Ontological Argument Archives



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January 9, 2014

Conee on the Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, any answer to the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' must bottom out in "a necessary being, which carries the reason for its existence within itself, otherwise we still would not have a sufficient reason at which we can stop" (Principles of Nature and Grace, sect. 8, tr. Woolhouse and Francks). The coherence of such a being has, however, been questioned. What would it be for a being to 'carry the reason for its existence within itself?' What kind of impossibility could there be in the supposition that some particular being does not exist? Earl...
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August 18, 2011

A Dialectical Role for the Ontological Argument

It has been nearly a month since I've posted anything, and for this I apologize. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic - I was on vacation, and had to rush off to an unexpected funeral in another state, then came home and had to replace a car and a computer (the computer was expected, the car was not). Anyway, it seems the my world has more or less righted itself, and I am getting prepared for the semester to start on Monday. Here's what I'm thinking about today (not related to that dissertation I need to start working on...). Suppose we make an ontological argument with the following general form:
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May 26, 2011

True and Immutable Natures in Descartes's Ontological Argument

In the Fifth Meditation, Descartes argues that "from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and hence that he really exists" (CSM 2:46). Caterus famously replied with the 'existing lion' objection (parallel to Gaunilo's 'Lost Island'): we can't think of anything as an existing lion without thinking of it as existing, so the existing lion must exist (CSM 2:72). In fact, Caterus didn't need to add 'existing' at all: existence is a necessary condition for the exemplification of any property whatsoever. Nothing can be red, blue, five feet...
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March 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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September 15, 2010

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 7, 2010

Would a Being With All Positive Properties Be God?

Sobel's final objection to ontological arguments is that, even if they are sound, their conclusion does not mean that God exists. That is, according to Sobel, a necessarily existing 'being than which none greater can be conceived' or 'being with all perfections' or 'being with all positive properties' would not be God. His argument for this is rather confusing and depends (1) on a controversial modal intuition, and (2) on an odd definition of 'worshipfulness'. As far as I can tell, the argument goes like this: it is clear (so Sobel claims) that such properties as consciousness, knowledge, power, love,...
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September 2, 2010

Modal Collapse: Sobel's Objection to Gödel's Ontological Argument

The last ontological argument Sobel discusses is the Leibniz-inspired argument put forward by the famous logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel sets up a formal system in third-order quantified modal logic with equality and abstraction (!) and proves within that system the theorem: □∃xG(x) Where the predicate G is defined as follows: Gx ↔ ∀φ[P(φ) → φ(x)] Where P is primitive. (Sobel includes the complete source texts for Gödel's proof on pp. 144-146.) Now, unsurprisingly, given that the proof was originated by Gödel, everyone agrees that the proof is valid in the formal system. The question is whether there are any interpretations...
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August 30, 2010

A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments

Sobel spends much of the third chapter Logic and Theism evaluating the dialectical status of ontological arguments, and, in particular, whether ontological arguers are entitled to the premise that it is possible that there be a perfect being. I am simply going to take the occasion here to state my opinion on the matter. There is a fundamental dialectical tension in the ontological arguments that start from this premise. If, on the one hand, necessary existence follows trivially from the stipulated definition of perfection, then the argument will beg the question as Sobel suggests that Anselm's argument does. That is...
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August 25, 2010

Sobel's Argument Against Believing in the Possibility of a Perfect Being

My previous posts on Sobel's Logic and Theism, have been pretty favorable and made only minor criticisms or qualifications. In this post, my criticism will be much more strenuous for, in his criticism of modern modal ontological arguments, Sobel has made a serious error. Sobel wants to argue that there is no strong presumption in favor of the possibility of a perfect being, and that, because of contrary evidence (e.g. the problem of evil), if the ontological argument is to benefit the theist (by showing that, necessarily, there is a perfect being), rather than harm the theist (by showing that...
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August 24, 2010

The Dialectical Appropriateness of Ontological Arguments

After, for some reason or other, spending some 30 dense pages of Logic and Theism on the laughable ontological arguments of Descartes and Spinoza, Sobel moves on to the more interesting argument advanced by Anselm. (The next chapter deals with versions of the argument set in modern modal logic, such as those of Hartshorne and Plantinga.) In my view, the Descartes and Spinoza arguments don't even look good; the Anselm version at least produces puzzlement, insofar as the reasoning looks valid, yet it seems, intuitively, that no such strong conclusion could ever be derived from such weak premises. Sobel (fairly uncontroversially...
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January 25, 2010

Evaluating the Traditional Arguments for God

Kant famously classified traditional arguments for the existence of a divine being into three categories: ontological, cosmological, and teleological. Very few, if any, philosophers today think that any of these forms of argument is conclusive. However, some philosophers do believe that a cumulative case for the existence of a divine being can be made out from these arguments. Atheist colleagues often respond that "three leaky buckets won't hold water any better than one." However, this reply assumes that the traditional arguments don't show anything at all. Specifically, those who respond this way are often assuming that the arguments are straightforwardly...
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November 9, 2009

What Caused God?

In comments to my post on Dawkins and the Philosophers, atheist blogger Jonathan West has been pushing back against Michael Ruse's claim that Dawkins' prominent use of the "what caused God?" question is, as Jonathan puts it, 'fatuous.' Jonathan has also pushed this point in a recent blog post which considers this question in light of Swinburne's 'necessary being' arguments in The Existence of God. I will first make a few remarks about Swinburne's work in this area, and then proceed to show why the "what caused God?" question is indeed confused. To be fair, I admit...
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