Friday, March 12, 2010

Would you briefly explain the essence of the 'ontological argument' and offer your opinion on its success (or failure)?

The ontological argument depends on the notion that how we understand being entails the necessity of the greatest being and that that greatest being is what we call God.

(I realize I'm departing from the classic formulation which depends upon our capacity to have an idea of God, but that's because I don't think anyone has an idea of the God that the ontological argument believes in).

It is most famously associated with Anselm, and to a lesser extent Descartes. It has been revived recently in continental circles by Marion (and Levinas) and in analytic circles by Plantinga.

Spinoza offers what appears to be something similar to the ontological argument in book one of the ethics, but because he is proving the monism of substance rather than a transcendence of God he means something utterly different. More importantly, from Spinoza on I think we should understand being as possibility more than actuality (this is what virtually all analytic critics of Heidegger, beginning with Carnap and Ryle, have missed).

So does that mean that the ontological argument shows the possibility of God? No because we do not in fact have an idea of God. But there are good reasons why we think we do.

As Nietzsche says (and I'm paraphrasing) --- we will not get rid of God until we get rid of grammar.

Ask me anything

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