Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kant's Objection Against Ontological Argument


Anselm’s ontological argument in fact wholly depends on the definition of God. Thus, even if a single attribute can be denied to God, then the whole argument collapses. Thus an atheist has to just find out one single attribute and prove that God cannot have it, and it would be sufficient to reject the whole idea of God as a mere fantasy.

But before we find loop holes in Anselm’s argument let’s see how another influential philosopher Descartes came up with his own ontological argument. This is how he argues his case for existence of God.

Premise 1: God is a perfect being.


Premise 2: Existence is perfection

Conclusion: God must exist.

Now, how good is this argument and how it is different from Anselm’s argument?


Here again everything rests on what perfection is.

Descartes was aware of the fact that merely conceiving something is not a proof for the existence of the same thing in reality. 

Thus instead proving that God exist in reality (which no one has ever been able to prove) Descartes said that existence which is real is perfect, and since perfection is one of the attributes of God, God must exist. Sounds like reverse engineering!

Like if you accept the existence of a triangle, then you will also have to accept that it has three sides and three angles.

But as we can see that instead of telling us more about his idea of perfection on which his whole argument rests, he is merely trying to prove that we will have to accept existence of God if we accept perfection of existence. 

Thus it is more or less same argument only thing is that it rest on premise, 'Existence is perfection.'   

The most valid and strong objection against ontological argument came from the great German philosopher, 

Immanuel Kant ( 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) from Konigsberg. He did so through his most famous and influential work ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ published in 1781. Kant believed that through this work he has solved all the problems of metaphysics or at least has given a key to solve any metaphysical problem. 

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) CC
   
Kant simply reduced the size of Anselm’s God by telling that if something exists in our mind, and if it also exists in reality then by no means can we conclude that what exist in reality is any better than what exist in our mind. What exists in reality is only an affirmation of what exist in our mind.

To explain it better he used the idea of one hundred coins.

Kant said that an idea of a pile of 100 coins that exist in my mind and the pile of 100 coins that exist in reality will have the same worth. Thus adding existence to the idea will not make it any better but will only affirm of what is.

Thus existence is not a predicate, or existence in reality is not a special attribute of God, because it virtually adds nothing to the idea of God.

Now, coming back to Descartes’s ontological argument Kant attacks the very premise on which the whole argument rest i.e. Existence is perfection.

Kant says, “How do we define perfection? How do we measure perfection? and if something is perfect then there must exist something that is imperfect. Same can be said about existence. If something exist we cannot say anything else about it, but only that it exist. How do we form the concept of non existence?

Kant accepted that if one accepts the existence of a triangle then one will also have to necessarily accept its three sides and also its three angles. But, however, logically speaking it is possible to reject the three sides of a triangle and the triangle itself.

In fact Kant questioned the attributes themselves. Like saying that from where these three sides came and why do they have to join in such a manner that they form three angles. Thus if you cannot explain the origin of three sides and why they should join as you say, first, then you cannot form a concept of a triangle either.

Thus if we reject the entire concept of God that is all His attributes then, existence is also denied.

In his own words Kant's answer to Anselm is,

“It always remains a scandal of philosophy and universal human  reason that the existence of things outside us ... should have to be assumed merely on faith, and that if it occurs to anyone to doubt it, we should be unable to answer him with a satisfactory proof.”
Thus existence of God cannot be assumed merely on faith.

7 comments:

Moi said...

I am just curious, what is your personal opinion of the ontological argument?

Yogendra Rawat said...

Personally i do not believe or accept the ontological argument. However, i am not an atheist and i do believe in God.

Tushar said...

This was a nice read...is the blog still active ?

Anonymous said...

Does God's existence depend on the reasoning of a finite mind?

Unknown said...

Yogendra Rawat.....If you believe in God, you must have some evidence that one exist....What evidence do you have?

Yogendra Rawat said...

I donot believe in God and i donot have any evidence.

Blogger said...

Evidence? Look for the smoking gun, its all around you!

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