Jason Cather on Anselm’s Ontological Argument

Jason Cather (University of Chicago)

“Anselm and the Existential Fallacy”

Wednesday, December 2, 4:30 pm

Swift 200

RECEPTION TO FOLLOW AT IDA NOYES PUB

after Unknown artist, line engraving, late 16th century

Virtually every critic of the ontological argument agrees that it is fallacious, but it is hard to find consensus on the fallacy (or fallacies) committed.  This paper covers a number of these accusations, and explains why we should not find them troubling. It then turns to an objection, offered by John Hick, that the argument in Anselm commits the existential fallacy. In focusing on this fallacy in particular, I offer a defense of Anselm against these charges. Since Anselm’s day, there has been a shift from Aristotelian understanding of existential syllogisms to Boolean interpretations. This paper will examine the significance of that shift for Anselm’s argument, and suggest how we might rescue Anselm from trouble caused by this development. No prior experience with formal logic is assumed. Reading Hick’s objection would be appreciated, though not required.

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