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Is Anselm's decisive point for the existence of God the fact that in order for a thing (idea , etc) which exists in the 'realm of understanding' to be paramount (supreme) it has to exist in reality as well? Anselm's argument purports that the fool understands the meaning (claim) behind a being 'existing in understanding'. Is the contradiction of the argument (a maximally supreme being cannot just exist in understanding because then a being even more supreme can be conjured; therefore it has to exist in reality as well) the pedestal that proves his point right?

EDIT: Anselm's argument is said to be to convince the fool (here the reasonable agnostic, or atheist) that God Exists. However, if one is not open to the claim that God can exist in understanding, doesn't the argument fall flat? Also, isn't Anselm necessarily proving the 'idea' of God existing rather than him 'actually' existing?

  • See Ontological Arguments and Saint Anselm. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 10 '17 at 15:28
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    Anselm's argument goes like this. (i) God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought”. (ii) That than which a greater cannot be thought exists in the understanding. (iii) But if it exists in the understanding, it must also exist in reality. For it is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding. 1/2 – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 10 '17 at 15:32
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    Conclusion: Therefore, if that than which a greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would be possible to think of something greater than it (namely, that same being existing in reality as well). It follows, then, that if that than which a greater cannot be thought existed only in the understanding, it would not be that than which a greater cannot be thought; and that, obviously, is a contradiction. So that than which a greater cannot be thought must exist in reality, not merely in the understanding. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 10 '17 at 15:32
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    @MauroALLEGRANZA Thank you for summing this up in a simple manner. However, there is one question that still lingers in my head. 'God is “that than which a greater cannot be thought" In order for this argument to work the reasonable agnostic must be open to the claim that God exists. Isn't Anselm's argument supporting the 'idea' of a God existing rather than its physical presence? – Joel Zachariah Apr 12 '17 at 1:02
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    Possible duplicate of Is there a suppressed premise in Anselm's Ontological Argument? – Conifold Sep 23 '17 at 2:55
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Any conclusion logically drawn from a premise you may not agree with will fall flat.

I had studied this work and wrote it as more of a "logical trap" and played with the idea of it proving logic to be an imperfect system.

That first claim you need to be open to is his definition of a God as a supreme being, not anything regarding existence in reality. Simply, "that which nothing greater can be conceived." The catch is, if we are talking about God we understand the idea of God (exists in understanding) which sets his logical premises in motion.

The pedestal of his argument is more the entire path of the argument itself. It is logically sound, and therefore "proves" the existence of God in reality. By the time you get to that final step and conclusion, you have already accepted his initial premises and are "caught." That which is greater than a God existing in understanding is one that exists in reality. It is amazingly clever and I remember as I studied it for the first time I felt like I was tricked or cheated. You backtrack and see the initial premise is quite pointed, rather than the general definition it seemed.

Although, I would like to explain I am not writing it off as some cheap trick. It is a vital piece of philosophical work. If you take nothing else from it, take a higher level of scrutiny even in the philosopher's beloved logic systems and examine what can have faults in your own perspective.

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At first people laugh at the argument because it seems that we are comparing: 1) The idea of a perfect being that does not exist, versus 2) The idea of a perfect being that exists.

A better way to phrase the argument would be to compare: 1) The idea of a perfect being that may or may not exist, versus 2) The idea of a perfect being that always does.

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    This could use a little unpacking, perhaps... Why is this a persuasive answer to the question, in your mind? – Joseph Weissman Aug 27 '17 at 17:13
  • Well, a thing must fall into these four categories: – Tim Crinion Dec 1 '18 at 0:19
  • #1 possible (exists in the mind) and has to exist in reality; #2 possible (exists in the mind) and does not have to exist in reality; #3 impossible (does not exist even in the mind) and has to exist in reality; #4 impossible (does not exist even in the mind) and does not have to exist in reality. – Tim Crinion Dec 1 '18 at 0:30
  • Part of God's definition as the greatest possible being is that he has to exist in reality. That rules out 2 and 4. We are left with 1 and 3. So either God is impossible (3) or else he has to exist (1). – Tim Crinion Dec 1 '18 at 0:32
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Yes, I think you've basically got it right. Honestly the best way to look at it is in the form of a reductio ad absurdum. Take the negative "God does not exist" and prove a contradiction from it, then the negative must be false and God must exist.

So he starts with the proposition that God does not exist, then goes on to show that he can imagine a greater being, one that does exist, and that's a contradiction because the original God that didn't exist was supposed to be the greatest.

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