Anselm's Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Proof for God's Existence

By Charles Hartshorne | Go to book overview
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PART ONE

NECESSARILY SOMEHOW ACTUALIZED: ANSELM'S PROOF IN NEW PERSPECTIVE


1. Blunder or Discovery?

Did Anselm, in his 'Ontological Argument'--about the year 1070--make one of the greatest intellectual discoveries of all time, or did he merely fall into an interesting blunder? Or was there, in this case as in so many others, a combination of discovery and error? We shall see reason to think that there was indeed a discovery, and a great one, but that Anselm was in part mistaken as to its nature. His critics have clarified certain aspects of the problem to which he pointed, but, alas, have also generally obscured the discovery itself. Nor have his best- known defenders understood it much better.

What was this discovery? In crude anticipatory outline, it was the following: Assuming certain 'meaning postulates' (to use Carnap's helpful phrase) concerning the import of 'God' and certain related terms, it follows that the existence of God is a logical or analytic truth. The meaning postulates can be rejected, but the position then taken is not atheism, as commonly understood (or agnosticism either) but positivism (as I shall use this label), the view that the divine existence is logically impossible. The sole alternative to the necessary truth

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