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Anselm's Philosophy - Sophomore Paper


Anselm=s definition of AGod@ starts by saying that God is
the greatest being we can possibly think of. When Anselm
states this, it essentially means that it is not possible
to think of a being greater than God. Anselm also states
that if God is the greatest thinkable being, he is
referring to the fact that it would be impossible to
imagine or to create in ones mind someone or something
being better than God. Therefore, it would be impossible to
say that God only exists in ones mind because it is much
greater to exist in reality than it is to exist only in
ones mind. Anselm then suggests that God has many
attributes which describe him. Among these being:
self-existent, a necessary being, omnipotent, omniscient,
completely just and timelessly eternal. After reading the
Proslogion by Anselm, it gave me a greater understanding of
these attributes listed above. Although, they are all of
equal importance, I feel the most prominent of God=s
attributes is the fact that he is self existent. In
essence, that means that God depends on nothing else for
his existence, he is uncaused. Therefore, his existence is
timelessly-eternal. This means that God cannot stop
existing. On the other hand, contingent beings (such as
ourselves) depend on something else for their existence.
One example of this is, that as a child we utterly depended
on our parents for food, clothing, and shelter. Contingent
beings therefore can begin to be or cease to be at anytime.
They can, unlike God, be here today and gone tomorrow.
Anselm uses the definition of God (the ontological
argument), in which I have described above, to prove God=s
existence. As I mentioned, Anselm believes that God is the
greatest being we can possibly think of. He does this by
first trying to prove the opposite of what he really wants
to prove. For example, lets suppose God does not exist in
reality. We then could think of something greater, a being
that has all the same virtuous characteristics as we think
God as having, but also being able to exist in reality. He
then tries to prove that this supposition leads to a
conclusion which cannot possibly be true. Then the original
God would not actually be the greatest thinkable being,
this new something else, that actually exists would be.
This new God which actually exists would then be able to be
seen, heard and touched by the individuals who believe he
exists as the greatest thinkable being. Nevertheless, it is
obviously impossible that the greatest being we can think
of should not be the greatest being we can think of.
Therefore, the conclusion that God does not exist must be
false. Anselm then believes that the opposite of this
supposition must then be true. A perfect God must actually
must exist in reality. Otherwise, God would not be totally
perfect. Existence is perfection. AIt is one thing for
something to exist in a persons thought and quite another
for the person to think that thing to exist.@ (Anselm
Chapter 2) A modern day example of Anselm=s theory is that
if I can really imagine a perfect girl for me. This girl
would actually exist somewhere in the world. A girl with
all of the best qualities that I can possibly imagine
someone as having. She would be everything that I am
looking for. According to Anselm=s beliefs, she would most
defiantly exist. AFor if it exists only in the
understanding , it can be thought to exist in reality as
well, which is greater.@ (Anselm p.380 Chap.2)
Anselm uses God=s definition to argue that God cannot be
thought not to exist. Anselm does this by stating that God
cannot even be thought not to exist, not only is his
existence a fact but his non-existence is completely
impossible. He confirms this by saying AAnd indeed whatever
exists except you alone can be thought of as not existing.
You alone of all things most truly exists and thus enjoy
existence to the fullest degree of all things, because
nothing else exists so undoubtedly, and thus everything
else enjoys being in a lesser degree.@ (Anselm Chapter 3)
The nonexistence of all other beings is possible, but when
it comes to the nonexistence of the most perfect thinkable
being, it is not possible. The argument for God=s existence
is very similar to the argument that it is impossible for
one to believe that God does not exist. After reading
Anselm=s ontological argument, I had a difficult time
debating whether I believed his theories justified God=s
existence. Basically, I came to the conclusion that Anselm
has not thoroughly proven his theories to be true. Also,
after reading Gaunilo=s Reply on Behalf of The Fool, it
greatly confirmed my doubts and uncertainties about
Anselm=s ontological theories. Gaunilo did a superb job at
dissecting each of Anselm=s theories, point by point. He
did this best by using strong arguments and explicit
examples. The most powerful example Gaunilo used to
discredit Anselm was the theory of Athe Lost Island.@ This
example is basically about an island (somewhere in the
ocean) which is said to be Amore plentifully endowed than
even the Isles of the Blessed with indescribable abundance
of all riches and delights.@ (Anselm p.396)
If someone should tell me such a story, I would find it
rather easy to understand what the story teller was saying.
I could even almost picture what this island would look
like. But if this storyteller went on to say that this
island actually exists without a doubt, AI would have a
hard time deciding who is the bigger fool, me if I believe
him or him if he thinks he has proved its existence@
(Anselm p.396) According to Anselm=s theory, Anselm would
most likely believe that the island exists in reality. But,
I tend to agree with Gaunilo when he says Ait must be
proved to me by some unassailable argument that this being
merely needs to be thought in order for the understanding
to perceive with complete certainty that it undoubtedly
exists.@ (Anselm p.394) Furthermore, to get a better
understanding of Anselm=s theories, I believe the wording
needs to be tightened up. When that is done, it brings out
many contradicting statements within his theory. In which
case, Anselm=s philosophy tends to lose much of its
credibility. An example of one of these contradictions is
when Anselm says Aa being existing in reality is greater
than to exist only in the understanding. Now if another
being exists only in the understanding, then whatever also
exists in reality is greater than it. Thus, that which is
greater than everything else will be less than something,
and not greater than everything else. @ (Anselm P.394) I
also believe there are three additional major flaws within
Anselm=s theory. The first being, that Anselm=s theory
states that God is everything to everyone. I find this hard
to believe because each and every individual has a
different view of how he or she perceives God. I believe
this all starts with Anselm=s vague definition of God (he
is the greatest being we can possibly think of) mearly
because many different people have many different views of
God. Within our society there are no two individuals whom
are exactly alike. Therefore, each unique individual
develops his or her own specific beliefs and perception of
God. As children we are taught religious beliefs through
our families, but we do not necessarily have to accept nor
follow these beliefs once we get older. Typically, as we
grow into adulthood, we develop our own beliefs. I believe
there are no two individuals who will give God the same
exact attributes and if two different individuals give God
opposing attributes, it is impossible for God to exist. It
would be impossible for God to be everything to everyone.
For example, one may believe that God is a forgiving being,
while another may believe that God punishes beings for
doing wrong. By Anselm=s definition, God can=t have both
attributes. A final problem that I have with Anselm=s
philosophy is that he believes that if you can imagine
something existing then it defiantly does exist. In the
book Anselm=s critics state Athat someone who does not know
the meaning of the word, who thinks only of the impression
made on his mind by hearing the word and tries to imagine
its meaning.@ (Anselm P. 395) There is no way to use a word
such as God as a being or an existence because I believe
that everyone has a different definition. I can understand
the words Agreatest possible being@ but understanding this
does not necessarily mean that such a being exists. For
example, I understand the words Aflying car@, but we all
know that there are no flying cars. But Anselm argues that
AI have the concept of this being in my mind, therefore
this being exists.@ (Anselm p.395) I believe that this is
where Anselm takes a giant leap of faith. In conclusion to
whether Anselm=s definition of God gives actual proof of
God=s existence, I believe that the only way to believe
that God actually exists is by having true faith in him.
Although, Anselm gives many possible reasons for God=s
existence. Most of these reasons are rather vague and



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