I am referring to this paper https://github.com/FormalTheology/GoedelGod/blob/master/GodProof-ND.pdf which has formalized the ontological argument.

If I am not mistaken, watered down, the argument should be that we can define existence as a property by saying it's exemplification of essential properties of a thing, and then take a set of properties (here he takes 'positive properties') to include it. Once we accept existence as a property, the rest kind of naturally follows. Once we establish existence as a property we can simply in different terms define something in whose essence is to have that property, and then the very possibility of that thing would imply its necessary existence.

I'm aware why ontological arguments have historically failed, and why they must fail, but that doesn't show me the error of this argument, and that's what I'm interested in. I would prefer not to reach outside of the argument to search for the fact that there must be an error, but attempt to point at the error. Where does it exactly go wrong?

The only thing that crosses my mind right now is to refer to the equivalence made by the property of existence and the exemplification of essential properties made by the argument. If the complete sum of all essential properties is exemplified, then a thing has the property of existence. If we use existence defined in such a way as an essential property of something, we are inferring a complete sum of all properties, but we're doing it from within the essence of a thing, which is still not complete, so the reference to it is not justified. This is the only thing I could think of so far, aside from rejecting the notion of essence.

How do we answer this paper? Is there shakiness of some axiom that I'm missing?

  • Possible duplicate of this question
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 0:05
  • 1
    I sympathize with the perpetuum mobile attitude but unfortunately with such arguments what the mistake is depends on how it is phrased. In some modern logics existence is a predicate, so the mistake is to be sought in the rules for its use. Also the linked paper focuses not on "existence is not a predicate" but on another objection, that positive/negative property distinction is murky. Just because Gödel "axiomatized" it does not mean that it is meaningful, see Malcolm's criticism.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 0:30

1 Answer 1


The main attacks on Gödel's ontological argument are not found necessarily in attacking the logical structure of his argument, more so it is done by rejecting the axioms he provides. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on ontological arguments:

Given a sufficiently generous conception of properties, and granted the acceptability of the underlying modal logic, the listed theorems do follow from the axioms. ... So, criticisms of the argument are bound to focus on the axioms, or on the other assumptions which are required in order to construct the proof.

Additionally from Wikipedia:

Most criticism of Gödel's proof is aimed at its axioms: As with any proof in any logical system, if the axioms the proof depends on are doubted, then the conclusions can be doubted. This is particularly applicable to Gödel's proof, because it rests on five axioms that are all questionable. The proof does not say that the conclusion has to be correct, but rather that if you accept the axioms, then the conclusion is correct.

Christopher Small provides a paper outlining Gödel's ontological argument and some of the objections to it. To highlight some of the more publicized objections:

Sobel (1987) has objected that Gödel’s argument leads to modal collapse. So this objection needs to be examined in detail. A modal logic is said to suffer from modal collapse if every true statement in the system becomes necessarily true. While this is not in itself inconsistent, it does appear to undermine the point of the logic by negating any distinction between accidental and necessary truth.

C. Anthony Anderson has objected to axiom (P2) on the grounds that it does not permit neutral attributes. For example, being of average height would seem to be a neutral attribute. However, axiom (P2) demands that either it is positive or that not being of average height is a positive attribute.

The paper goes into much detail about the dubious status of the axioms, as does the SEP article above.

It's also interesting to note the history of existence as a valid predicate. Many philosophers disagree that existence can at all be a predicate. From Vacuous Names and Fictional Entities (note 6) by Saul Kripke:

Both Frege and Russell think that existence cannot be a predicate of individuals but identify it with the ‘higher level’ property expressed when we attach an existential quantifier to a one-place predicate. Frege said that the error of regarding existence as a predicate of individuals rather than (in his terminology) a second-level concept is the fundamental error of the ontological argument (see Frege 1997:146, note H). Russell’s view is in fact similar to Frege’s, though formulated in terms of his theory of descriptions, so that the illusion that there is a predicate of individuals can be connected to the illusion that the descriptions are terms referring to objects.

In general, most objections to a naive acceptance of existence as a property are due to the acceptance coming with some very undesirable or contradictory conclusions. For example, the second order predicate existence that Russell and Frege later formulated is based off of a descriptivist theory of reference, and the flaws of that theory are well documented. Ultimately, it is still very dubious as to whether or not anyone, including Gödel, have provided a sufficient and acceptable definition of an existence predicate. Even more so, many deny that existence is trivial for any case (see the paper by Kripke mentioned above.)

  • Well written, thanks for the response. For anyone interested I have found in the meantime exactly which axioms are inconsistent. Read the paper page.mi.fu-berlin.de/cbenzmueller/papers/C55.pdf.
    – Ebin
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 3:07
  • On the other hand, while we're at it, how does the argument I provided above bode? Existence defined as a property still can't be an essential property because it would be equivalent to an actual exemplification of its essence, and there's no essence to be exemplified until we finish defining what the essence is. It's an intuition that seems valid to me and I can't consider my mind settled until I'm sure whether it's a defensible position that I could possibly refer to sometime in the future.
    – Ebin
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 3:43
  • Do you mean how does Gödel's definition of existence compare with other definitions in terms of it being not well founded? See the last couple of paragraphs on the Gödel section in the SEP article on ontological arguments that I linked to and Small's paper talks about the existence predicate at length.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 4:00
  • What I asked is if the problem of it being not well founded that I presented above is actually a problem at all.
    – Ebin
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 4:25
  • As I said before, see the papers I've linked in my answer they discuss that question at length
    – Not_Here
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 4:48

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