Proslogion: With the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm

Proslogion: With the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm

Proslogion: With the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm

Proslogion: With the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm

Synopsis

Thomas Williams' edition offers an Introduction well suited for use in an introductory philosophy course, as well as his own preeminent translation of the text.

Excerpt

The original title of the Proslogion was “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum), a motto that aptly summarizes Anselm’s approach to philosophical theology generally and to the arguments of the Proslogion in particular. But what does this motto mean? Many philosophers have taken it to mean that Anselm hopes to replace faith with understanding. They take ‘faith’ to mean roughly ‘belief on the basis of testimony’ and ‘understanding’ to mean ‘belief on the basis of philosophical insight’. And naturally philosophers will think that understanding is a much better thing to have; any self-respecting philosopher would surely want to leave faith behind as quickly as possible. On this reading of “faith seeking understanding,” Anselm’s proof of the existence of God is interpreted as the means by which we come to have philosophical insight into things we previously believed solely on testimony. But as I have argued elsewhere, Anselm is not hoping to replace faith with understanding. Faith for Anselm has more to do with our wills than with our beliefs: faith means love for God and a drive to act as God wills. In fact, Anselm describes the sort of faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” as “dead” (Monologion 78). So “faith seeking understanding” means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”

Other philosophers have noted that “faith seeking understanding” begins with “faith,” not with doubt or suspension of belief. After all, when he wrote the Proslogion (probably in 1077–1078), Anselm was an official of the Abbey of Bec and oversaw the

1. This Introduction incorporates material from more extended discus
sions I have published elsewhere. See my Introduction to Monologion and
Proslogion with the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm (Hackett, 1996) and “Saint
Anselm” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2000 edition),
ed. Edward N. Zalta (http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2000/
entries/anselm/).

2. Introduction to Monologion and Proslogion with the Replies of Gaunilo
and Anselm (Hackett, 1996), xiii–xiv.

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