« Prev 1. The Ontological Argument. Next »

§ 1. The Ontological Argument.

This is a metaphysical à priori argument. It is designed to show that the real objective existence of God is involved in the very idea of such a Being. It is commonly made to include all arguments which are not à posteriori; that is, which do not proceed from effect to cause. It has, therefore, been presented in different forms. The principal of which are the following: —

1. That in which it is presented by Anselm in his “Monologium,” and more fully and definitely in his “Proslogium.” The argument is substantially this. That which exists in re is greater than that which exists only in the mind. We have an idea of an infinitely perfect Being; but actual existence is included, in infinite perfection. Because, if actual existence be a perfection, and if God is not actually existent, then we can conceive of a Being greater than God. His words134134Proslogium ii. Opera, Paris, 1721, p. 30 b. are, “Et certe id, quo majus cogitari nequit, non potest esse in intellectu solo. Si enim vel in solo intellectu est, potest cogitari esse et in re, quod majus est. . . . . Existit ergo procul dubio aliquid, quo majus cogitari non valet, et in intellectu et in re.” This argument assumes that existence is of the nature of a perfection. It adds, however, nothing to the idea. The idea in itself may be complete, although there be no objective existence to answer to it. Anselm regarded the negation of the existence of God as impossible; for God is the highest truth, the highest being, the highest good, of whom all other truth and good are the manifestations. Necessity of existence is included, according to this doctrine, in the idea or absolute perfection. In 205other words, it is included in the idea of God. And as every man has the idea of God, he must admit his actual existence; for what is necessary is of course actual. It does not follow from our idea of a man, that he actually exists, because man is not necessarily existent. But it is absurd to say that a necessarily existing Being, does not exist. If this argument has any validity, it is unimportant. It is only saying that what must be actually is. If the idea of God as it exists in every man's mind includes that of actual existence, then so far as the idea goes, he who has the one has the other. But the argument does not show how the ideal implies the real.135135On this argument are Ritter's Geschicte der Christlichen Philosophie, vol. iii, pp. 334-340. Sneed's History of Doctrine, i. pp. 229-237. Baur's Dreieinigkeitslehre ii. 374.

Des Cartes’ Argument.

2. Des Cartes' argument was in this form. We have the idea of an infinitely perfect Being. As we are finite, that idea could not have originated with us. As we are conversant only with the finite, it could not have originated from anything around us. It must, therefore, have come from God, whose existence is thus a necessary assumption. “Habemus ideam Dei, hujusque ideæ realitas objectiva nec formaliter nec eminenter in nobis continetur, nec in ullo alio præterquam in ipso Deo potest contineri; ergo hæc idea Dei, quæ in nobis est, requirit Deum pro causa; Deusque proinde existit.136136Meditationes de Prima Philosophia prop. ii. p 89, edit. Amsterdam, 1685. It is true we have many ideas or conceptions to which there is no answering existence. But in such cases the ideas are arbitrary, or voluntary creations of our own minds. But the idea of God is necessary; we cannot help having it. And having it, there must be a Being who answers to it. Des Cartes illustrates his argument by saying, that as it is included in our idea of a triangle, that its angles are equal to two right angles, it is so in fact. The cases, however, are not parallel. It is only saying that a triangle is what it is, namely, a three-sided figure, whose angles are equal to two right angles. But the existence of God as a fact is not included in the definition of Him. Kant expresses this in philosophical language, saying that if the predicate be removed, the subject is removed; because an analytic judgment is a mere analysis, or full statement of what is in the subject. The judgment that the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, is only an analysis of the subject. It is a simple statement of what a triangle is; and therefore, if you take away the equality of the angles, you take away the triangle. But in a synthetic judgment, 206there is a synthesis, a putting together. Something is added in the judgment which is not in the subject. In this case that something is actual existence. We may infer from the idea of a perfect being, that he is wise and good; but not that he actually is; because reality is something added to the mere idea.

The only difference between the argument of Des Cartes and that of Anselm, appears to be merely formal. The one infers the existence of God, in order to account for the idea; the other argues that actual existence is included in the idea. The same illustration, therefore, is employed by the advocates of both. The argument of Anselm is the same as that derived from the definition of a triangle. You cannot think of a triangle without thinking of it as having three angles; so you cannot think of God without thinking of Him as actually existent; because actual existence enters as essentially into the idea of God, as “triangularity" enters into that of a triangle. There are, doubtless, minds which are affected by this kind of reasoning; but it has no power over the generality of men.

Dr. Samuel Clarke's Argument.

3. Dr. Samuel Clarke, equally distinguished as a mathematician, as a linguist, and as a metaphysician, published in 1705, his celebrated “Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God.” So far as the Being of God is concerned his argument is à priori. Nothing, he says, is necessarily existent, the non-existence of which is conceivable. We can conceive of the non-existence of the world; therefore the world is not necessarily existing and eternal. We cannot, however, conceive of the non-existence of space and duration; therefore space and duration are necessary and infinite. Space and duration, however, are not substances; therefore, there must he an eternal and necessary substance (i.e., God), of which they are the accidents. This argument at best gives us only the idea of a necessary and infinite something; which no class of anti-theists are disposed to deny. To determine what this eternal substance is, what attributes belong to it, reference must be made to the phenomenal world, and the argument becomes à posteriori. It has been objected to Dr. Clarke's argument that it is not properly à priori. It infers from the existence of the and space the existence of a substantial Being.


Cousin's Argument.

4. Cousin, in his “Elements of Psychology,” repeats continually the same argument in a somewhat different form. The idea of the infinite, he says, is given in that of the finite. We cannot have the one without having the other. “These two ideas are logical correlatives; and in the order of their acquisition, that of the finite and imperfect precedes the other; but it scarcely precedes it. It is not possible for the reason, as soon as consciousness furnishes the mind with the idea of the finite and imperfect, not to conceive the idea of the infinite and perfect. Now, the infinite and perfect is God.”137137Elements of Psychology, p. 375. Translated by Prof. Henry, New York, 1856. Here again the argument is, that that is real of which we have an idea. This is not indeed assumed as a general proposition. We can imagine, says Cousin, a gorgon, or centaur, and we can imagine them not to exist; but it is not in our power, when the finite and imperfect are given, not to conceive of the infinite and perfect. This is not a chimera, he says, it is the necessary product of reason; and, therefore, it is a legitimate product. The idea of the finite and imperfect is a primitive idea, given in the consciousness; and therefore, the correlative, idea of the infinite and perfect given by necessity and by the reason, must also be primitive.138138Page 376. At other times he presents this subject in a different light. He teaches that, as the mind in perception takes cognizance of the object as a real existence, distinct from itself, so the reason has an apprehension, or immediate cognition of the Infinite, with a necessary conviction of its reality as distinguished (in one sense) from itself. Self, nature, and God are alike and equally involved in the intuitive apprehension of the mind; and they are inseparable. This is very different from the common doctrine of the knowledge of God as innate, or intuitive. The latter doctrine only assumes that such is the nature of the human soul that it is intuitively convinced of its dependence on, and responsibility to a Being other than, and higher than itself. The former assumes, with the German philosophers, especially Schelling, the immediate cognition of the Infinite by the reason.

Admitting with Cousin that the ideas of the finite and infinite are correlative; that we cannot have the one without having the other; and that the mind by a rational necessity is convinced that if there be a finite, there must be an infinite; it remains to be asked. What that Infinite is? With Cousin, the Infinite is the All. Theism therefore gains nothing from these metaphysical arguments.

« Prev 1. The Ontological Argument. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |