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Anselm's Philosophy - Sophomore Paper
Anselm=s definition of AGod@ starts by saying that God is the greatest being we can possibly think of. When Anselm states this, it essentially means that it is not possible to think of a being greater than God. Anselm also states that if God is the greatest thinkable being, he is referring to the fact that it would be impossible to imagine or to create in ones mind someone or something being better than God. Therefore, it would be impossible to say that God only exists in ones mind because it is much greater to exist in reality than it is to exist only in ones mind. Anselm then suggests that God has many attributes which describe him. Among these being: self-existent, a necessary being, omnipotent, omniscient, completely just and timelessly eternal. After reading the Proslogion by Anselm, it gave me a greater understanding of these attributes listed above. Although, they are all of equal importance, I feel the most prominent of God=s attributes is the fact that he is self existent. In essence, that means that God depends on nothing else for his existence, he is uncaused. Therefore, his existence is timelessly-eternal. This means that God cannot stop existing. On the other hand, contingent beings (such as ourselves) depend on something else for their existence. One example of this is, that as a child we utterly depended on our parents for food, clothing, and shelter. Contingent beings therefore can begin to be or cease to be at anytime. They can, unlike God, be here today and gone tomorrow. Anselm uses the definition of God (the ontological argument), in which I have described above, to prove God=s existence. As I mentioned, Anselm believes that God is the greatest being we can possibly think of. He does this by first trying to prove the opposite of what he really wants to prove. For example, lets suppose God does not exist in reality. We then could think of something greater, a being that has all the same virtuous characteristics as we think God as having, but also being able to exist in reality. He then tries to prove that this supposition leads to a conclusion which cannot possibly be true. Then the original God would not actually be the greatest thinkable being, this new something else, that actually exists would be. This new God which actually exists would then be able to be seen, heard and touched by the individuals who believe he exists as the greatest thinkable being. Nevertheless, it is obviously impossible that the greatest being we can think of should not be the greatest being we can think of. Therefore, the conclusion that God does not exist must be false. Anselm then believes that the opposite of this supposition must then be true. A perfect God must actually must exist in reality. Otherwise, God would not be totally perfect. Existence is perfection. AIt is one thing for something to exist in a persons thought and quite another for the person to think that thing to exist.@ (Anselm Chapter 2) A modern day example of Anselm=s theory is that if I can really imagine a perfect girl for me. This girl would actually exist somewhere in the world. A girl with all of the best qualities that I can possibly imagine someone as having. She would be everything that I am looking for. According to Anselm=s beliefs, she would most defiantly exist. AFor if it exists only in the understanding , it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater.@ (Anselm p.380 Chap.2) Anselm uses God=s definition to argue that God cannot be thought not to exist. Anselm does this by stating that God cannot even be thought not to exist, not only is his existence a fact but his non-existence is completely impossible. He confirms this by saying AAnd indeed whatever exists except you alone can be thought of as not existing. You alone of all things most truly exists and thus enjoy existence to the fullest degree of all things, because nothing else exists so undoubtedly, and thus everything else enjoys being in a lesser degree.@ (Anselm Chapter 3) The nonexistence of all other beings is possible, but when it comes to the nonexistence of the most perfect thinkable being, it is not possible. The argument for God=s existence is very similar to the argument that it is impossible for one to believe that God does not exist. After reading Anselm=s ontological argument, I had a difficult time debating whether I believed his theories justified God=s existence. Basically, I came to the conclusion that Anselm has not thoroughly proven his theories to be true. Also, after reading Gaunilo=s Reply on Behalf of The Fool, it greatly confirmed my doubts and uncertainties about Anselm=s ontological theories. Gaunilo did a superb job at dissecting each of Anselm=s theories, point by point. He did this best by using strong arguments and explicit examples. The most powerful example Gaunilo used to discredit Anselm was the theory of Athe Lost Island.@ This example is basically about an island (somewhere in the ocean) which is said to be Amore plentifully endowed than even the Isles of the Blessed with indescribable abundance of all riches and delights.@ (Anselm p.396) If someone should tell me such a story, I would find it rather easy to understand what the story teller was saying. I could even almost picture what this island would look like. But if this storyteller went on to say that this island actually exists without a doubt, AI would have a hard time deciding who is the bigger fool, me if I believe him or him if he thinks he has proved its existence@ (Anselm p.396) According to Anselm=s theory, Anselm would most likely believe that the island exists in reality. But, I tend to agree with Gaunilo when he says Ait must be proved to me by some unassailable argument that this being merely needs to be thought in order for the understanding to perceive with complete certainty that it undoubtedly exists.@ (Anselm p.394) Furthermore, to get a better understanding of Anselm=s theories, I believe the wording needs to be tightened up. When that is done, it brings out many contradicting statements within his theory. In which case, Anselm=s philosophy tends to lose much of its credibility. An example of one of these contradictions is when Anselm says Aa being existing in reality is greater than to exist only in the understanding. Now if another being exists only in the understanding, then whatever also exists in reality is greater than it. Thus, that which is greater than everything else will be less than something, and not greater than everything else. @ (Anselm P.394) I also believe there are three additional major flaws within Anselm=s theory. The first being, that Anselm=s theory states that God is everything to everyone. I find this hard to believe because each and every individual has a different view of how he or she perceives God. I believe this all starts with Anselm=s vague definition of God (he is the greatest being we can possibly think of) mearly because many different people have many different views of God. Within our society there are no two individuals whom are exactly alike. Therefore, each unique individual develops his or her own specific beliefs and perception of God. As children we are taught religious beliefs through our families, but we do not necessarily have to accept nor follow these beliefs once we get older. Typically, as we grow into adulthood, we develop our own beliefs. I believe there are no two individuals who will give God the same exact attributes and if two different individuals give God opposing attributes, it is impossible for God to exist. It would be impossible for God to be everything to everyone. For example, one may believe that God is a forgiving being, while another may believe that God punishes beings for doing wrong. By Anselm=s definition, God can=t have both attributes. A final problem that I have with Anselm=s philosophy is that he believes that if you can imagine something existing then it defiantly does exist. In the book Anselm=s critics state Athat someone who does not know the meaning of the word, who thinks only of the impression made on his mind by hearing the word and tries to imagine its meaning.@ (Anselm P. 395) There is no way to use a word such as God as a being or an existence because I believe that everyone has a different definition. I can understand the words Agreatest possible being@ but understanding this does not necessarily mean that such a being exists. For example, I understand the words Aflying car@, but we all know that there are no flying cars. But Anselm argues that AI have the concept of this being in my mind, therefore this being exists.@ (Anselm p.395) I believe that this is where Anselm takes a giant leap of faith. In conclusion to whether Anselm=s definition of God gives actual proof of God=s existence, I believe that the only way to believe that God actually exists is by having true faith in him. Although, Anselm gives many possible reasons for God=s existence. Most of these reasons are rather vague and unbelievable


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