in the first premise.
4. Conclusion: God must exist in reality.
Kant’s famous refutation is that “existence is not a predicate.” That is, if we list “all of the attributes of god” that we use in the second premise, it would read “god is all-powerful; god is all-knowing; god is always present, everywhere; god is all-good” and so on. But the statement “god is existent” is not adding an attribute because it is really saying only “god is.” There is no attribute after the “is.”
I think that we can show the problem by looking at some real-life, trivial examples. “The greatest of all possible beings” definition for god refers to logical possibility rather than physical possibility. It is the greatest conceivable being, the greatest being that does not create a logical contradiction. But surely it is also possible to conceive of “the greatest possible US president.” By the logic of the Ontological Argument, a president who exists in reality is greater than a president who is imaginary. Therefore, the greatest possible US president must exist. But there is only one US president, George W. Bush. Therefore, George W. Bush is the greatest possible US president.
Well if you hypothetically went through every thing in the universe and arranged them by temperature, then by process of elimination you'd eventually end up with something that was hotter than everything else (I imagine it would either be a star, or Keira Knightley in a swimsuit).
I suppose you could do the same for God-like attributes among all the sentient beings in the universe, but it would get complicated. Suppose you found a being that was more powerful than any other- therefore the most God-like on the power scale- but it was not particularly benevolent? It doesn't necessarily follow that there exists somewhere a being that would score higher than any other in omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.
Oh, the point is rather a reference to the omnipotence fallacy that
1. Either god can create the hottest burrito which god cannot eat, or god cannot create the hottest burrito which god cannot eat
2. If god can create the hottest burrito which god cannot eat, then god is not omnipotent
3. If god cannot create a the hottest burrito which god cannot eat, then god is not omnipotent
4. Therefore god is not omnipotent.
The way I always understood the fault in the argument is that God would only need to exist if he did exist. Kant also points out this gross tautology.
The format I've read the argument in starts out by stating that the reader must/can conceive of the most perfect being ever and therefore...you know the rest of it. I (and I think Kant) stop right there and say that you cannot conceive of the most perfect being ever. A human simply cannot do it, it's like trying to picture what a billion pennies looks like.
I don't entirely grasp the concept of existence not being a predicate, but others argue that while existence may not be a predicate, necessary existence is a predicate. What is your view on this?
Also I don't think your example is sound because perfection isn't part of the definition of the president. Unless you are making it part of the definition, but then you could do that to anything and argue that it exists. Are we at liberty to alter a definition?
As I’ve formulated it (following St. Anselm), if we state as a premise not just that “god is the greatest of all possible beings, but that “god is, necessarily, the greatest of all possible beings, then our conclusion, that god exists, is contained in the premise that he is ‘necessary,’ rather than ‘contingent.’
There are all kinds of circularities in this argument! I had never noticed before that the noun ‘being’ contains the meaning of existence in reality. But if we were to define god as the greatest of all possible ‘concepts,’ it would not follow that a concept that refers to something that exists in reality would be greater than one that did not.
I know that there are several versions of the Ontological Argument. I looked it up in Wikipedia, and the argument from necessity is given as “Anselm’s Second Argument,” to wit:
God is that entity than which nothing greater can be conceived.
It is greater to be necessary than not.
God must be necessary.
God necessarily exists.
Against this I might borrow a form of argument that you used, that there are limitations to the human ability to hold concepts. We cannot ‘conceive’ of a necessary being, because all of our concepts are contingent upon the human mind. At least, it being necessary does not add to the concept. Think of an all-powerful god, and hold that concept in your mind. Now think of it as necessary. Now think of it as contingent. What has changed? If it is possible to conceive of god as necessary, can we not conceive of anything else as also being necessary?
But I’m not comfortable basing an ontological argument on human limitations. I think that we can sidestep that by rephrasing the first premise as “God is that entity than which nothing can be greater without generating a logical contradiction.”
The problem once again, I think, lies in the second premise. “It is greater to be necessary than not” really means “It is greater to be necessary than conditional.” But whether god is ‘necessary’ or ‘conditional’, we are presuming into our premise ‘existence’, which is the conclusion we are trying to prove. Circularity once again.
You asked if “necessary existence” is a predicate. It looks to me that ‘necessary’ is a predicate of ‘existence’, not of ‘god.’ ‘Necessary’ cannot be an attribute of a concept or an illusion. So the second premise of Anselm’s second argument should properly be “of things that exist, it is greater to be necessary than contingent.” It still does not prove that god exists.
It's hard to know where to begin with this - it has so many types of wrongness. So Pasting gloriously from Wikipedia:
The argument examines the concept of God and argues that it implies the existence of God: if we can conceive of God, it asserts, He must exist. The argument is often criticised as committing a bare assertion fallacy, as it offers no supportive premise other than qualities inherent to the unproven statement. This is also called a circular argument, because the premise relies on the conclusion, which in turn relies on the premise.
He attempted to doubt everything and build up a model of the world using only logic and incontrovertible fact. It's a fascinating read right up to his proof of the existence of God and the soul - the ontological argument, but organised around the concept of "perfection" rather than "greatness".
I remember thinking:
"What? - How did his demonstrably logical mind suddenly spew out this half baked nonsense?"
I've always wondered if it was fear of religious persecution or at the least ostracism. If he'd have continued in the direction he was going without that last minute swerve he'd have upset a great many powerful people.
That's interesting you've hit upon that - the last minute swerve. I've heard at least two other philosophy teachers I've had the pleasure of speaking to or reading their course material who have made very similar comments about his use of the ontological argument, and under the same assumptions; fear of persecution.
Wish was more sophisticated on the subject to comment more, other than to say, you're certainly not alone in your suspicion.
Existence is implied in all definitions. All that the argument proves is that there i something that is the most powerful, which may or may not be God. There is a difference between "God is the most powerful entity" and "the most powerful entity is God". Does that make sense?