Unveiling St. Anselm's Ontological Argument

Categories: ArgumentsPhilosophy

Exploring St. Anselm's Ontological Argument

St. Anselm's ontological argument stands as a significant contribution to philosophical discourse, seeking to elucidate the existence of God through pure reason rather than empirical evidence. Anselm's approach diverges from traditional theological proofs, as he contends that the very concept of God necessitates His existence.

Historical Context of Anselm's Argument

It is imperative to situate Anselm's ontological argument within its historical context to grasp its significance. Anselm, a medieval philosopher and theologian, developed his argument in the 11th century, amidst the intellectual ferment of medieval Europe.

Influenced by the scholastic tradition and his predecessors, Anselm sought to reconcile faith with reason through rigorous philosophical inquiry.

Understanding the Ontological Argument

Anselm's ontological argument hinges on a series of logical deductions derived from the concept of God. He begins by asserting that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being. From this premise, Anselm argues that existence is a necessary attribute of perfection, as a being that exists in reality is greater than one that exists merely in the mind.

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Key Premises of Anselm's Argument

The crux of Anselm's argument lies in his formulation that existence is an essential attribute of perfection. He posits that if God, as the greatest conceivable being, lacks existence, then He would not be the greatest conceivable being. Therefore, it is inconceivable for God not to exist, as existence is inherent to His nature.

Anselm's Logical Deductions

Anselm proceeds to deduce that God's existence is necessary based on the very concept of His perfection.

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He argues that if God exists in the understanding alone, then a greater being—one that exists in reality—can be conceived. Since God is defined as the greatest conceivable being, He must exist not only in the understanding but also in reality to maintain His status as the greatest.

Comparative Analysis with Other Arguments

Anselm's ontological argument distinguishes itself from other classical arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological and teleological arguments. While the cosmological argument posits a first cause or unmoved mover, and the teleological argument infers a designer from the order and complexity of the universe, Anselm's argument relies solely on the concept of God's perfection.

Critique and Evaluation

Despite its ingenuity, Anselm's ontological argument has faced critiques and scrutiny throughout history. Critics have raised objections concerning the validity of defining existence as a necessary attribute of perfection and the reliance on conceptual reasoning divorced from empirical evidence. Additionally, some argue that Anselm's argument only works within the confines of Christian theology and may not be persuasive to non-believers.

Contemporary Relevance and Application

Despite its medieval origins, Anselm's ontological argument continues to provoke scholarly debate and philosophical inquiry in contemporary discourse. Philosophers and theologians engage with Anselm's argument to explore the nature of existence, the limits of human understanding, and the relationship between faith and reason in a modern context.

Legacy and Influence of Anselm's Argument

Although Anselm's ontological argument has evolved and been refined over the centuries, its impact on Western philosophical thought remains profound. His emphasis on the primacy of reason in matters of faith laid the groundwork for subsequent philosophical explorations into the existence and nature of God. Furthermore, Anselm's argument continues to inspire theologians, philosophers, and seekers of truth to grapple with the profound questions of existence and divinity.


  1. S. D. Deane, (Trans. ), St. Anselm, Basic Writings (Second Ed. ), La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1994.
Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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Unveiling St. Anselm's Ontological Argument. (2016, Nov 22). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/anselms-cosmological-argument-essay

Unveiling St. Anselm's Ontological Argument essay
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