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Source: 6 minutes 50 seconds juncture; Lecture 2, Video 5 (transcription);
MITx: 24.00x Introduction to Philosophy; by MIT Associate Prof Caspar Hare PhD (in Philosophy; Princeton)

There are some very strange phrases in here, most notably, God exists in the understanding but not in reality. What is it to exist in the understanding but not in reality? Existing in the understanding--that's a very strange phrase, not one that we ordinarily use in everyday life. So there are different ways to interpret this. Here's one way of understanding what this means. So to say God exists in the understanding but not reality is to say, we can conceive of or imagine God existing, but he doesn't exist. Interpreted that way, the argument comes out like this[:] [...]:

[1.] Premise 1: EITHER we can conceive of God existing, but he doesn't exist;
OR we can conceive of God existing, and he does exist.

[2.] Premise 2: If we can conceive of God existing but he doesn't exist, then we can conceive of a thing greater than him (a thing just like him, but EXISTING).

[3.] Premise 3: it's not the case that we can conceive of a thing greater than God.

[4.] Conclusion: We can conceive of God existing, and he does exist.

[...] premise one is going to be true. The problem comes with premise two. Premise two [...]
[I omit Prof Hare's verbal restatement of premise 2] just makes no sense.

[5.] If we can conceive of him existing, but he doesn't exist, then we can't do something further, namely conceive of him existing.
[6.] When you conceive of him existing, there's nothing further you can do to conceive of him existing. You're already doing that.
[7.] So premise two just comes out as manifestly false. And so certainly the argument is unsound and certainly not persuasive to the reasonable agnostic.

I understand why Anselm's Ontological Argument is unsound from other websites, but I understand not:

8. 5. If we can conceive of him existing but he doesn't exist,
why can't we do something further (namely conceive of him existing)?

9. 6. Why is there 'nothing further you can do'?

  • @Keelan 1. Why's premise 2 unsound? 2. Why's Prof Hare trying to say in the last para in the quote above? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jun 18 '15 at 20:45
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    @Keelan Thanks. I erred in calling a premise 'unsound'; I removed such diction. For example, Hare said: If we can conceive of him existing, but he doesn't exist, then we can't do something further, namely conceive of him existing. Is this a contradiction? How is 'conceiving of his existence' FURTHER than 'conceiving of his existence'? He also wrote: When you conceive of him existing, there's nothing further you can do to conceive of him existing. What does he mean by 'nothing further'? Why can I NOT conceive a thing greater than God? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jun 18 '15 at 20:53
  • Thanks. I'm myself not familiar on this topic so can't help you, but someone else should be able to take it from here. – user2953 Jun 18 '15 at 20:54
  • i don't, for the life of me, see why Premise 2 is something to accept as axiomatic. why would i bother to think that? it's just a semantic regress, whatever that "thing" you conceive as greater than God, whether it exists or not, just simply transfer the Label to that "thing". and i don't see any reason why the "thing" so conceived need exist. – robert bristow-johnson Jun 18 '15 at 22:02
  • @robert bristow-johnson I think the issue is that Hare's premise 2 unnecessarily wraps into a premise a part of Anselm's actual reasoning, which is why it is a conditional and sounds so convoluted. In other reconstructions that we can conceive of God EXISTING, and that EXISTING is greater than not, are separate premises, and Hara's premise 2 becomes an intermediate consequent, see philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/24484/… – Conifold Jun 18 '15 at 23:26
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Hare is echoing Kant's "we do not make the least addition to the thing when we further declare that this thing is. Otherwise it would not be exactly the same thing that exists, but something more than we had thought in the concept". The point of Premise 2 is that if we can conceive of God existing, but he doesn't exist, then we can conceive of a thing just like him, but EXISTING, which is then greater than him. Hare's point is that once we already conceived of God existing "we do not make the least addition to the thing" by conceiving of him EXISTING again, we have already done that. So the thing we were supposed to conceive further, which was supposed to be greater than Him, turns out to be the same exact Him we already conceived, not anything greater. Thus, Premise 2 is "manifestly false".

Keep in mind that in "we can conceive of or imagine God existing" Hare seems to identify "conceive" with "imagine", which is not done by everybody. Plantinga, for example, defines "conceive" as "think without contradiction", which is different from "imagine". Because we can "imagine" say time travel, even though it is contradictory. Analysis of the argument changes somewhat on this definition of "conceive", but it simply moves the error around. The modal argument for mind-body dualism is another fallacy, where the differences between "conceive" and "imagine" can get you into the weeds.

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