We were talking about little Anselm, the 11th century Italian-French dreamer who proved the existence of God. Or did he?
Something of an intellectual athlete, Anselm wrote a complicated classical-style work called the “Monologion” that presented a portfolio of proofs nobody reads anymore. Then he realized his pretzel-chain of logic was too curvy for something as simple as God. So he went back to work.
The effort in which he formulated his famous proof was more of a meditation on faith than a piece of classical philosophizing. Called the “Proslogion,” the key, much-noodled-over passage goes like this:
“It is quite possible to think of something whose nonexistence cannot be thought of. This must be greater than something whose nonexistence can be thought of. So if this thing … can be thought of as not existing, then, that very thing … is not that than which a greater cannot be thought. This is a contradiction.”
Try this instead:
- Define God as the thing that is so great nothing greater can even be conceived
- In other words, God is “That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought” (famous phrase)
- Now imagine this God does not exist
- You can’t – as Anselm says, what you’re thinking is “a contradiction”
- How so?
- Because if you are thinking of a God who exists only in your mind – not in reality – than you are NOT thinking of the greatest thing ever
- Why not?
- Because it is “greater” to exist in reality than to exist only in the mind
- There is no #10
- This proof does not go to 11
Tomorrow: The famous “Lost Island” — Or, how a contemporary of Anselm seemed to utterly destroy this argument …