The Proslogion (Latin Proslogium; English translation, Discourse on the Existence of God), written in 1077–1078, was written as a prayer, or meditation, by the medieval cleric Anselm which serves to reflect on the attributes of God and endeavours to explain how God can have qualities which often seem contradictory. In the course of this meditation, the first known formulations of the ontological argument for the existence of God was set out.
Faith Seeking Understanding
His original title for the discourse was Faith Seeking Understanding. The Proslogion is the source for Anselm's famous and highly controversial ontological arguments for the existence of God. Anselm's first and most famous argument is found at the end of chapter 2 of the Proslogion; whereas, his second argument is found shortly afterward. While opinions concerning Anselm's twin ontological arguments differ widely (and have been from the moment the Proslogion was written), it is generally agreed that the argument is most convincing to Anselm's intended audience: that is, Christian believers seeking a rational basis for their belief in God.
There are different reconstructions of Anselm's first argument, for example (after Dr. Scott H. Moore's analysis):
- One can imagine a being than which none greater can be conceived.
- We know that existence in reality is greater than existence in the mind alone.
- If the being we imagine exists only in our mind, then it is not a "being than which none greater can be conceived".
- A being than which none greater can be conceived must also exist in reality.
- Failure to exist in reality would be failure to be a being than which none greater can be conceived.
- Thus a being than which none greater can be conceived must exist, and we call this being God.
The excitement this argument has inspired over the last thousand years is emphasised by the simple fact that nobody has ever given a well formed and generally accepted refutation of the argument. Immanuel Kant gave his own objection, though it was not aimed specifically at Anselm's argument, but all ontological arguments. In fact it's actually unclear as to whether Kant had Anselm in mind at all. Kant's objection is famously put 'existence is not a predicate'. If Kant were considering Anselm's work in his analysis, he certainly leaves it up to the reader to grasp the applicability of the objection. One possible interpretation is to say that, because existence is not a predicate, a being that exists could not be said to be greater than one that does not exist, they would be equal. Kant's objection is not commonly accepted however, possibly because, despite existence possibly being not a predicate or maybe a unique one anyhow, it is very easy to see how an existent God would be greater than a non-existent one.
Like Anselm's first argument, his second ontological argument can be formulated in numerous ways. For instance, William Viney renders the second argument as follows (Dombrowski, 2006):
- “God” means “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
- The idea of God is not contradictory.
- That which can be thought of as not existing (a contingent being) is not as great as that which cannot be thought of as not existing (a necessary being).
- Therefore, to think of God as possibly not existing (as contingent) is not to think of the greatest conceivable being. It is a contradiction to think of the greatest conceivable being as nonexistent.
- Therefore, God exists.
CHAPTER I: A rousing of the Mind to the contemplation of God
Come on now little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, "I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek."
CHAPTER II: That God Truly Exists
CHAPTER III: That God Cannot be Thought Not to Exist
CHAPTER IV: How the Fool Managed to Say in His Heart That Which Cannot be Thought
CHAPTER V: That God is whatever it is better to be than not to be, and that existing through Himself alone He makes all other beings from nothing
CHAPTER VI: How He is perceptive although He is not a body
CHAPTER VII: How He is omnipotent although He cannot do many things
CHAPTER VIII: How He is both merciful and impassible
CHAPTER IX: How the all-just and supremely just One spares the wicked and justly has mercy on the wicked
CHAPTER X: How He justly punishes and justly spares the wicked
CHAPTER XI: How 'all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth', and yet how 'the Lord is just in all His ways'
CHAPTER XII: That God is the very life by which He lives and that the same holds for like attributes
CHAPTER XIII: How He alone is limitless and eternal, although other spirits are also limitless and eternal
CHAPTER XIV: How and why God is both seen and not seen by those seeking Him
CHAPTER XV: How He is greater than can be thought
CHAPTER XVI: That this is the 'inaccessible light' in which He 'dwells'
CHAPTER XVII: That harmony, fragrance, sweetness, softness, and beauty are in God according to His own ineffable manner
CHAPTER XVIII: That there are no parts in God or in His eternity which He is
CHAPTER XIX: That He is not in place or time but all things are in Him
CHAPTER XX: That He is before and beyond even all eternal things
CHAPTER XXI: Whether this is the 'age of the age' or the 'ages of the ages'
CHAPTER XXII: That He alone is what He is and who He is
CHAPTER XXIII: That this good is equally Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and that this is the one necessary being which is altogether and wholly and solely good
CHAPTER XXIV: A speculation as to what kind and how great this good is
CHAPTER XXV: Which goods belong to those who enjoy this good and how great they are
CHAPTER XXVI: Whether this is the 'fullness of joy' which the Lord promises
- Logan, Ian (2009). Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Arguments and its Significance Today, p. 85. Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, VT.
- Medieval Sourcebook
- English translation of Proslogion:
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Anselm of Canterbury. "Anselm's Proslogium or Discourse on the Existence of God". Medieval Sourcebook. Sidney N. Deane (trans.). Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies. Retrieved July 25, 2006.
- Anselm of Canterbury. "Anselmus Cantuariensis Proslogion". The Latin Library (in Latin). Retrieved July 25, 2006.