Ontological Argument

Home > Philosophy of Religion Articles > Ontological Argument

info.gif Ontological Argument: "A priori argument for God's existence holding that the concept of God implies his necessary existence. Anselm is credited with originating this argument with his claim that God is a being 'than which none greater can be conceived' and that a being who existed only in thought would not be such a being. The argument was defended by René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz and attacked by David Hume and Immanuel Kant. In the twentieth century the argument was defended by Alvin Plantinga, Norman Malcolm and Charles Hartshorne. Some of the twentieth-century versions stressed the idea that necessary existence is an essential property of God."

Evans, C. (2002) Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

  • File

    Baggaley, John

     (5.9M)

    The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

    "In this paper, I have explored each of the major Ontological Arguments, and the major objections to them. I have shown, that none of the objections are satisfactory disproofs of the Ontological Argument. However, there is still a lot of controversy pertaining to the Ontological Argument. To accept any of the Ontological Arguments, would require a leap of faith. A leap of this sort will require motivation that comes from outside the argument. Thus the argument fails for Anselm and Descartes, because it cannot convince. On the other hand, the argument succeeds for Plantinga, because it can supply rational justification."
  • File

    DePoe, John M.

     (115K)

    The Ontological Argument

    "The ontological argument is one of the most interesting of all the arguments for the existence of God. Derived from the Greek word "ontos" which means "being," the ontological argument tries to show that a proper understanding of what it means for God to be or exist will demonstrate that he must exist. The ontological argument has often been said to ascertain God's existence by a philosophical sleight of hand or a ruse of words. Whether this is so I will leave up to the reader to decide."
  • File

    Dougherty, Trent

     (278K)

    Conceivability, Defeasibility, and Possibility: A Defense of the Modal Ontological Argument

    "'We believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.' From this simple observation Saint Anselm believed God’s existence could be demonstrated. Many philosophers have demurred, even those, like Descartes, who had ontological arguments of their own...In this paper I have presented an interpretation of Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God...I concluded that the ontological argument can provide prima facie justification for theism."
  • File

    Jowers, Dennis W.

     (63K)

    Anselm's Proslogion: One, Simple Proof?

    "Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God is, in one sense, quite simple; God is that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought, and he must, therefore, exist, for otherwise he would not be that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought. Careful analysis of Anselm's Proslogion and his Reply to Gaunilo, however, will show that Anselm proposes not one, but six ontological arguments which, while relying on common premises about the nature of thought and the identity of God, differ in their contents, sometimes markedly."
  • File

    Koons, Robert C.

     (84K)

    Sobel on Gödel's Ontological Proof

    "The ontological argument has garnered quite a bit of attention in the last fifty years. In most cases, philosophers have agreed that the argument is unsuccessful but have disagreed vigorously over where exactly the fatal flaw lies. This paper, will to some extent, follow the familiar pattern. I will argue that Gödel's argument is unsuccessful, but I hope to show that Sobel and Anderson have both misdiagnosed its failure, and, consequently, Anderson's attempted repairs are likewise unsuccessful. However, I will close with a sketch of my own proposed repair of Gödel's argument, and I will suggest that, although the repaired argument is not by itself a successful theistic proof, it may represent a fruitful matter for future investigation."
  • File

    Lucas, J. R.

     (128K)

    The Ontological Argument

    "The ontological argument has run for a long time, regularly refuted, regularly re-appearing in a new form. Something can be learnt from its longevity. Its proponents must be on to something, or it would not have survived its many refutations. But equally, it must have been much misformulated, or it would not have seemed evidently fallacious to its many critics. Perhaps it does express a deep philosophical intimation. Certainly it has been taken to prove more than it really can establish. Like many other philosophical arguments it has suffered by being made out to be more rigorous than in the nature of the case it can be. For some philosophers addressing some questions it may have been decisive in leading them to adopt one of the few options open to them: but it is quite inconclusive for others, with different presuppositions or different problems, and cannot be reduced into a valid proof cogent for all comers and compelling them to accept the conclusion it claims to demonstrate."
  • File

    Nagasawa, Yujin

     (65K)

    Millican on the Ontological Argument

    "Peter Millican (2004) provides a novel and elaborate objection to Anselm’s ontological argument. Millican thinks that his objection is more powerful than any other because it does not dispute contentious ‘deep philosophical theories’ that underlie the argument. Instead, it tries to reveal the ‘fatal flaw’ of the argument by considering its ‘shallow logical details’. Millican’s objection is based on his interpretation of the argument, according to which Anselm relies on what I call the ‘principle of the superiority of existence’ (PSE). I argue that (i) the textual evidence Millican cites does not provide a convincing case that Anselm relies on PSE and that, moreover, (ii) Anselm does not even need PSE for the ontological argument. I introduce a plausible interpretation of the ontological argument that is not vulnerable to Millican’s objection and conclude that even if the ontological argument fails, it does not fail in the way Millican thinks it does."
  • File

    Oppy, Graham

     (225K)

    Ontological Arguments

    "Ontological arguments are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world — e.g., from reason alone. In other words, ontological arguments are arguments from nothing but analytic, a priori and necessary premises to the conclusion that God exists."
  • File

    Plantinga, Alvin

     (3.3M)

    The Ontological Argument

    "The...theistic argument I wish to discuss is the famous 'ontological argument' first formulated by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. This argument for the existence of God has fascinated philosophers ever since Anselm first stated it. Few people, I should think, have been brought to belief in God by means of this argument; nor has it played much of a role in strengthening and confirming religious faith. At first sight Anselm's argument is remarkably unconvincing if not downright irritating; it looks too much like a parlor puzzle or word magic. And yet nearly every major philosopher from the time of Anselm to the present has had something to say about it; this argument has a long and illustrious line of defenders extending to the present."
    Listen to MP3 of article
  • File

    Pruss, Alexander R.

     (142K)

    Śamkara’s Principle and Two Ontomystical Arguments

    "Two types of arguments for the existence of God that have received much attention are the ontological arguments and the arguments from religious experience. Both types of arguments have their peculiar weaknesses: the ontological arguments require a possibility premiss, while the argument from religious experience requires that the veridicality of the experience be proved. Using Śamkara’s principle I will show that the two types of arguments can be combined in such a way that each compensates for the weakness of the other, and in combination produces a new argument for the existence of God. The particular kind of argument from religious experience that will concern me here will be the argument from high mystical experiences, of which the experiences of St. John of the Cross are a paradigm. The ontological arguments I shall consider will be Alvin Plantinga’s modal maximally-great-being argument and an apparently new argument from radical dependence."