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Anselm's Ontological Argument

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Anselm's Ontological Argument


The ontological argument presented by St Anselm is aimed at proving God's existence using pure logic. Ontological arguments can be evaluated prior to experience and premised on the comprehension and definition of things. First, Anselm’s argument is divided into various Premises. The first one is that God is the greatest of all and nobody can shine of a greater being than him. The second argues that God can be termed as a concept that entirely exists in our minds. The third premise argues that a being existing both in reality and in the mind is far greater than that which exists only as a concept in our minds. The fourth premise is that if God thus exists as a concept only, that means that there is something greater than God in existence, concluding that there is a greater possible being that exists. The fifth premise argues that because nobody can imagine something which is greater than God, since it is a contradiction to imagine that someone can think of a being which is greater than the only greatest possible being that can be thought(Charlesworth, 1979). Although Anselm's argument just like many other arguments presented by scholars have a similar concept in mind, his argument has a unique approach and is one that is fascinating in comparison to others. Majority of the evidential arguments supporting God’s existence are grounded on the premise of intelligent designs with God as the designer. Contrary to the others, St Anselm's Ontological argument is based on the assumption of reduction to absurdity(reductio ad absurdum), implying that the hypothesis is absurd, and thus not true, or false (Clarke, 2008). I do not agree with the argument presented by Anselm. Not because I imagine God does not exist, but instead I do not think that God's existence could be proved based on the fact that you cannot imagine of a greater being. In this essay, I will argue that Anselm's argument in support of God's existence is invalid and unsound through a critical evaluation of the premises in support of his conclusion on God’s existence given that it relies on fallacies.

In the first section of this essay, Anselm's argument is reconstructed and evaluated critically based on the soundness and validity of his supporting premises. This shall include an introduction, thesis and arguments reconstructing his ideas. In the second section, I will consider evaluating the view of an opponent, in this case, Gaunilo's counter. It shall then be followed by an objection and response then finally a conclusion.


Human beings can imagine of a superior and greater being than God although they have no idea of the being's aspects in reality. St Anselm has undoubtedly provided an invalid and unsound premise stating that God's existence is so evident that there is no way in which one can think of him being non-existent since he fails to support the claim with applicable assertions. He goes ahead to indicate that human beings have the possibility of thinking about something that cannot be imagined not to be in existence. In addition, they can also imagine of something that could be thought to be non-existent. It follows that, based on a the thoughts of human beings; supreme being or a more superior being might be thought of and be considered to be existing in reality (Eder & Ramharter, 2015). On the other hand, Anselm has contradicted himself by demonstrating that the failure of an individual to comprehend God’s existence could be thought by such a person or by the some other people. In addition, even if someone comprehends the existence of a superior being in concept or in his mind and in reality, other people could still think of a more supreme being. Besides, the same individual that thinks and has a good understanding in reality that there indeed exists a supreme being that can in no way be compared to another since there is no one who is more superior than Him could also imagine of a being that is more superior. The justification for this argument is that there is no limitation to thoughts in terms of scope imagination (Barrett, 2011).

Anselm also has argued that the existence of God can be proved through the mere fact that nobody can ever imagine of a superior being that is non-existent. This assertion lacks validity since it is impossible to direct how human beings tend to think. Based on the diversity among different human beings, it can be concluded that individuals can posses distinct thoughts concerning particular issue. For example, just like the way some individuals are fully assured that God exists in reality, there are other people who do not think that God exists and thus opposed to that thought (Dicker, 1988). This implies that such individuals might have diverse thoughts and might deduce that no supreme being exists, which contradict the argument presented by Anselm. Now that there is a very high possibility of some individuals having the thought that God does not exist, Anselm's argument supporting God’s existence lacks soundness. Therefore, the premise presented by Anselm claiming that it is absurd for any person to imagine of there being something greater than God is entirely fallacious. The idea of such a thought being absurd, in itself, fails to assert God’s existence.

Anselm goes ahead to admonish a fool for thinking that God does not exist simply because he is of the belief that a fool fails to realize and imagine that God exists more greatly and truly than whatever that is in existence. Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that it is fallacious to consider someone as bring a fool for not having the same thought as others since nature does accommodate diversity. The failure of Anselm to appreciate the existence of diversity asserts that his argument is support of God’s existence lacks soundness. In certain issues, rationality is subjective and therefore Anselm commits a philosophical error by failing to acknowledge this fact. There exists no universal direction of thinking and therefore regarding people who think contrary to others as irrational is not right. Anselm's argument supporting that God exists is premises on the understanding who God is. Thus, it is impossible for Anselm to disregard the thought of God being non-existent when he comprehends who God is. In addition, it is posd8bor that there exists individuals who have no idea who God is and can effortlessly fail to think that He exists. It is also difficult for individuals to comprehend and discern God in reality since He is neither tangible nor visible.

According to the argument presented by Anselm, the superiority of God is so complex to comprehend that normal people ought not to think of Him as being non-existent. The existence of God of God based on this assertion is that it cannot be doubted in comprehension, and therefore He must be a supernatural being that exists in reality. Additionally, Anselm assumes that the superiority of God is way high and above all the other human beings to the extent that human beings ought to be in an agreement that He also exists in reality. Each and every one of these premises has no validity given that the superiority of God can be understood and tested. It is only until individuals come to understand God in reality then it an be affirmed that unquestionably, He is supreme (Rushby, 2020). Every existing nature is subject to witnessing, experiencing, and testing, which is necessary for the subjects to acknowledge its existence and the same concept is applicable to the existence of God. Thus, based on such fallacious premises, Anselm's arguments have no soundness in support of his asserted conclusion.

One of the most significant and outstanding opposing critics against the argument presented by Anselm regarding the existence of God is Gaunilo. Gaunilo went ahead to summarize Anselm's argument as a mere definition of things into existence rather than being a definition of the existence of something. He expresses his counter against Anselm's argument of God’s existence by use of “The Perfect Island” example. The argument presented by Gaunilo was focused on the view of St Anselm regarding God’s existence as he argues that if his perspective is sound, then the perfect Island should also exist and can be applied to every other none existing things. He asserts that a Piland is one great idea that anybody could think of, and only exists in our mind. As per Anselm's viewpoint, provided that something exists within the human mind, and there is no other great island imaginable, then it must be existing. Using this premise, then everything that can be thought of and considered to be the greatest conceivable could be regarded to exist. The problem with Gaunilo's claim in opposing Anselm's argument is based on the fact that an island is not something which can be deemed as being perfect, and therefore there are always various ways through which a greater island can be imagined to be, and thus his example is not a good representation of the same valid sense of Anselm's argument.

According to the argument presented by Anselm, God exists truly since that provided one can think of God as being someone superior than any other existing being, then the predicament of “us God”, cannot be empty; implying that on the grounds of assertion on which he forms his argument, it is not possible to think of this predicate as being empty(Lennon, 1977). Gaunilo however argues that human beings have the ability to imagine and dispute the existence of a superior being which is greater than any other, or think of real-world things that lack equals, but these thoughts do not inescapably lead to a substantial conclusion of these things being in existence; which makes Anselm's argument to possibly become invalid and unsound.

One of the major premise which Gaunilo heavily disputes and has an issue with is his contention that provided God does exist in people’s minds as the only one superior being than any other, then that means he must also be existing in reality(Charlesworth, 1979). Gaunilo goes ahead to uncover the unsound essence of Anselm's assertion by arguing that although he asserts God’s existence in people’s minds, he fails to ascertain His existence in the real world, and calls for some certain proof to be given. In addition, Gaunilo utilizes the Lost Island with lots of delicacies, riches and wealth allegory which has been rumored to be existing somewhere deep in the ocean to discredit the assertion made by Anselm of the existence of God. As per Gaunilo's understanding, of somebody states to him that the island exists in reality, he would only comprehend his words, which makes the concept of the island existing to Inly be a subsist within his mind. An issue would however arise if this person alleges logical inference by contending that he can no longer question the Island's existence which shall be more probable than all the other lands somewhere since he lacks doubts of the island's existence within his mind. Thus, because the island is too precious to only be existing in his mind, it has to also exist in reality. Anselm utilizes this same premise in claiming that God is the greatest of all other beings and therefore Connor exist on the mind alone but also does exist in reality. The general logic of this particular argument therefore gets lost in the wind since imagining that there is something greater than any other being does not outrightly mean that the being exists in reality. Something existing in our mind does not necessarily assert its existence in real life(Milikan, 2007).


It is indeed anticipated that Anselm together with other adherents of his arguments for God’s existence will rely on the mere understanding of the existence of God in thoughts as an adequate justification that God exists in reality. The explanation or reason for this assumption is that, if there was no God, then thoughts concerning his supreme nature and superiority would not rise in the minds of the people(Milikan, 2007). In addition, the complex and extraordinary nature of God renders it more difficult to know God in the same way people understand other human beings. Nevertheless, the superiority of God makes His existence to be very true making it hard for one to think of Him as non-existent. Thus, Anselm's proponents could argue that God does exist on the premise of understanding or comprehension in the human beings ‘ thinking and reality, since it is not possible to think of a more superior or greater being above Him. Additionally, when individuals tend to have thoughts of God not existing, then they shall be admitting His existence since there is no way people could be thinking of something that is non-existent. Anselm together with his supporters suggest that each and every possible thing that individuals think about must in the first place be existing. In as far as issues related to the existence of God are concerned, when individuals think of Him, then there is no way they can think of another greater superior being, higher than Him. Thus, it ensues that God does exist in reality and also in the mind of the people.


The argument presented by Anselm can be considered as being unsound based on the fact that its validity is heavily dependent on the incapability of human beings to think of a superior being, greater than God. His conclusion can be termed as bring fallacious since the manner in which the human thinking capacity made cannot be universal due to its diverse and unlimited nature(Dicker, 1988). In real sense, human beings posses the ability to think of a supreme being that is even more superior. Hence, they are capable of regarding God as non-existent since they acknowledge the thought of there being a superior being and can therefore think of Him not existing as well. In addition, having thoughts about the existence of a superior being within the minds of other people and at the same time disregard God’s existence is not a sufficient justification that whatever is being thought about by human beings must be existing. This is more so because whatever human beings think is real and true could be non-existent and false to other people. Thus, for people who consider God’s existence as being void and false, it is crucial that they have thoughts of what the conclusions and premises given rise to by Anselm's supporters of His dismissing them.


It has been ascertained that the argument presented by Anselm concerning God’s existence is invalid since it has been founded on fallacious premises. The minds of human beings are not limited to imagination and thus has the capacity to think about things that could possibly not be existing in reality. The argument that the existence of God is very true and cannot be doubted has not been supported with substantial evidence. For Anselm's argument to be termed as being valid and sound, the premises ought to have been founded on real experiences instead of only understanding and thoughts.

However, St Anselm has made plenty of valid points in his argument. I agree that thinking of something of which there exists nothing greater than it symbolizes an understanding of the being's existence within your mind and refutes the existence of something superior being feasible. This idea alone however is not sufficient to approve the existence of that being in actuality. Approving the notion of this greater being also does not in any way rule out the likelihood of beings of factionally equal or lesser greatness, and neither does it rule out the possibility of the none existence of any greater being. Anselm's assumption engulfs the scientific research of the intelligence design and was it with some imaginary notion held by God’s religious people. Anselm’s argument is grounded on the utilization of intellectual persuasion in overcasting the perspective of people with lesser intellect(Milikan, 2007).

It is my belief that in his time, people were not popular with the exploration of the possibilities of imagination especially behind the true belief, as well as the ideas from various beliefs and cultures. For the pagans, they believe that all that exists on this world came to be as a gift from another different god, and Oden is beloved to be the father of all the other gods. If St Anselm's theory was to be applied to this religion, it would become logical contend that there also exists hundreds of other Gods that run and oversee everything in this universe. To think of something and afford to find insight of it, aided by factual proof of it in real life makes that thing appear to be true. But, these assertions alone fails to proof the true existence of that being since there is no sufficient non-refutable evidence.

Going with the argument presented by Anselm, which claims that understanding that something such as a supreme being exists, but not believing that it does exist is absurd(Clarke, 2008). This premise shows that Anselm's outlook was somehow premature and closed minded. To imagine that it is impossible to find understanding through imagination but fail to believe what you are thinking exists in reality is one closed-minded way of thinking. If his premise was to be true, then we also ought to still believe in other assertions of things that have been termed to exist but only exist in our minds such as big foot, unicorns and various other fictional creatures which have been created by our imaginations or by people that came before us. Formulating a premise based entirely on rejecting another individual's opinion founded on the situation or condition of that individual's understanding of an assertion but fail to believe in the same is not proof of denial towards the truth, but rather refuting the factual description of understanding and abstract thinking of the psychological imagination (Rushby, 2020). Is God’s existence true? In my view, the answer to this question shall always be yes. Can it be termed as absurd if one believes that God does not exist if he or she understands and accepts God’s existence claim? I would say no to this question.


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Charlesworth, M.J., ed. and trans. 1979. St. Anselm’s Proslogion: with a reply on Behalf of the fool by Gaunilo and The Author’s Reply to Gaunilo. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

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Dicker, G. (1988). A Refutation of Rowe’s Critique of Anselm’s Ontological Argument.  Faith And Philosophy5(2), 193-202.

Eder, G., & Ramharter, E. (2015). Formal reconstructions of St. Anselm’s ontological argument.  Synthese192(9), 2795-2825.

Rushby, J. (2020). Mechanized analysis of Anselm’s modal ontological argument.  International Journal For Philosophy Of Religion89(2), 135-152.

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