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The Miracle of Theism 3: Ontological Arguments


(a) Descartes’ Proof and Kant’s Criticism
Descartes says that God and existence go together like a mountain and a valley. The existence is part of his perfection. Assuming this is true, there are a few responses. One is that existence is not an attribute. It is that upon which attributes rely. Mackie leaves this aside as controversial. Instead, he relies on the objection that even if we assume that X has as an inherent attribute existence, it is still coherent to ask if there is an X or not. This seems weird. ‘X does not exist’ is contradictory, but ‘There is no X’ is not? There is no thing which has existence as a necessary attribute. Hmmm. I suppose that is coherent.

(b) Anselm’s Ontological Proof and Gaunilo’s Reply
This is the more famous one.Anselm said that we can conceive of a the best being. But if we wouldn’t be able to conceive of it just as existing in the mind, since that would mean there could be a better being, namely one which exists in the mind and in the world. Therefore the best being exists if it exists in the mind.

The lost island objection is floated, but replied to, and Mackie thinks the reply works. Ultimately, he relies on the same answer as above. We can think of a being that has existence as a necessary attribute, but we can still step outside of the question and ask if there is such a being. Mackie would say it is coherent to claim that there is no being greater than which nothing can be conceived.

(c) Plantinga’s Ontological Proof
Maximal greatness is the feature of omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in all universes. It is possible that something exists that is maximally great, which means that there is a possible universe in which a maximally great being exists. If a being is maximally great in one universe, it is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect in all universes. Boom.

A lot of complex writing here, but the reply is bringing up no-maximality. It is possible that there is no maximal being in any universe. That means in one universe, there is no maximally great being in any universe. Therefore there is no maximal being.

This argument is just as valid as Plantinga’s ontological proof, but it goes the opposite way. Plantinga himself brings it up. Then he says it is rational to accept the first proof, since it is sort of a toss up. Mackie’s reply is that Occam’s razor cuts the first away. It is less extreme to assume something doesn’t exist than to assume it exists. Or one could just withhold judgment. Or perhaps the double validity of the arguments should make one suspicious of the entire argumentative structure.

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