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Medieval Philosophers focused on questions of natural theology: What can the human mind, through unaided reason (that is, separate from what faith might tell us), know about the existence and the nature of God? We look first to the writing of St. Anselm (1033-1109), who offers what is known as the Ontological Proof of the Existence of God. Unlike what we will see from St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in the next Module, Anselm offers a proof that does not start with, or even make any reference to, sensory knowledge. I break this proof down into five points:
1. The proof from Anselm is a conceptual proof. In philosophical terms we call this an a prioriproof, which simply means that the argument is prior or independent of sense knowledge. This simply means that Anselm’s proof is done through conceptual analysis; he thinks the very Idea (Essence, Definition, or Concept) of God necessarily implies the Existence of God in much the same way that the concept of a triangle necessarily implies certain qualities of a triangle, such as the interior three angles totally 180 degrees. One simply does not grasp the concept of a triangle if one doesn’t see the 180 degrees implication; analogously, one simply does not understand the concept of God if one fails to recognize the necessary Existence of God.
2. The Concept of God: That than which nothing greater can be conceived. If you can think of any way for God to improve, you are not thinking of God accurately. By definition, God has all the perfections in an infinite degree.
3. A perfection is something good that a being might have, such as intelligence, power, beauty, etc. Anything good that any being might have is surely something God (that than which nothing greater can be conceived) would have.
4. Existence is a perfection. This is the premise that is usually the focus of scholarly debate. Critics of this proof will argue that it is a category mistake to think of existence as something a being has. Existence, these critics will argue, is simply a matter of fact—beings don’t have it.
5. Therefore, God exists.
In this Reflection Essay I ask you to give your reaction to this proof: Do you think it is compelling? Is it understandable? Is it persuasive?
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