Did Bertrand Russell read and analyse Anselm's Ontological Argument and if so did he have anything positive to say about it?

  • Can a set of processes be said to exist ? Speaking biologically an individual can be partly described as a set of processes. Therefore could one say an individual has the property of existence , in this situation?
    – user128932
    Apr 29, 2014 at 6:44
  • Did Russell find it easy or hard to criticize Anselm's arguments?
    – 201044
    Aug 16, 2015 at 1:08

1 Answer 1


He did. Read the relevant chapter of his "History of Philosophy". I don't have it with me, but I seem to recall that his criticism of the argument centers around the fact that Anselm treats existence was a (first-order) predicate. Russell thinks this is nonsense.

Russell's wrong. There are perfectly cogent ways of representing existence as first-order, but that's a different discussion.

  • 1
    Such ways don't rescue Anselm's argument, however.
    – Rex Kerr
    Apr 28, 2014 at 14:57
  • Yes; Russell's criticism is along Frege's analysis of existence as a "second-level" property. I.e. existence is not a property of individuals but of concepts, like number. In the phrase "the seven planets" we are not ascribing the number seven to the individual planets, but to the concept "satellite of the sun". Similarly, when we say that "the King of France exists", we are not "predicating" existence of an individual, but asserting that the concept "King of France" is instantiated (i.e.there is an individual which "fall under" that concept). Apr 28, 2014 at 15:36
  • @RexKerr I haven't read much of this literature. Do you know of a particularly good paper on the topic? Klima seems to disagree with you: faculty.fordham.edu/klima/FILES/Anselm-PHRU1000.pdf
    – user5172
    Apr 28, 2014 at 15:45
  • see note 2 on page six of the above.
    – user5172
    Apr 28, 2014 at 15:46
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    Right. It isn't the existence that is the problem with Anselm. Like Aquinas, Klima thinks the argument is sound, just unpersuasive because the unbeliever does not have to admit that the concept of that than which none greater exists is instantiated.
    – user5172
    Apr 28, 2014 at 16:43

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