The classical ontological argument for gods existence proposed by Anselm of Canterbury can be summed up as

  1. God is the greatest possible being that can be imagined
  2. If that being existed in reality it would be even greater than the being I am imagining
  3. Therefor that being must exist in reality.

A common counter to this argument put forth by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers is the greatest possible " " where " " could be an island or some other object. Because that " " does not exist it is taken to mean that the ontological argument is wrong.

I would submit that this counter argument by working implies the existence of a being or force which transcends logic and could therefor be considered God or at least God like.

My argument is thus: If I define a new object X, with properties Y, which includes existence(Z), because X does not come into existence it falls into a logical paradox of Y containing Z (by definition) and not containing Z (by observation) at the same time.

Note this new definition does not violate Kant's objection in Critique of Pure Reason to using the property of existence to prove the existence of a thing because it is the creation of a new thing via definition rather than the definition of a thing with may or may not exist. IE I may not prove God's existence by defining him to exist but I may craft a set of properties of which existence its one.

The fact that X does not come into being by being defined to exist implies that there is a force or being external to logic preventing it from existing which could fairly be called God as it is outside of the nature laws of logic. This is more of conjecture but it also seems that this force or being acts toward keeping order in physical reality as it prevents conscious beings from defining things into existence.

Is there any clear error with my process on this?

*much thanks to Philip Klöcking

  • Kant's objection in the Critique of Pure Reason: Existence is no property. I am not sure whether I do understand your argument, though. Could you try to make it a bit more lucid?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:11
  • If i imagine a thing x defining x as being a thing with qualities y which includes existence (z). x does not come into existence meaning that x has qualities y which contains and not contains z. This violates that a set can not both contain and not contain an element at the same time. I understands Kant's objection to defining z as a necessary quality of something your trying to prove z for but if I'm creating a definition for a new thing surely I am justified in including z as part of a new definition. Ergo there must be something greater than logic preventing the new thing from being.
    – john smith
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:38
  • Do you have any reference for this supposedly "common" counter argument? Because I find it completely implausible to just assume that something should prevent God from being existent somewhere. Spinoza famously held that God in fact is everything that exists, its substance.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 20, 2017 at 0:46
  • 1
    I don't really understand the question part.
    – virmaior
    Jan 20, 2017 at 1:06
  • 1
    I would suggest you include the references (ontological proof by Anselm, counterargument by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers) into the main body of the question, strictly parting them into two paragraphs (pretty much like @virmaior just did) and in a third paragraph asking whether any philosopher suggested that this counter argument does not work because God transcends the logic of man. As this is how I understand your question.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 20, 2017 at 1:08

2 Answers 2


The fact that X does not come into being by being defined to exist implies that there is a force or being external to logic preventing it from existing.

No, this does not seem to be implied. Consider the following analogy.

I try to open my flat door, not by using a key, but by chanting "Open Sesame". Surprisingly, the door does not open! Does this imply that there is a force, or an external being, preventing the door from opening? Well, hardly. Rather, it implies that chanting is powerless, and therefore no force or external being is needed to prevent its effect.

Similarly, the fact that X does not come into being by being defined to exist, does not imply that there is a force or being external to logic preventing it from existing.

What it does imply is that defining something to exist is powerless to actually cause it to exist, to come into being. And therefore no force or external being is required, to prevent it from happening.

  • 2
    It always somewhat surprised me that the ontological argument had so much currency with Duns Scotus, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, etc. Other objections, like obscurity of the perfection/privation dichotomy, or "existence is not a predicate" can be said to be modernizations (although Aquinas already believed that existence is not an attribute but an act). But Gaunilo's "perfect island" objection was from a contemporary, there just seemed to be irresistible attraction to make special pleading for God. Just like special pleading in cogito: applied to "I", and "I" only, the inference "should" work
    – Conifold
    Jan 21, 2017 at 22:21
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    @Conifold Yes it is an interesting riddle. The ontological argument is a short yet extreme example of the rationalist mindset. Jan 21, 2017 at 22:50

This argument is quite a complex one, I'm not sure whereabouts you found a summary of it, but I think the best way to look at it is as a reductio ad absurdum.

A reductio starts off with an assumption, and then goes on to prove a contradiction that follows from that assumption. Since a contradiction has been shown, the opposite of the assumption must be true.

In this case, the assumption is that God does not exist, and the contradiction is that I can imagine a greater God, one that does exist. The conclusion is therefore stated as the opposite of the assumption, that God does exist.

I found your question very helfpful, it is a seeming paradox that I could define something to exist and yet observe that it does not. However I honestly believe that, though it may not have been what Kant was getting at when he said "being is obviously not a real predicate", existence is a special kind of property, one that we cannot define something to have.

Though I am starting to have doubts about what I just said, I know that God exists, and if he ceased to exist, then he would cease to be himself. This is the definition of an essential property....versus an accidental property, which, if a thing ceased to have, then it would not be itself anymore. So basically what I'm saying is that, things that do exist, DO have existence as part of their definition, and so it IS possible to define something to exist (as long as it actually does) and God does exist, I assure you. Existence is part of his definition.

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