I’m currently reading Scott Aikin’s and Robert Talisse’s book Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief. I’m finding it a strange experience. I agree with most of their substantive points, but I always find it off-putting when writers start boasting of their own civility and respectfulness.

I had to smile, though, when I came to this:

We take the Ontological Argument as the litmus test for intellectual seriousness, both for atheists and religious believers alike. Anyone who takes the question of God’s existence seriously must grapple with this fascinating argument. Those who simply cast it aside, or wield it indiscriminately, prove themselves intellectually careless. The debate over the merits of the Ontological Argument has raged at least since the Middle Ages. Anyone who cares about getting the truth about God’s existence needs to take seriously this long-standing and ongoing debate. (79)

As it happens, I also use the ontological argument as a test for intellectual seriousness. For me, though, the test works the other way around. When someone tells me it’s terribly important to take the ontological argument seriously, I know that he is, himself, not someone to be taken seriously.

In his book The Nonexistence of God, philosopher Nicholas Everitt strikes the correct tone. Referring to the triumvirate of the cosmological, teleological and ontological arguments for God’s existence, he writes:

Of the three classic proofs, the ontological argument is in several ways the most peculiar. It would probably be true to say that of the purported proofs that we will consider, all but this one have functioned for at least some theists as the factor that initially convinced them of the intellectual defensibility of theism. No doubt many people accept one or more of the arguments after they come to accept the existence of God. The arguments then function for them as a post hoc justification for what they already believe — and they are none the worse for that. But nevertheless for some people, the arguments probably function as what initially persuades them of the truth of theism. But it seems unlikely that the same could be said of the ontological argument: it is difficult to believe that anyone has been converted to theism simply by studying the ontological argument.

That comports well with my own experiences. In discussing this subject with religious people of various temperaments, I find the design argument and the cosmological argument come up all the time. Never once has anyone mentioned the ontological argument. The simple fact is that the ontological argument is both far more complicated and far less convincing than any of the other classical proofs, making it surprising that Aikin and Talisse would put so much weight on it. Whereas the design and cosmological arguments provide food for thought even while ultimately being unsuccessful, the ontological argument is just an asinine word game.

Moreover, I think this is one place where an argument from authority is actually quite strong. The ontological argument is enormously ambitious. It seeks to establish God’s existence entirely on a priori grounds, with no reference at all to any contingent facts about the world. If any such attempt were successful, you would expect the philosophical community to be able to reach at least a near-consensus that the argument was solid. Well, the philosophical community has reached consensus, but it is not the one a theist might like. You are hard-pressed to find any philosophers, even those writing from a theistic perspective, who think the ontological argument is any good at all. Perhaps, then, the professionals having already done the heavy lifting, there are better ways for non-philosopher atheists to spend their time than in working through rigorous treatments of the ontological argument. Bertrand Russell was on to something when he remarked that it is easier just to dismiss the argument as obviously absurd than it is to try to pinpoint precisely where the argument goes wrong. The argument is obviously absurd, and it is a big pain in the neck to try to wade through a rigorous discussion of it.

The argument, as presented by Aikin and Talisse, is this:

In its simple form, the Ontological Argument looks like nothing more than another Presto! argument. Indeed, the Ontological Argument seems positively magical. The core of the argument is the claim that God, by definition, is supremely perfect. As a consequence of His Supreme perfection, God is perfect in every way and lacks nothing that could make Him better. If God lacked existence, He would not be perfect, because an existing God is a better God than one that does not exist. The argument concludes that God must exist, because He, by definition, is supremely perfect. Here is another way to run the Ontological Argument: God, because He is supremely perfect, is the very best thing possible. Let’s imagine an entity with all the relevant omniproperties (omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence). Now we ask: is it more perfect to exist only in imagination or in reality? It is better to exist only in imagination or in reality? It is better to exist in reality, so God, because He is the most perfect thing, must exist in reality, too. Therefore, God exists. More important, God necessarily exists. It is impossible for Him not to.

That’s a surprisingly casual presentation, especially considering what Aikin and Talisse said earlier about how important it is to take the argument seriously. Still, it does permit us to make a few observations. The structure of the argument has us go from premises about what we can conceive to conclusions about what must exist in reality. We go from assuming that we can hold in our minds a certain conception of God, to the conclusion that this fact alone implies that God exists. That’s a mighty tenuous sort of inference. It is hard to imagine that any sound argument could have such a form.

In the present case, we can pinpoint another problem. It is terribly unclear what it means to say that a God that exists in reality is “better” than one that exists only in our minds. Here’s is Everitt, again, making the point very eloquently:

[Anselm's version of the ontological argument] suffers from a crippling confusion about what is involved in existing in the understanding. Briefly, what Anselm is assuming is (1) that there are two ways in which a thing might exist: either in the mind or in reality, and (2) that existing in the mind is an inferior way of existing. Both of these assumptions are false.

Consider the first assumption. Something that exists only in the mind does not exist at all, just as a non-existent tiger is not one kind of tiger. I understand the phrase `tenth planet from the Sun’, so that to use Anselm’s terminology, we could say that the tenth planet of the Sun `exists in my mind’. But that is compatible with saying that the tenth planet of the Sun does not exist at all — or more idiomatically, that there is no tenth planet. The situation is not, as it were, that astronomers have located the tenth planet in my mind, and then have the further task of locating it in the solar system. What is `in my mind’ is better described as a bit of linguistic competence, not a shadowy planet.

A parallel point applies to thinking of a being than whom none greater can be thought. That I understand the phrase does not show that such a being has at least one kind of existence, namely in my mind, and might possibly have another kind of existence, namely in reality. All it shows is that I have some linguistic competence.

So Anselm’s first assumption about two kinds of existence is mistaken. And since there are not the two kinds of existence which he supposes, it follows that he is mistaken that one kind of existence is superior to the other.

There are many other objections to choose from, so I think a general lack of respect for the argument is hardly a sign of intellectual unseriousness.

Interestingly, though, Aikin and Talisse take a different route. Here is their own refutation of the argument:

We start where the traditional Ontological Argument starts, namely, with the thought that God is, by definition, supremely perfect. It is important to notice what this premise means. If you’re affirming the existence of Really Good, Really Wise, and Really Powerful entity, you’re not affirming the existence of God. Similarly, if you’re denying the existence of an Extremely Powerful, Good, and Wise entity, you’re not denying God’s existence. That seems right to us. God is good, powerful, and wise all right, but His goodness, power, and wisdom must stretch beyond our inherently limited powers of comprehension. To see this, consider that God is not simply the best thing there is; He is the best possible thing. He is not simply the most powerful thing there is; He is the most powerful thing possible. He is not simply the wisest thing that exists; He is the wisest possible thing. Once we introduce these modal qualifications…, it becomes clear that we have no conception of what God’s supreme perfection consists of. In other words, supreme perfection is something that exceeds human comprehension. Perhaps we could conceive of a Really, Really Good Being, a being that is as good as we can imagine. But such a conception would necessarily fall short of capturing God’s goodness, for, again, God is the best possible being, not just the best we could imagine. …

And so it seems that if God exists, then created being must have no conception of Him or His perfection.

But here’s the rub. We do have a conception of God’s perfection. We say He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and so on. We don’t say his perfection entails instead, looking good in a sundress, making the best martinis, telling the funniest jokes, or having a winning smile. So we in fact have a conception of His perfection after all. And yet if He existed, we wouldn’t have a conception of His perfection; since we do, He doesn’t. Thus God does not exist. That’s the Ontological Argument against God’s existence What do you think?

I think that I can’t follow this at all. How on earth have they shown that God’s supreme perfection is inherently beyond human comprehension? Why can’t I picture God’s goodness, say, in the same way I think about the limit of an infinite sequence in calculus? I can picture a continuum of goodness from a complete wretch at one end, through basically decent people, and then saints, and then beyond. God exists as the limit of a sequence of better and better entities. What’s inherently beyond comprehension in that?

But let’s say they are right, and that we can only have a murky idea of God’s perfection. Why does that refute the ontological argument? Aikin and Talisse anticipate this, writing:

Anselm claimed that arguments such as ours turn on two different senses of the term conception: one meaning “to have ideas about,” and another “to have adequate ideas about.” And so though we have ideas about God and His supreme perfection, we don’t have adequate ideas about his perfection. Anselm may be right. But notice what his distinction does to the standard Ontological Argument. Once we say we don’t have an adequate conception of God’s supreme perfection, our confidence that such perfection entails existence should begin to wane. The only way to protect against our Ontological Arguent against God’s existence is to eviscerate the Ontological Argument for God’s existence.

Eviscerate? I don’t see why. Can’t Anselm reply, “Our understanding of God’s perfection may not be adequate, but it is nonetheless good enough to understand that He would be more perfect if He existed than if He did not.”

Time to wrap this up. To head off a few silly objections, let me note that I am aware, thank you, that some mighty impressive philosophers have thought the ontological argument is very worthwhile. I am also aware, thank you again, that the field has progressed since Anselm, that there is a whole family of ontological arguments, and that some modern versions based on modal logic are very complex indeed. I’m afraid that does not alter my assessment.

It seems like misplaced priorities to elevate an esoteric argument that has no existence outside of philosophy of religion courses to the status of a litmus test for intellectual seriousness. It is comparable to arguing that you can’t criticize creationism until you have mastered the technical literature in probability and information theory, and have personally dealt with the most mathematically technical versions of their arguments.

After all, how could can the Ontological Argument be if ti can be “eviscerated” in a mere two pages of casual prose?

Comments

  1. #1 csrster
    September 4, 2012

    I’ve always had problems with the idea of “more perfect” and “most perfect”. Perhaps you can conceive of a linear chain stretching from bad people at one end to God as the limit at the other end, but I can’t even decide which of my two mobile phones is more perfect, so how can I decide between different conceptions of a hypothetical being? It seems a wholly unwarranted assumption that an “ultimately perfect being” is even logically possible, given that “perfection” is such a vague concept.

  2. #2 Richard Wein
    September 4, 2012

    As it happens, I also use the ontological argument as a test for intellectual seriousness. For me, though, the test works the other way around.

    Me too. And on seeing the OP’s heading I assumed it was referring to your version of the test.

    I think you’ve given a very good reason to reject the ontological argument: It seeks to establish God’s existence entirely on a priori grounds, with no reference at all to any contingent facts about the world. Our general experience (inside and outside science) of how we manage to establish facts about reality justifies us rejecting the argument on this basis.

    I take this to be the most important part of your counter-argument, and (as I see it) your “argument from authority” is secondary. I would put it this way: despite having a prima facie very good reason to reject the argument, it would be wise to take the argument seriously if it was generally accepted by contemporary philosophers. But it isn’t.

    Given the lack of success the philosophical community has had in establishing any facts, I don’t think it has much authority. I don’t think a general philosophical acceptance of the ontological argument would give us sufficient reason to accept it ourselves, but it would probably give us sufficient reason to override our prima facie judgement of how much attention the argument deserves.

  3. #3 JimR.
    September 4, 2012

    This seems to me to have a whiff of post-modernism with the argument that anything linguistic takes on a form of its own.

  4. #4 Richard Wein
    September 4, 2012

    P.S. Given that Aikin and Talisse’s counter-argument isn’t much good, does that show that they themselves haven’t sufficiently “grappled with” the ontological argument to be considered serious truth-seekers?

  5. #5 MNb
    September 4, 2012

    “If God lacked existence, He would not be perfect”
    That’s a non-sequitur.

    “because an existing God is a better God than one that does not exist.”
    Why? I maintain that a non-existing god who created the whole sheganigan has even a higher grade of perfection.

    “The argument concludes that God must exist, because He, by definition, is supremely perfect.”
    This shows that the ontological argument is just circular.
    Let me quote my compatriot Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, a New Atheist who died in 1919:
    “Deriving a divine world from a concrete world is a salto mortale.”

    I have seen the ontological argument better formulated. If you ask me Aikin and Talisse fail their own test.

  6. #6 MNb
    September 4, 2012

    shenanigan.

  7. #7 Wow
    September 4, 2012

    Technically correct. However this assumes that the bible is a genuine account of the wishes of the Jewish God.

    However, since it is internally inconsistent, either God is mad, God didn’t write it, or He doesn’t exist.

    In any of those cases, blasphemy is morally neutral.

  8. #8 Wow
    September 4, 2012

    The only whining seems to be you on here, xjustos.

    Take it somewhere else.

  9. #9 Neil Rickert
    September 4, 2012

    I guess I am not intellectually serious. For I take the ontological argument to be nonsense, and transparently obvious nonsense at that.

    Like Jason, I am a mathematician. I would think that most mathematicians could see that the OA is tranparently obvious nonsense. That it claims to prove a substantive claim on purely a priori grounds is already enough reason for a mathematician to see that it is obvious nonsense, an attempted sleight of hand.

    It seems to me that Aikin and Talisse are, in effect, declaring mathematicians to not be intellectually serious. My own conclusion agrees with Jason – I am forced to question whether Aikin and Talisse are intellectually serious.

  10. #10 eric
    September 4, 2012

    it becomes clear that we have no conception of what God’s supreme perfection consists of. In other words, supreme perfection is something that exceeds human comprehension.

    Ah, but we can play the ontological game here, too. Supreme, perfect comprehensibility is better than partial comprehensibility*, so God must be all the standard things AND perfectly comprehensible, or he’s not God. Since the God of the bible is not perfectly comprehensible, he’s not the God of the ontological argument.

    *It works in the opposite direction too. If we premise that incomprehensibility is the “supreme perfect” state, then you’d have to say supreme, perfect incomprehensibility is better than the partial comprehensibility we are given. Either way, it is hard to defend the idea that our partial, in-the-middle comprehension represents the ‘most perfect’ comprehensibility of God.

  11. #11 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 4, 2012

    If one was forced to take the argument seriously, the first thing one needs to do is to establish a measure of “perfection”. No one has done so, and Aikin and Talisse claims it is impossible (“beyond … comprehension”).

    So it is a theoretical no go.

    But it turns out one isn’t forced to do so, because it is implicitly claiming that we can learn about the world without making observations. And science has proved by its very existence and success that isn’t so, you need to be able to test for errors to get to facts.

    So it is a practical no go.

    Yeah, I too can’t take seriously those who takes that explicitly infantile crap seriously.

  12. #12 JimR.
    September 4, 2012

    Seems to me the Intelligent Design problem of who created the Creator can be mirrored here. If I imagine the most perfect god, then what does this god imagine as the most perfect being and so forth into absurdity. No facts = no limitation on how far this goes.

  13. #13 Matt Foley
    September 4, 2012

    A universe whose creation did not require god is more perfect than one that did.

  14. #14 H.H.
    September 4, 2012

    There are several ways to deconstruct this proof, which isn’t very good to begin with. It does exploit several weaknesses of philosophy, so perhaps that’s why it’s considered so “interesting” to many. Here’s the assumption I prefer to dispute:

    Now we ask: is it more perfect to exist only in imagination or in reality? It is better to exist only in imagination or in reality? It is better to exist in reality, so God, because He is the most perfect thing, must exist in reality, too.

    First “perfect” doesn’t necessarily mean “better than” in the sense of “more preferred.” Second, it’s obvious to me that it’s more perfect to exist in the imagination than reality. We can imagine a perfect circle quite easily. It’s impossible to create a perfect circle in reality, however. The perfection of digital circle is limited by the resolution of the display. The perfection of a physical circle is limited by the irregularities inherent in physical matter.

    If god is perfect, that’s practically a slam dunk case that he exists only in the imagination.

  15. #15 Skeptico
    September 4, 2012

    Bertrand Russell was on to something when he remarked that it is easier just to dismiss the argument as obviously absurd than it is to try to pinpoint precisely where the argument goes wrong.

    Probably true, although I believe I did pinpoint precisely where the argument goes wrong over three years ago. It is a bit long, though.

    Perhaps there is a simpler rebuttal:

    The core of the argument is the claim that God, by definition, is supremely perfect.

    … the premise of the argument assumes the conclusion (that God exists). Serious enough?

  16. #16 Darth Dog
    September 4, 2012

    I agree with several commenters above that the concept of a perfect being doesn’t make sense. Something can be perfect with respect to a single attribute. I understand the idea of a perfect circle, or a perfect square. But those two attributes are contradictory, so something can’t be both at the same time.
    So God can’t be perfect in every way. God would have to be perfectly visible and perfectly invisible. Perfectly obvious yet perfectly subtle. Perfectly humorous and perfectly serious.

    That’s where theologians get into so much trouble with things like the Problem of Evil. They want God to be perfectly loving and perfectly merciful, but also perfectly just. By definition those two things are at odds. Or the whole omnipotence thing where they worried about whether God could create something too heavy for God to lift.

  17. #17 Jim Harrison
    San Francisco
    September 4, 2012

    It isn’t just philosophers who have taken the ontological argument seriously. The mathematician Godel claimed that his version of the ontological argument proved the existence of God. Granted Godel was going mad at the time he devised his proof; but, as the joke goes, crazy isn’t the same as stupid.

    A note to Torbjörn Larsson: your claim that the success of science has proven that we can’t learn about the world without observing it is pretty peculiar. How does the success of science provide evidence one way or the other about the possibility of a different way of figuring things out? You might as well argue that my invention of an excellent recipe for pasta salad shows that you don’t know how to change a tire. Non sequitur.

    I don’t buy into the ontological argument, but I think I can partly understand some of the thinking behind it. One old way of understanding modal logic takes necessary to mean always existing. By that way of thinking, the universe itself is a necessary being if it is eternal since the universe (on this account anyhow) always was, is now, always will be. It follows that if a necessary being is, by definition, God, God exists. The Stoics and Spinoza seem to have followed this line of thought. Of course what they thought of as God is more like what we think of as Nature.

  18. #18 miller
    Berkeley
    September 4, 2012

    I actually really like the Ontological arguments. I definitely don’t take it seriously though. I like it for the same reason I like Cantor’s Diagonal Argument–I admire a well-constructed proof. Ontological arguments ultimately fail to prove what they want to prove, but they can certainly be intricate. (eg: see my step by step expansion of Godel’s version)

    As for Aikin’s and Talisse’s version of the argument… that is a complete travesty! It’s okay with me if someone doesn’t take ontological arguments seriously, but you can’t claim that it should be taken seriously and then write what they wrote! They made it so ugly, it seriously offends my sense of aesthetics. :(

  19. #19 AL
    September 4, 2012

    I can conceive the supremely perfect refutation to the ontological argument. Being supremely perfect, this refutation must of necessity exist.

  20. #20 Wow
    September 4, 2012

    “How does the success of science provide evidence one way or the other about the possibility of a different way of figuring things out”

    It doesn’t, Jim. The failure of any other way of figuring things out to do any better disproves those ways of figuring things out.

  21. #21 Xuuths
    September 4, 2012

    A non-existing god is incapable of making a mistake, therefore it is greater than an existing god that could possibly make a mistake on accident.

  22. #22 MNb
    September 4, 2012

    @Skeptico: thanks for pointing out the ambiguity in the meaning of the word “god”. As so often it’s easy as soon as you see it.

  23. #23 Divalent
    September 5, 2012

    In my opinion, anything perfect must have green stripes. Does that mean that if I employ the Ontological argument, that I have established that God has green stripes?

  24. #24 Thony C.
    September 5, 2012

    Neil Rickert wrote:

    I guess I am not intellectually serious. For I take the ontological argument to be nonsense, and transparently obvious nonsense at that.

    I agree, end of discussion.

  25. #25 Valhar2000
    September 5, 2012

    I would rate the Ontological Argument about as highly as George Carlin’s “my god’s dick is bigger than your god’s dick” argument for the existence of a god.

  26. #26 Deepak Shetty
    September 5, 2012

    There are many other objections to choose from, so I think a general lack of respect for the argument is hardly a sign of intellectual unseriousness
    I interpret their objection as you must know all these objections – i.e. to criticise theological you must have both a philosophical and theological basis.

    i.e. you arent intellectually serious if your response to the ontological argument is
    http://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/ontological-arguement-kitteh-style.jpg

    Practically speaking , coyne’s image is probably more effective to illustrate to people without a background in philosophy the pointlessness of the ontological argument instead of a philosophical rebuttal.

  27. #27 Dan L.
    September 5, 2012

    It isn’t just philosophers who have taken the ontological argument seriously. The mathematician Godel claimed that his version of the ontological argument proved the existence of God. Granted Godel was going mad at the time he devised his proof; but, as the joke goes, crazy isn’t the same as stupid.

    I believe this is actually false. I believe Godel himself claimed only to have conceived the proof as an exercise in formal logic and that he didn’t consider it a valid argument for God’s existence: link

    Here’s Rudy Rucker talking about his experiences meeting with Godel: link What I find interesting about it is that Godel’s “proof” of God is laughably bad — apparently intentionally so. Godel seemed (to me, anyway) to realize that his belief in God was a matter of faith and not defensible on rational grounds, and he seems to have had a good sense of humor about it.

  28. #28 Dan L.
    September 5, 2012

    When I talk about Godel’s “proof”, I’m talking about the joke “proof” as related by Rucker, not his formal ontological argument. That might also be laughably bad but I don’t care enough to actually look at it.

  29. #29 Jim Harrison
    September 5, 2012

    To make it clear: I don’t buy any form of the ontological argument. I mentioned Godel mostly out of curiosity because I’ve never been able to figure out what he was trying to claim in his erstwhile proof and I thought a mathematician might make more sense out of it.

  30. #30 Dan L.
    September 5, 2012

    Did you read the part of the wikipedia article I linked? It’s kind of a weird situation because the quotation obliquely suggests Godel didn’t believe in God. My personal interpretation is that Godel DID believe in God (plenty of evidence attests to this) but that he didn’t want to publish his ontological argument because he was afraid people would interpret it as a serious argument for God when it was really just an exercise in applying formal logic to philosophical argumentation — for gits and shiggles as it were.

    Not sure there’s any special insight a mathematician could lend to this strange little biographical quandary. And of course there’s many interpretations of the evidence that are just as plausible as my own if not more.

  31. #31 Lenoxus
    September 5, 2012

    Has anyone refuted the most basic counterargument I know, namely that by reductio ad absurdum literally everything concievable (and/or inconcievable) exists? For example:
    1. Unicorns have horns.
    2. Nothing can have horns without actually existing.
    3. By 1 and 2, unicorns exist.

    All the discussion of what “perfection” means seems irrelevant; if you like, you can talk about the quality of “horn-having” in place of “perfection”. At the end of the day, it seems the real failure of the argument is a lack of distinction between reality and imagination. It’s almost like the way people have trouble with the blue eyes logic puzzle.

    Theist Theresa says “A god that actually exists is more perfect than one that doesn’t.” Atheist Athena replies “I don’t disagree. The god you are imagining would indeed have the quality of being real, just as the island I am imagining has the quality of being green. But all that means is that you are imagining a God which is “real” within its imaginary realm as opposed to a “fictional fictional” god (such as if you were envisioning a fantasy culture with a pagan pantheon of deities whom, unbeknownst to the imaginary pagans, aren’t even as “real” as they are). Likewise, my imaginary island isn’t merely percieved as green because its inhabitants wear green spectacles, but it actually is green – within the confines of its fictionality.”

    Unicorns don’t just think they have horns, they really do have them. But that doesn’t mean any of us in the real world have to worry about getting injured by them.

  32. #32 Lenoxus
    September 5, 2012

    Oops, “blue eyes logic puzzle” should have linked to <a href="http://xkcd.com/blue_eyes.html"this.

  33. #33 Lenoxus
    September 5, 2012
  34. #34 Wow
    September 6, 2012

    “people without a background in philosophy the pointlessness of the ontological argument instead of a philosophical rebuttal.”

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them” – Thomas Jefferson

  35. #35 Richard Wein
    September 6, 2012

    @Lenoxus

    Good points. I think we can make our reductio ad absurdum even more direct. Define eGod to be an omnipotent creator of the universe that actually exists. Define an eunicorn to be a one-horned horse that actually exists. By definition they exist, so we’ve proved that there exist an omnipotent creator of the universe and a one-horned horse.

  36. #36 Verbose Stoic
    September 6, 2012

    I’d agree with Aikin and Talisse for one reason: of the big three, the Ontological Argument is the one that’s the most philosophical and that relies the most on a precise conception of God. If you can’t handle the philosophy of that argument, then you aren’t going to be able to handle the philosophical aspects of theology. Which is not to say that the argument works — I don’t think it does, and think that Kant has the best counter as to why it doesn’t, and one that even applies to such arguments generally which is always nice philosophically — but simply that if you dismiss it out-of-hand as not being the right sort of argument or method because it’s not empirical but is primarily conceptual you will be showing that you won’t get most of the philosophical moves that will be mostly conceptual that will be made elsewhere.

    So when you say this:

    You are hard-pressed to find any philosophers, even those writing from a theistic perspective, who think the ontological argument is any good at all.

    I think that’s a bit misleading. I don’t think that you’ll find too many philosophers who think, as you do, that the argument is just plain absurd, and the sort of argument that’s just obviously absurd. I do think you’ll find that most philosophers, however, will agree that it doesn’t actually work, and that there are major problems with it, many of which have been mentioned here. But that’s a far cry from it simply being obviously absurd. After all, it’s covered in every single philosophy of religion intro text, and hardly ever — at least in my experience — treated as being simply absurd.

    And part of this shows up in Everitt’s criticism:

    Something that exists only in the mind does not exist at all, just as a non-existent tiger is not one kind of tiger.

    The problem here is that he is equivocating on “exists”. There is a lot of philosophical backstory on whether the things that we imagine really “exist” or not . Philosophy of mathematics, for example, has had a long-standing debate over whether numbers exist and, if they do, what they exist as. Even the “linguistic competence” that Everitt talks about runs into issues of whether something like Santa Claus really has to exist or not since we are getting into the realm of referrents and can ask the question of how we can have a referrent that doesn’t point to something that exists. So it’s far too blythe a move to simply say “Well, things in mind don’t really exist” and move on, because he’d be limiting existence TO the purported “real world”. And seen as such, it doesn’t even really touch the OA because if he wants to carve out existence in that way the OA can simply say “Fine, but it’s still better for something to exist than to not exist, and since the conception of God is still the greatest possible thing then it must have the property of existence”. And then you have to fire Kant at him, or ask whether existing is really better in any sense than not existing. So his counter, it seems to me, gets him absolutely nowhere.

    I find Aikin and Talisse’s counter interesting because it seems to me that it boils down to this:

    The OA depends on us being able to have, in mind, a conception of a being that there can be no LOGICALLY possible greater being. But their counter says that that IS impossible. We simply cannot have in mind a conception of a greatest possible being. That sort of being is impossible to conceive. Because of this, we can’t say that we can conceive of a greatest possible being, and since we can’t conceive of that it doesn’t even exist in our minds. Thus, it may be impossible for such a being to EVER exist, even IN our minds. Thus, that sort of perfect being cannot exist. And if it cannot exist, then the sort of God that the OA relies on cannot actually exist, and so the OA is self-refuting.

    So, basically:

    1) The greatest possible being conceiveable must be a being that we can conceive.
    2) We CANNOT conceive of the sort of perfect being that the OA relies on.
    C) The sort of perfect being that the OA relies on is such that it cannot be the greatest possible being conceiveable.

    It’s better than Everitt’s, it seems to me, because it does raise a challenge philosophically, unlike his which is easily sidestepped and runs right back into the same problems that we were already dealing with once we understand the philosophical backstory.

  37. #37 Verbose Stoic
    September 6, 2012

    Lenoxus,

    1. Unicorns have horns.
    2. Nothing can have horns without actually existing.
    3. By 1 and 2, unicorns exist.

    The problem with this is that I can say that I accept that the argument is valid, but deny that it is sound by denying that 2) is the case, and then ask you to justify saying that nothing can have horns without existing. The meat of the OA is NOT this logic here, but is in fact how it tries to ESTABLISH that if we can conceive of the perfect being then the perfect being must also exist in the real world. Without that, you don’t have any reductio at all, because I can sidestep your argument in a way that I can’t for the OA; since it CONTAINS its justification for 2) in the argument, I can’t simply point out that 2) has not been justified in any way, like I can for yours.

  38. #38 Wow
    September 6, 2012

    “by denying that 2) is the case”

    If it doesn’t exist, how can it have horns? There’s nothing there to put the horn on!

    Mind you, who says god is perfect? Where’s the proof?

  39. #39 Verbose Stoic
    September 6, 2012

    Skeptico,

    I can’t comment on that post, but the problem I see with it is that you introduce an equivocation that is not there. Anselm starts with God-C, the God we conceive of. He then notes that we can indeed conceive of that God — so it is not a logical impossibility — and so that it does exist in our mind, but then notes that God-C means that it can’t be any greater than it arleady is. But it would indeed be greater, the argument goes, if it exists somewhere other than in our minds. Thus, it must exist in the real world to, because that’s what it means to be God-C. So if we can indeed logically conceive of God-C, then God-C has to exist.

    Now, you can challenge the idea that we CAN conceive of God-C or you can challenge the idea that existing in reality is greater than existing only in mind, but there’s no equivocation in the OA of the sort you’re proposing; it’s God-C all the way, not God-1 and God-2.

  40. #40 Richard Wein
    September 6, 2012

    @Lenoxus

    I followed your link to the Blue Eyes puzzle, and then wasted hours of my time thinking about it. Thanks very much! ;)

    I’m not clear how you are relating the puzzle to the ontological argument, but I think I can make more sense of your comment if you are rejecting the answer to the puzzle that’s supplied at the web site. Is that the case? I have my own reservations about that answer, but I haven’t quite made up my mind about it. I won’t go into details, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else who might follow the link. But I hope Jason will start another discussion on that subject. There is perhaps something a bit Monty Hall-ish about the puzzle, with the Guru taking the place of Monty.

  41. #41 Wow
    September 6, 2012

    “but then notes that God-C means that it can’t be any greater than it arleady is”

    All you need to do to have a greater God-C is exercise your imagination. And it still doesn’t get out of our imagination.

    “Thus, it must exist in the real world to, because that’s what it means to be God-C.”

    No, what it means to be God-C is to be something we can conceive.

  42. #42 Richard Wein
    September 6, 2012

    P.S. It seems the Blue Eyes puzzle is well known, and the answer at the web site is the generally accepted one. Wikipedia has an explanation here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_knowledge_(logic)

    I find that explanation pretty persuasive.

  43. #43 Dan L.
    September 6, 2012

    The problem here is that he is equivocating on “exists”. There is a lot of philosophical backstory on whether the things that we imagine really “exist” or not . Philosophy of mathematics, for example, has had a long-standing debate over whether numbers exist and, if they do, what they exist as.

    The “philosophical backstory” is a lot of bullshit. You define the word “exist” and then numbers either exist or don’t according to your special little definition. Philosophy can tell you about how concepts relate to each other but you can’t determine purely through introspection and formal logic what is real* and what is not.

    Even the “linguistic competence” that Everitt talks about runs into issues of whether something like Santa Claus really has to exist or not since we are getting into the realm of referrents and can ask the question of how we can have a referrent that doesn’t point to something that exists.

    There’s nothing the least bit mysterious about this. Santa Claus — your “referent” — doesn’t exist in the sense of sentient agent or biological organism. It DOES exist in the sense of being a mythological character. Being able to talk about mythological characters is indeed an expression of linguistic competence exactly as described.

    What does it mean to be a mythological character? Something very different from being a biological organism or a sentient agent, certainly. More generally, the things we imagine do not exist in the same sense as the things which we do not imagine. A memory of a table is not a table. A memory of a table lacks most salient properties of a table — mass, extension, etc.

    Whether or not Santa Claus “exists” is purely a matter of semantics: how you define “exists.” But no matter HOW you define it you can’t get around the fact that a thought about God is clearly not the same thing as God any more than a thought about a table is the same thing as a table. No matter how you define “exists” Santa Claus is not going to show up in your living room asking about milk and cookies.

    No matter how you twist the words around, VS, you’re stuck with the conclusion that the concept of God is a fundamentally different sort of entity than God itself. The ontological argument requires them to be the same sort of thing in a sense that they are not: that conceptual entities are “less perfect” versions of the real thing. But my memory of a table is not simply a “less perfect” table. It is not a table at all. No matter how perfect my memory of a table is it is not a table.

    Similarly, no matter how perfect your conception of God, that conception is not itself God.

    *causally efficacious, not necessarily excluding “mental causes” if such a concept proved to be coherent

  44. #44 Dan L.
    September 6, 2012

    @Richard Wein:

    I got a different version of it as a bonus problem in a logic and set theory class. I don’t think it’s as difficult as Randall Munroe of xkcd makes it out to be, it’s elementary mathematical induction. Prove it for two people, then prove that if it works for n then it works for n+1.

  45. #45 Lenoxus
    September 6, 2012

    I agree with the accepted answer to the BLue Eyes puzzle — in fact, I wrote this longish Q-and-A dealing with objections to that answer.

    My main point in bringing it up was to say that people can have trouble distinguishing between statements like “X knows that Y knows Z” and “W knows that X knows that Y knows Z”. It seemed to me that the ontological argument suffers from a rare one-iteration version of this mistake: failure to distinguish between “I am imagining a god who, along with being good and powerful and whatnot, also has the property of being existent” and “There really is a god.” Beause it involves only one
    “layer of imagination”, it’s easy for most of us to see how silly it is (whereas with the Blue Eyes puzzle, we all get confused).

    Heh, come to think of it, one can also reverse the argument to render things nonexistent as well. For example, I am imagining a state called Pennsylvania which is exactly like the Pennsylvania we all know and love (I’m a resident myself), except that it has the additional property of nonexistence. Therefore, there is no legal state in the region east of Ohio, and perhaps not even any real OOHHNOOOooo

  46. #46 Deepak Shetty
    September 6, 2012

    @Verbose Stoic
    is the one that’s the most philosophical and that relies the most on a precise conception of God
    In which universe is “perfect” a precise conception of God? Is his shape perfect? Is his gender? What about his eyes? Or his morals?

    God is perfect.
    A perfect creator can only create perfect beings. if not his workmanship is imperfect.
    Verbose Stoic is a highly flawed imperfect being.
    Verbose Stoic exists
    Therefore God is not perfect (if he exists).

  47. #47 Wow
    September 6, 2012

    Perfection only exists in the abstract, never to be attained in reality.

    Therefore the Perfect God exists in the abstract and not in reality.

    Ontological proof of god’s nonexistence.

  48. #48 Richard Wein
    September 7, 2012

    @Dan

    I don’t think it’s as difficult as Randall Munroe of xkcd makes it out to be, it’s elementary mathematical induction.

    But it’s not being used to prove a mathemetical theorem. It’s being used to establish something about a real-world (albeit fictional and weird) scenario. The question for me was whether the model used in the induction is an adequate model of the scenario, or does it leave out something significant? I’m satisfied now that it doesn’t, but at least to me that wasn’t obvious.

    The reason I looked so hard for a flaw in the model was because the answer seemed to violate the principle that a rational person shouldn’t be influenced by a pronouncement that contains no new information. But the “common knowledge” explanation helped me see how the pronouncement did do something significant.

    @Lenoxus

    I’m still not sure I see much relevance to the OA, but thanks for all the info on Blue Eyes.

  49. #49 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Dan L.,

    The “philosophical backstory” is a lot of bullshit. You define the word “exist” and then numbers either exist or don’t according to your special little definition. Philosophy can tell you about how concepts relate to each other but you can’t determine purely through introspection and formal logic what is real* and what is not.

    Which is right where the problem starts, and why it is important to understand the OA, because the philosopher’s reply to you saying that you can’t determine what is real through introspection and formal logic is “How do you know that?”. Now, you can reply that we’ve tried and it usually doesn’t work out, but philosophers will reply that they aren’t saying that you can prove EVERYTHING that way, or that that’s the ONLY way to prove that something exists, but merely that:

    1) It might be possible to prove the “real” existence of some of the things we prove now empirically through rationalist means, even if proving it empirically works better.

    2) There may be some things that you could ONLY prove the existence of through rationalist means and not through empirical means.

    For example, the existence of a thing that has necessary existence AS a thing that has necessary existence. You can’t prove that something absolutely has to exist empirically; there are no finitely performable tests that you can use to determine that. What you can do, though, is formulate the concept, show that if it exists in any possible world — to use modal logic because it’s clearer here — then it has to exist in all possible worlds, show that it exists in at least one possible world, and boom, you’re done. Now, it’s a bit harder than that, but it in theory can be done.

    If in dealing with the OA you start and end with this position, you show that you don’t understand or care enough about philosophy to understand the philosophical issues that underpin the theology, and so you likely won’t be able to address them properly.

    There’s nothing the least bit mysterious about this. Santa Claus — your “referent” — doesn’t exist in the sense of sentient agent or biological organism. It DOES exist in the sense of being a mythological character. Being able to talk about mythological characters is indeed an expression of linguistic competence exactly as described.

    Well, look at what Everitt said again. He DIDN’T say any of this, but simply said “It doesn’t really exist”. Which is massively problematic. And the issue of referrents in general comes from trying to suss out what our linguistic competence REALLY MEANS — it’s philosophy of language — and one example of this takes a strong realist stance and says that we know what things mean because we have a link to an existing real-world object … which we don’t for mythological things. That causes problems. Now, I tend to agree with you that this referrent idea and having to worry about that is probably overcomplicating things, but there’s a history behind why they wanted to do that and what problems they wanted to solve doing it. Which only means this: if you are aware of the philosophical issues, you never, ever, ever say just what Everitt said, that those things just don’t exist and it’s just a matter of linguistic competence. What you say is something like what you said — or, at least, are trying to say — which is that just because you can imagine it exists doesn’t mean it actually does. Not all concepts that you can imagine exist are instantiated in this world. Or, in modal logic, just because it exists in one possible world doesn’t mean it exists in this one.

    And then we note that the OA … doesn’t do that at all. It clearly distinguishes between things in general existing “only in the mind” and existing “in reality”. What it does, though, is argue that if THIS thing can exist in one possible world, then it has to exist in all of them, that it has necessary existence. And, from the above, this is PRECISELY the sort of thing that you’d have to prove with introspection and logic, and not with empirical study. So, how does it do it? Well, basically, it says this:

    Take the greatest conceivable being, GCB.
    I can conceive of GCB right now.
    However, if I conceive of GCB as being a thing that does not exist in the real world, then I can conceive of a being greater than GCB.
    Thus, THAT is GCB.
    Thus, GCB must have existence as a property.

    Now, you can fire off your counter that, sure, the CONCEPT has that property, but that doesn’t mean that the thing exists, does it? After all, I can imagine unicorns as existing, but that doesn’t mean that they really exist, right? The main issue with that is that there you’re simply defining the concept to include the property of existence, which is assuming your conclusion, which is wrong. But the OA doesn’t do that. It starts with properties that aren’t existence and that everyone agrees on, and then shows that, by that, if it exists in any possible world it exists in all of them, and that it exists in a possible world. So it’s deriving it, not simply assuming or stipulating it. And that’s fair game.

    Now, you can still fire back that just because I can imagine something to have a property doesn’t mean that there’s an instantiation in thos world of that concept. And that’s a fair charge. But let me try to show why intuitions seem to lead us to think that here. We can say:

    If that thing exists, it is red.
    If that thing exists, it has a horn.

    And these clearly talk about properties that apply to the concept and not necessarily to an instantiation. Now, let’s try to do that for the property of “exists”:

    If that thing exists, then it exists.

    This seems rather odd, and on reflection looks an awful lot like saying that the thing necessarily exists. Which, then, is what the OA is trying to show. Now, again, you can say that that’s the case for all of the other things as well, but the OA claims to add that as a DERIVED property, meaning something that the concept has to have as part of the concept, which is a bit more than that. So, when we say that the GCB has to have existence as a property, it runs us into that issue, which runs us into that necessary being thing.

    So, what you have to do is fire Kant at them, pointing out that the reason it looks odd — and that it looks a lot like the uninteresting truism for something that does have more significance — is because existence doesn’t work that way. It’s NOT a property like “red” or “has a horn”, and so analyzing it that way leads us to confusions. The OA clearly DOES rely on analyzing it that way, so that IS something that addresses the OA directly, unlike the “different senses of existence” reply which doesn’t, or the “just defining the thing to exist” reply.

    This is why the reply that Jason thinks is ridiculous is actually a really good one. What it does is challenge the OTHER thing it relies on. Remember, the OA aims to establish that if this thing exists in any possible world, then it exists in this world. Kant’s argument attacks that overall claim by showing that it can exist in a possible world and still not exist in this one. The other argument claims that it is, in fact, not conceivable at all, and so it can’t exist in ANY possible world, and so we don’t need to worry about it existing in this one. Which is a lot better than Everitt’s wrangling, at least as expressed here.

  50. #50 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “because the philosopher’s reply to you saying that you can’t determine what is real through introspection and formal logic is “How do you know that?””

    Which then means the philosopher is talking bollocks and veering over into postmodernism merely to score points and “win” an argument.

    No surprise you are a big proponent of this method of debate (and make no mistake, all it is is debate, there’s absolutely no attempt to educate or discover, merely to win an argument here).

  51. #51 JimR.
    September 7, 2012

    Many sword & sorcery stories have old and new gods in the storyline. The old gods are weak due to few to no believers. I’ve never heard of a protagonist who believed in no gods. We should encourage authors to use that. Then the argument can be, I can think of no god and that is perfect for me.

  52. #52 eric
    September 7, 2012

    VS:

    Now, you can fire off your counter that, sure, the CONCEPT has that property, but that doesn’t mean that the thing exists, does it? After all, I can imagine unicorns as existing, but that doesn’t mean that they really exist, right? The main issue with that is that there you’re simply defining the concept to include the property of existence, which is assuming your conclusion, which is wrong. But the OA doesn’t do that.

    Yes, it does. When the OA asserts as a premise that God is the GCB, it is defining the concept of god to include existence. It is assuming the conclusion. Its just doing it in a multistep way which somewhat hides the circularity. But its really no different than saying “I assert unicorns are the greatest horned being. I assert that greatest horned beings exist, because if there is another horned being that exists, it is greater, and that can’t be. Thus, I conclude unicorns exist.” That’s circular, because the first assertion really, subtly, contains the conclusion.

    A less circular parsing of the OA would be: IF the god we are thinking about is philosophy’s GCB, THEN it must exist. But phrased that way, the argument is a lot less convincing.

  53. #53 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    eric,

    You’re challenging it in a different way, basically the way of “Well, even if the OA works, it wouldn’t establish that it is the Christian God”. That’s not what’s being argued here by everyone else, it seems to me. It isn’t a bad argument, but doesn’t do atheists one lick of good, because most people would concede it reasonable to think that the GCB, as defined in the OA, would count as SOME kind of God.

    Again, the issue here and in the OA as a whole is ABOUT the GCB and its status. Once we accept or reject the GCB argument, then we can move on to specifics about which god it is, if the GCB argument works.

  54. #54 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    @VS:

    Which is right where the problem starts, and why it is important to understand the OA, because the philosopher’s reply to you saying that you can’t determine what is real through introspection and formal logic is “How do you know that?”.

    Let me rephrase then. My challenge to the philosopher is to give me a set of necessary and sufficient conditions by which I could determine whether the things I am imagining are real or not. I know it to be true that I can conceive of things which exist; I can also conceive of things which do not exist. The philosopher needs to tell me how I can distinguish between these two classes of entities without relying on sensory experience or memory thereof.

    I cannot see a way to do this and no one has yet proposed one. There is no evidence that any such distinction in the absence of sensory experience is possible. Until such evidence is adduced, I remain skeptical.

    For example, the existence of a thing that has necessary existence AS a thing that has necessary existence. You can’t prove that something absolutely has to exist empirically; there are no finitely performable tests that you can use to determine that.

    Define “existence” and try again. The point of my post was that “existence” is too ambiguous to allow these kinds of analyses without a more precise definition. I don’t put much stock in the concept of “necessary existence” by the way. I don’t see why it isn’t perfectly possible for everything to be contingent. Since we know there are contingent truths and we don’t know that there are necessary truths I find it more parsimonious to ignore the concept of “necessary existence” until someone can adduce some evidence for its applicability.

    Well, look at what Everitt said again. He DIDN’T say any of this, but simply said “It doesn’t really exist”. Which is massively problematic.

    That’s why I brought up the problem of definitions in the first place. I think you actually know that what Everitt said was a less philosophically rigorous way of saying what I said: that thoughts about God and God do not “exist” in the same sense. He uses rough-and-ready usage of the word “existence” in which mental content doesn’t qualify. I think it’s only problematic because you are problematyzing it. That’s why it’s so important that you should tell us what you mean by “existence” so this doesn’t become purely a plaint about Everitt’s semantics, which is all I think you’ve offered so far.

    Now, I tend to agree with you that this referrent idea and having to worry about that is probably overcomplicating things, but there’s a history behind why they wanted to do that and what problems they wanted to solve doing it. Which only means this: if you are aware of the philosophical issues, you never, ever, ever say just what Everitt said, that those things just don’t exist and it’s just a matter of linguistic competence.

    And there you admit as much. You know what he’s saying but you object to the way he says it. Obnoxious. You don’t get to determine usage for the rest of the world, VS. People use different ways of saying things because there is no one right way to do so. Get used to it.

    And then we note that the OA … doesn’t do that at all. It clearly distinguishes between things in general existing “only in the mind” and existing “in reality”.

    But it elides the important differences between existing “only in the mind” and existing “in reality” by playing on the ambiguity of the word “exists.” Everitt’s point was to use a rough-and-ready definition of “exists” that excludes mental content to demonstrate that the OA is really just playing word games. He didn’t spell this out rigorously, perhaps, but is meaning is clear to me. No matter how perfect your conception of Santa Claus he will not show up at your house on Dec. 24th.

    For the OA to work, “existing in the mind” would have to be a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind from “existing in the real world.” But I believe it is a difference in kind: exist’ and exist* if you like.

    What it does, though, is argue that if THIS thing can exist in one possible world, then it has to exist in all of them, that it has necessary existence.

    “Possible worlds” is an incredibly problematic concept that I don’t think is very useful even if it wasn’t so problematic. I think this concept gets “philosophical affirmative action” because it’s been around so long. We wouldn’t lose anything if we chucked it entirely. I don’t want to get in a big argument about this, but please just consider the fact that the most fundamental theories describing the natural world don’t seem to be logically possible and yet they seem to be true. Human beings are poor judges of what’s possible and what’s not.

    It starts with properties that aren’t existence and that everyone agrees on, and then shows that, by that, if it exists in any possible world it exists in all of them, and that it exists in a possible world.

    Not everyone agrees with those properties, or on the nature of “properties” in relation to “objects” or “entities” or “substance” in general. The argument relies on a completely arbitrary ontological model that is not corroborated by any empirical evidence whatsoever. It looks like playing word games to me.

    And these clearly talk about properties that apply to the concept and not necessarily to an instantiation. Now, let’s try to do that for the property of “exists”:

    If that thing exists, then it exists.

    And right back to the definitional issue. The status of “existence” as a “property” obviously depends on how you define “existence.” The status of “properties” vs. “entities” in general obviously depends on your ontological model. I again say that the model assumed by the OA is arbitrary. You’re making it more arbitrary by playing on the ambiguous meanings of the word “existence.”

    So, what you have to do is fire Kant at them, pointing out that the reason it looks odd — and that it looks a lot like the uninteresting truism for something that does have more significance — is because existence doesn’t work that way.

    I think this is exactly what Everitt was saying and that you’re — again — purely objecting to how it was phrased. This is another reason why arguing with you is frustrating: anyone using different language or terminology from you is WRONG WRONG WRONG. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt on your part to figure out what another party is trying to say, but rather an attempt to figure out some interpretation under which that other party is incorrect.

  55. #55 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    @VS:

    You’re challenging it in a different way, basically the way of “Well, even if the OA works, it wouldn’t establish that it is the Christian God”.

    To me, eric seems to be arguing that the OA is circular, not what you think he’s arguing. Maybe put it this way: the (implicit) definition of “greatest” used in the argument includes “existence” as a property, so the existence of the GCB is actually assumed when the GCB is premised in the first place — the OA begs the question.

  56. #56 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “The philosopher needs to tell me how I can distinguish between these two classes of entities without relying on sensory experience or memory thereof.”

    Indeed, the question to ask is: How can you verify a statement’s accuracy?

    And this moonshine conversation with the ontological argument has absolutely no method of proving its accuracy.

    In short, begging the question “How do you know?”.

  57. #57 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    You can imagine red. You can even see red.But there is no such thing as Red.

    Necessary existence doesn’t exist for colours, you need more than just your brain to verify the existence of a *thing* rather than a *process* or *perception*.

  58. #58 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    For the OA to work, “existing in the mind” would have to be a difference in degree rather than a difference in kind from “existing in the real world.” But I believe it is a difference in kind: exist’ and exist* if you like.

    Sorry for the contiguous comments, Jason. I wanted to clear up what I meant by this.

    The problem here is the idea of “existing only in the mind” or alternatively “existing both in the mind and in reality.” The words “only” and “both” don’t really make sense from Everitt’s (and my own) point of view. The concept of God could possibly exist in your mind and God Himself could possibly exist in the world; even if both those are true, you are not free to conclude that “God exists both in my mind and in the world.” The concept of God exists in your mind. God exists in the world (or wherever, I don’t care). The “only/both” language serves to obscure the distinction of usages of the word “exist” being used here.

  59. #59 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    @Richard Wein:
    Well, the version of the problem I was introduced to was a slightly simpler version. Instead of two classes, brown and blue eyes, there was only one class. It’s probably easier to see how the induction works in the version I was exposed to.

    Thinking about the two-person case made me realize the importance of what you call “common knowledge” in the problem was well — I realized it was more about what X knows Y knows rather than what about X knows plus what the “sage” said from looking at the simpler case. Thinking about it now, my comment about “elementary mathematical induction” probably came more out of already knowing the answer than any actual appreciation of the question’s difficulty.

  60. #60 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Okay, the word “existence” is causing problems, so let me replace it with my new favourite word for this: “instantiation”. What we have are concepts or mental entities or whatever in our minds, that are like classes if you know computer programming. But, simply having a class/concept doesn’t mean that it’s instantiation. If it’s instantiated, then it’s in the world. To slide the modal logic in here (we’ll need it later) a successful concept is instantiated in some possible world, but when we say a concept is instantiated it means that it is instantiated in THIS world.

    So, let’s recast the OA using that terminology:

    1) I can conceive of a GCB.
    2) However, it is better for a being to be instantiated than for it to not be instantiated.
    3) Thus, if the GCB is not instantiated, then I can conceive of a greater being, which then would be the GCB.
    4) Thus, the GCB has as a property “being instantiated”.
    5) But if a concept has as a property “being instantiated” then it must be instantiated in this world, because that’s what it means to have the property of “being instantiated”.
    6) Therefore, the GCB is instantiated in this world.

    Now, I see Everitt’s argument as being “Well, just because I can conceive of something that doesn’t mean that it is instantiated in this world.”. True, but as you can see from the above the OA doesn’t just assume that that is the case. It, in fact, generally assumes it isn’t, but points out that in THIS case, we can. Why? Because it has the property of being instantiated, which means that if we can indeed conceive of a GCB, then it must exist in SOME possible world — that’s roughly what conceiving of something means — and then its property of “being instantiated” means that it has to be instantiated in ALL possible worlds, including this one.

    This is different from Kant’s argument. Kant’s argument is, basically, that the argument would indeed work if “being instantiated” was a property that the concept could have. But it isn’t. And because it isn’t, the argument fails. As I said, it even explains WHY the argument looks convincing because once we accept “being instantiated” as a property, the logic follows. The error is in accepting that in the first place.

    That’s also why the argument from Aikin and Talisse is more interesting than Everitt’s. What they do is argue that we don’t actually have the concept. If we don’t have the concept, then we cannot assign it in any way the property of “being instantiated”. The OA, for them, fails at 1). For Kant, it fails at 4). For Everitt, his argument doesn’t address any of the actual steps, as far as I can see.

    …but please just consider the fact that the most fundamental theories describing the natural world don’t seem to be logically possible and yet they seem to be true.

    Under modal logic, what it means to be logically impossible is that it cannot be instantiated in any possible world. When you note that THIS world is a possible world — and also an actual one, if we want to go that way — then if those theories are true about this world then they are true — ie instantiated — in one possible world — this one — and so are not logically impossible, and so clearly we were wrong to think that it was logically impossible. It’s actually EASIER to resolve those sorts of problems in modal logic than in classical logic because you aren’t using the law of non-contradiction — which can be hard to figure out sometimes — as your litmus test, but the conceptual world of possible worlds, which means, again, that if you include this one then anything that DOES exist in this world CANNOT be logically impossible, no matter now contradictory it might appear at first blush.

    This is another reason why arguing with you is frustrating: anyone using different language or terminology from you is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

    Utter rot. I called him out on the terminology because he was equivocating on “existence”, since the OA uses the broader sense that he narrowed to that popular conception and then tried to argue against how the OA used it using the definition they don’t use, as the OA distinguishes EXPLICITLY between “exists in the mind” and “exists in the world”, meaning that they use a definition of “exists” that encompasses both sorts while even by your own admission Everitt doesn’t. I also argued against the “linguistic competency” line because philosophy of language has shown that there is a massive tangle in our linguistic competency around existence and whether things exist and in what sense in our linguistic competency, which means that simply stating that will leave him problems if the OA actually musters that philosophy against him … which, since it’s TRYING to be a philosophical argument, it is quite likely to do. But the most damning argument I raised against it was that when we untangle all of the mess he causes with his screwing around with terminology, we;re right back into the same argument, where the OA proponent simply says, as I pointed out in the orignal post:

    “Fine, but it’s still better for something to exist than to not exist, and since the conception of God is still the greatest possible thing then it must have the property of existence”.

    We’re right back into the property argument, and right back into the mess. That was my main objection, as taken from my last sentence in the first comment. It was NEVER that I didn’t like the word he used, but that when we translate it all out there’s no actual argument left, and that he’d SEE that if he didn’t play with words.

    I really wish you’d read and respond to my actual arguments instead of what at this point seems to be nothing more than a personal opinion of me.

  61. #61 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “2) However, it is better for a being to be instantiated than for it to not be instantiated.”

    Prove that assertion.

    This is where you are presuming the answer in your proofs. How would a gruffalo be better if it were instantiated in the real world than it is in a children’s book? Or the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar.

    Indeed, Santa himself would be a WORSE thing if he were instantiated. You’d get no presents because you were naughty. Or still awake. Or didn’t have a chimney.

    Your assertion is not substantiated.

    Prove it.

  62. #62 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Dan L.,

    And that’s one of the problems. It’s analytic, but not circular, and the OA doesn’t in fact simply say “Let us assume that a GCB exists” but in fact argues that if it doesn’t exist, then it isn’t a GCB. The logic is just as valid as saying that if someone is a bachleor, then they are unmarried … and you don’t need any empirical data to prove that assuming that you know the person is a bachelor.

  63. #63 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “4) Thus, the GCB has as a property “being instantiated”.”

    Whatever you do in life DO NOT BECOME A PROGRAMMER.

    You take a hell of a lot of words to talk complete bollocks, don’t you.

    GCB is your class. It doesn’t HAVE a property of instantiated. An instance of the class GCB has the property of being of the class CGB, but the class doesn’t get the property of being instantiated.

    So you have to instantiate a GCB object.

    But if you then use that instantiation to “prove” that there IS a GCB instantiated, this is immediately recognised as circular reasoning.

  64. #64 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “but in fact argues that if it doesn’t exist, then it isn’t a GCB”

    This is fine. Why must there be one example of the set of CGBs? There are absolutely (by definition) zero members of the Null set.

    You’re saying there HAS to be a GCB because you define one as existing.

  65. #65 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Wow,

    I don’t normally reply to you, but I’ll make an exception here:

    “2) However, it is better for a being to be instantiated than for it to not be instantiated.”

    Prove that assertion.

    This is where you are presuming the answer in your proofs.

    I’m not assuming that answer at all. From my Critique of the God Delusion at my site:

    Additionally, there’s more to even questioning whether or not something that exists is more perfect than something that doesn’t exist than is mentioned here. Think about it this way: is Santa Claus not as good for not existing as he would be if he really existed? Are X-wings (from the Star Wars movies) worse because they don’t exist? I submit that I certainly marvel more at X-wings because they don’t exist than if they did; I don’t find F-18s, for example, anywhere near as impressive in movies as X-wings. So, in some sense, the domain the things are in will determine whether or not it is better that they exist or not. For things in an imaginary domain, whether or not they exist is either not relevant or it’s better when they themselves are imaginary; for things in the real domain, it’s better that they be real. But to say that it is better for God to exist because He’s in the real domain is circular logic; it’s better for God to exist because He should exist. That’s not valid. So there’s a lot more to say about existence versus non-existence that isn’t said here, and these are probably the key arguments against the Ontological Argument.

    I don’t think the OA works, as I’ve said here and elsewhere umpteen million times. I DO think that if you don’t get why it’s interesting and think it’s just obviously absurd, then you don’t really get the philosophical method and so won’t understand theological arguments that rely on philosophy.

  66. #66 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Wow,

    I’m making another exception here. Don’t count on this continuing.

    Whatever you do in life DO NOT BECOME A PROGRAMMER.

    Too late. I’ve been doing it for 16 years already.

    GCB is your class. It doesn’t HAVE a property of instantiated. An instance of the class GCB has the property of being of the class CGB, but the class doesn’t get the property of being instantiated.

    No duh. That’s Kant’s objection, that “being instantiated” isn’t a property of a class. You know, that objection that I toss out in EVERY FREAKING COMMENT as being the really, really good objection to the OA? Ya think that my saying that it’s the really good objection to the OA in every comment might be a hint that I THINK it’s a really good objection to the OA?

  67. #67 Verbose Stoic
    September 7, 2012

    Dan L.,

    Now I have to apologize for the multi-comments.

    Anyway:

    The problem here is the idea of “existing only in the mind” or alternatively “existing both in the mind and in reality.” The words “only” and “both” don’t really make sense from Everitt’s (and my own) point of view.

    But it does from the way the OA is using the term. I think one of the main issues here is my insistence on trying to use the terms in how they are used in the argument, and that what you and Everitt do is translate it into your usage and then say “It’s obviously wrong” when their argument doesn’t work for your usage, but since they didn’t make the argument using your usage that’s only to be expected, and runs the risk of equivocation. If you can show that their usage of “exists” is wrong, then you might have a point, which is why in my crtiicism of Everitt I went on to say that even if we translate it into his terms the meat of the OA can still be preserved. Sure, it doesn’t survive without the translation, but we have to use the same meanings everywhere, and that mandates the translation.

  68. #68 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    And that’s one of the problems. It’s analytic, but not circular, and the OA doesn’t in fact simply say “Let us assume that a GCB exists” but in fact argues that if it doesn’t exist, then it isn’t a GCB. The logic is just as valid as saying that if someone is a bachleor, then they are unmarried … and you don’t need any empirical data to prove that assuming that you know the person is a bachelor.

    Actually, I don’t believe in non-circular analytic arguments either. The bachelor/unmarried man example is a great demonstration of why.

    Consider what meanings I could be trying to convey with the claim “a bachelor is an unmarried man.” This could be:
    1) A definition: I am defining the word “bachelor” to mean “an unmarried man”
    2) An assertion of equivalence between two classes: the class of “bachelors” is coextensive with the class of “unmarried men”

    Now, if I’m simply defining “bachelor” then the truth of the proposition is by fiat. If I’m exerting coextension of two classes then the statement may be true or false. This can be an interesting form of argument. For example, “heat is molecular motion” is an interesting argument.

    “Bachelor is an unmarried man” is not interesting in this same sense. “Heat” and “molecular motion” both have distinct meanings and it is not obvious that they could be the same thing upon closer analysis. But “bachelor” means exactly “unmarried man” and nothing else. The argument “a bachelor is an unmarried man” is either a definition or a recapitulation of a definition. There was never any reason to think “bachelor” and “unmarried man” did not describe the same class. There’s nothing intrinsic to the words/symbols “bachelor” and “unmarried man” to make them necessarily describe the same class of objects. The statement is true by convention, not by any deep truths about the nature of the universe.

    Note that “heat is molecular motion” cannot be demonstrated analytically, nor can any similar argument where the terms have distinct definitions.

    Under modal logic, what it means to be logically impossible is that it cannot be instantiated in any possible world. When you note that THIS world is a possible world — and also an actual one, if we want to go that way — then if those theories are true about this world then they are true — ie instantiated — in one possible world — this one — and so are not logically impossible, and so clearly we were wrong to think that it was logically impossible.

    Which nicely elides the point I was making: worlds that seem possible through introspection are not necessarily possible and worlds that seem impossible through introspection may not actually be impossible. Consider the mere possibility that human brains are simply unable to conceive of some worlds that are nonetheless, despite their inconceivability, possible. If there’s even one possible universe of which humans cannot conceive, then we cannot conclude that anything is necessarily true or necessarily false — or for that matter, contingently true or contingently false. And I think that’s in fact that situation we’re in; we cannot know which facts about our universe are necessary and which are contingent and arguments that assume we can only beg the question.

    In all honesty, I think “truth” and “falsehood” are concepts that only apply to propositional content. The color red is neither “true” nor is it “false” — it’s simply red. The grass in the park isn’t “true” or “false” — it’s just there. Descriptions can be true or false according to certain criteria, but the thing described is never true or false. One can say “is or isn’t” but that’s not quite true either, or at least too ambiguous because as I’ve been noting, the concept of “existence” is far too ambiguous to lend itself to deep philosophical analysis.

    We’re right back into the property argument, and right back into the mess.

    I disagree. I think the fact that the OA slurs together two senses of the term “existence” is still a completely valid objection without even getting into the “property” argument. “Existing in your mind” isn’t a train stop on the way to “existing in reality”, it’s another destination entirely.

    For a thing that is “instantiated in reality” to be “greater than” a thing “instantiated in your mind” implies that these are different points on the same spectrum. That we can compare the “greatness” of the concept of a GCB with the “greatness” of a GCB itself. No, you can argue that the concept of a GCB which is instantiated is “greater” than a concept of a GCB which is not instantiated, but that only tells you about which concept is better than which (by what critera?), not whether the being itself is real. I have nothing against the concept of a GCB that is instantiated. But to have a concept of a GCB that is instantiated in no way implies that an actual GCB is instantiated.

  69. #69 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    ” ” Whatever you do in life DO NOT BECOME A PROGRAMMER.”

    Too late. I’ve been doing it for 16 years already.”

    Hopefully management where you won’t have to do anything useful because you’re absolutely clueless about OOP.

  70. #70 eric
    September 7, 2012

    VS: You’re challenging it in a different way, basically the way of “Well, even if the OA works, it wouldn’t establish that it is the Christian God”.

    No, I manifestly am not. My counter works for ANY OA in which god is premised to be philosophy’s GCB. It is making this assertion a premise of the argument that leads to circularity.

    If you want to eliminate the circularity, there is an easy way to do that. Remove “god is philosophy’s GCB” from the list of premises and come up with an independent line of reasoning that demonstrates this must be true, without putting some form of GCB-ism in the definition of God. Show he’s greatest, don’t define him as that which is greatest.

  71. #71 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    ” “2) However, it is better for a being to be instantiated than for it to not be instantiated.”

    Prove that assertion.

    This is where you are presuming the answer in your proofs. ”

    I’m not assuming that answer at all.”

    Yes you are.

    You merely state BY FIAT that something real is better than something not real.

    “From my Critique of the God Delusion at my site:”

    Which is yet another circular argument. You’re using your own words to prove your own words.

    What a load of consequentialist pseudoscientific bollocks.

    “for things in the real domain, it’s better that they be real.”

    WRONG.

    For things in the real domain, they are in the real domain. Better or not doesn’t come into it.

    “A dog is much more a dog than something not a dog is” the basic premise you’re pretending here.

  72. #72 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    But it does from the way the OA is using the term.

    My argument is that the OA seems to work because it’s using the term “existence” ambiguously. This response strikes me as basically saying “nuh uh!” Existence in the mind is not the same sort of thing as existence in the real world, and it is ambiguity between these two sense of “exist” that the OA plays on.

    I think one of the main issues here is my insistence on trying to use the terms in how they are used in the argument, and that what you and Everitt do is translate it into your usage and then say “It’s obviously wrong” when their argument doesn’t work for your usage, but since they didn’t make the argument using your usage that’s only to be expected, and runs the risk of equivocation.

    No, I’m being flexible. That’s why I began the argument by saying effectively: whether or not something “exists” per se is a boring semantic argument; let’s talk about what we mean by existence.

    The only people equivocating are those posing the OA as a serious argument: they’re equivocating between senses of the word “to exist.”

  73. #73 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    Let me rephrase some stuff from an earlier post so it makes more sense:

    I have nothing against the concept of “a GCB that is instantiated.” But to have a concept of “a GCB that is instantiated” in no way implies that an actual GCB is instantiated. Similarly, I can have a concept of “a cookie that actually exists” without such a cookie actually existing.

    Similarly

  74. #74 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    “1) I can conceive of a GCB.”

    OK.

    “2) However, it is better for a being to be instantiated than for it to not be instantiated.”

    Assertion. Prove it.

    “3) Thus, if the GCB is not instantiated, then I can conceive of a greater being, which then would be the GCB.”

    Your conception doesn’t make things real. This isn’t the Planescape Realm of D&D.

    “4) Thus, the GCB has as a property “being instantiated”.”

    Even if you proved #2, #3 doesn’t prove that the property IS instantiated, only that you conceive it.

    “5) But if a concept has as a property “being instantiated” then it must be instantiated in this world, because that’s what it means to have the property of “being instantiated”.”

    Tautology. If something exists, then it exists.

    “6) Therefore, the GCB is instantiated in this world.”

    Does not follow from 5, there is absolutely no point to it being there.

    Then you have to fix #4.

    Which means you have to fix #2.

  75. #75 Dan L.
    September 7, 2012

    Huh, I was wrong about eric’s circularity argument, but I think my “error” is actually another valid objection to the OA. That “greatness” would imply “existence” is either a premise or a definition of the argument. And that makes the conclusion that “the greatest thing exists” circular.

  76. #76 BKsea
    September 7, 2012

    A different take that may better expose the silliness of the ontological argument: Basically it boils down to the following statement:

    “An infinitely powerful entity must exist”

    This statement has 2 interpretations:

    A) Existence is a necessary condition for an entity to be infinitely powerful (It seems reasonable to accept this as true).

    B) There exists an entity which is infinitely powerful.

    The ontological argument simply tricks you into accepting the truth of statement A as a proof of statement B.

    A lot of effort is spent on arguing that statement A is false (e.g. a non-existent infinitely powerful entity has to be more powerful than an existent one). But, those arguments strike me as being as silly as the ontological argument.

    In reality, the ontological argument is a simple non sequitur

  77. #77 Wow
    September 7, 2012

    Although your (A) is an appropriate analogy, it isn’t what’s being argued about in this specific case.

    Whats being argued against is that an existent being is better than a nonexistent being.

    Nothing about the being *doing* something, which requires real existence.

    And, yes, it is entirely a non-sequitur.

  78. #78 Deepak Shetty
    September 7, 2012

    @BKSea
    But can an infinitely powerful being do that which is logically impossible?

  79. #79 Kel
    September 8, 2012

    I tend to wonder just what the ontological argument is going to be able to demonstrate about the world. That is, if the argument holds, then what follows from that? Do we get anything resembling a personal theistic deity? Do we get something that demands a conscious creator and maintainer of the universe through which all things are His will? If not, then the complaint about the lack of intellectual serious seems to me to sit between the gap between such an argument and the claims of theism.

    I do get, however, that the ontological argument combined with other factors could provide a much more complete picture of theism. But in terms of addressing the concerns that theism traditionally covers – the afterlife, morality, origins and causes, etc. I’m not really sure how it is the ontological argument is exactly relevant. My experience is that the ontological argument is seldom used, and even more seldom understood by theists. Compared to the cosmological and design arguments, the ontological argument seems little more than wordplay, but it does intrigue me that there are some philosophers who do take it very seriously – which in turn means that I keep trying to understand what it is the ontological argument shows.

  80. #80 Wow
    September 8, 2012

    The ontological argument seems only ever to be used to tell atheists that they are wrong and that the god of the christian caller really does exist and they have the proof: The Ontological Argument.

    It appears to have no purpose other than to be “proof” handed to atheists.

    This thread is about how the argument shows that the person providing it doesn’t think.

  81. #81 JimR
    September 8, 2012

    This may be bogus, but here goes:
    I see the arguments as defining a domain where there is a god, because of all the descriptors that are used.
    I do not see any proof that domain is mapped one to one to our domain of existence.
    Thereby you have your ontological defined domain outside ours, and may they never meet.

  82. #82 Rosemary Lyndall Wemm
    September 9, 2012

    1. Just because you can imagine something does not mean that it exists outside the imagination.
    2. Defining something that cannot be seen, touched, measured, experienced or objectively tested does not make it exist in reality: concrete evidence is required to confirm the hypothesis.

    Otherwise, the following would be true:

    The Devil, by definition, is the epitomy of evil and entirely imperfect. It is more imperfect for the devil to exist in the mind than in reality. Therefore the devil does not exist in reality.

    And we could continue:

    If perfect evil does not exist then perfect goodness, by definition, also does not exist.
    Therefore there is no perfectly good being.
    Since god has been defined as perfectly good, therefore there is no god.

  83. #83 Rosemary Lyndall Wemm
    September 9, 2012

    Of course, there is also the problem of defining the characteristics of “goodness”. Even members of the same religion are unable to agree on what these characteristics are.

    For example: is it good to discourage the use of condoms in AIDS torn countries or is it evil? Is it good to prevent a raped 12 year old from having an abortion that will save here life before both she and the embryo die or it is evil? Is it good to direct that a whole nation be slaughtered except for virgins who can be used as sex slaves or it is evil? Is it good to deliberately drown every person on earth save for a handful of favourites, or is it evil? Is the god described in the Christian Old Testament perfectly good or relatively evil?

  84. #84 Rosemary Lyndall Wemm
    September 9, 2012

    The hidden assumption:

    A perfectly good god must be whatever version of the Abrahamic god that is worshiped by the particular apologist – and no other version of either the Abrahamic god or any other god.

  85. #85 Wow
    September 9, 2012

    That’s the hidden assertion by ANY (generally USian) statement on God or Religion.

    It’s always known with a nod and a wink to be Christianity in those countries vehemently christian.

  86. #86 Verbose Stoic
    September 10, 2012

    Dan L.,

    For a thing that is “instantiated in reality” to be “greater than” a thing “instantiated in your mind” implies that these are different points on the same spectrum.

    Whoa, hang on a second here. Why are you translating “instantiated” back into the sort of “existence” term that caused the problem? I defined “instantiated” in such a way — I thought at least — that it better fit your (and maybe Everitt’s) definition of “existence” without adding in all the extra baggage. On that, you simply CANNOT be instantiated only in the mind. To be instantiated means that you are in a world. I rebuilt the OA based on THAT meaning, and showed that it still stands up even WHEN we remove the supposed ambiguity that you claim it relies on. Why did you recast it back into the ambiguity?

    On top of that, the OA DOESN’T do what you suggest. It never argues that they’re on some kind of continuum. At worst, it never argues for why it is better to exist in reality than to exist only in the mind, but instead simply relies on that intuition.. At best, you get arguments like this one:

    1) GCB’ is a GCB that is only in the mind.
    2) GCB has one more quality than GCB’, namely existing in reality.
    3) That quality is not one that, if possessed, will lower the greatest of any sort of GCB.
    4) To have one more quality than another being is greater.
    5) Therefore, GCB has one more quality than GCB’.
    6) Therefore, GCB would be greater than GCB’.
    7) Therefore GCB is the greatest conceivable being, and not GCB’.

    Now, I think — and have said repeatedly — that you can challenge whether or not it is greater to exist in reality than to exist only in the mind. But it is not for the reason you give. The OA is NOT comparing existences. It is, in fact, comparing BEINGS. At first blush, it seems perfectly reasonable to say that it is greater to really exist in the world than it is to exist only in the mind. But philosophy is ABOUT challenging intuitions, and so that premise turns out to be rather unsafe. But the argument you raise simply doesn’t cut it.

    “Bachelor is an unmarried man” is not interesting in this same sense. “

    Of course not. It is a trivial example. But that doesn’t make analytic proofs invalid or unable to produce interesting truths. You accuse me of basically saying “nuh uh” elsewhere, but you do it right here.

    The OA is an example of an analytic argument that WOULD say something interesting if it worked. Most people think it doesn’t. But proofs of logical impossibility ALSO say interesting things if they worked. Many of them don’t work, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t tell us interesting things about the world, which is what the argument was relying on.

    Which nicely elides the point I was making: worlds that seem possible through introspection are not necessarily possible and worlds that seem impossible through introspection may not actually be impossible.

    Well, let’s recall the original point I was replying to:

    …but please just consider the fact that the most fundamental theories describing the natural world don’t seem to be logically possible and yet they seem to be true.

    To which my reply was that modal logic handles that easily, and handles it easier than traditional logic does. So, if anyone is eliding anything here, it’s you.

    (BTW, that word is becoming my pet peeve, because it’s a 5 dollar academic word that even PHILOSOPHERS don’t use, and yet so many non-philosophers have slipped it into what are bascially every day conversations. It doesn’t add clarity, so why use it?)

    Consider the mere possibility that human brains are simply unable to conceive of some worlds that are nonetheless, despite their inconceivability, possible. If there’s even one possible universe of which humans cannot conceive, then we cannot conclude that anything is necessarily true or necessarily false — or for that matter, contingently true or contingently false. And I think that’s in fact that situation we’re in; we cannot know which facts about our universe are necessary and which are contingent and arguments that assume we can only beg the question.

    Well, we don’t go out doing modal logic the way you seem to think, by a sort of empirical approach tied to possible worlds where we think up worlds and then see if something is possible in them through some kind of test. What we do is basically set-up the logical rules and ask if there’s a way to change the rules so that the thing is possible. If it is, then it is possible in a possible world and so isn’t logically impossible. If not, then it is. We may get these things wrong on occasion, but that’s the same thing as saying that because our sensory organs may not be able to perceive everything in this universe we should simply stop trying to figure anything out, which is ridiculous.

    I prefer, as you might guess by now, making the division between the conceptual and the instance properties of things. The conceptual properties cannot be violated — if you have to change one of those, you aren’t the same concept anymore — but the instance ones only apply to this actual world (or, rather, AN actual world). So, for a moon, if a moon must be a heavenly body it is logically impossible for there to be a moon that is not a heavenly body, but if moons are round in this universe but if the laws of physics were different there could be a moon that was square it would not be logically impossible to have square moons. The former, then, is a conceptual property and the latter is an instance one.

    This is a bit of a digression. But I think you overstate the issues with modal logic/reasoning.

    In all honesty, I think “truth” and “falsehood” are concepts that only apply to propositional content. The color red is neither “true” nor is it “false” — it’s simply red. The grass in the park isn’t “true” or “false” — it’s just there.

    I agree that, say, colours aren’t propositions but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have propositions that include them. For example, that the grass is red, or that there is grass in the park. These are propositions, and they have truth values. Similarly, the proposition “The GCB exists” is a proposition that can be true or false, so I fail to see what this buys you. We are talking about the propositions, not the specific states themselves.

    My argument is that the OA seems to work because it’s using the term “existence” ambiguously. This response strikes me as basically saying “nuh uh!” Existence in the mind is not the same sort of thing as existence in the real world, and it is ambiguity between these two sense of “exist” that the OA plays on.

    Well, first, I deny that it does that. Secondly, the problem is that if under YOUR definition of existence it is ambiguous, that doesn’t mean it is under THEIRS. You have to demonstrate that their usage is ambiguous, not merely insert your own as Everitt seems to in the quote in the post. And I’d point out that the ambiguity that is supposedly there is one that the OA specifically disambiguates by making an explicit distinction between existence in the mind and existence in the world. At best, you can say that they don’t really make the “greater” link between the two — ie they don’t prove that existence in the world is greater than existence only in the mind — but not that they play on the fact that the term “exists” appears in both to make their case. You’d have to assert that those are fundamentally different types of existences … but, as I showed when I replaced it with “instantiated”, the questions still remain.

    No, I’m being flexible. That’s why I began the argument by saying effectively: whether or not something “exists” per se is a boring semantic argument; let’s talk about what we mean by existence.

    The only people equivocating are those posing the OA as a serious argument: they’re equivocating between senses of the word “to exist.”

    And yet you ignored it when I said “Okay, let’s not get into the philosophical tangle of trying to work out “existence”, let’s instead toss all the baggage away and use these terms and shake it out this way”. Clearly, I’m saying that the argument is still serious — even if I think it doesn’t work — but I am clearly not making that mistake since I didn’t even use the term.

    I have nothing against the concept of “a GCB that is instantiated.” But to have a concept of “a GCB that is instantiated” in no way implies that an actual GCB is instantiated. Similarly, I can have a concept of “a cookie that actually exists” without such a cookie actually existing.

    So, let me recast this into the “conceptual” idea I posited above. Imagine that we have two conceptual properties: canBeInstantiated and isInstantiated. For the cookie, your argument is that its conceptual property of “canBeInstantiated” is true but we don’t know if the “isInstantiated” property is true or false. In the OA, the argument is that for that specific object, if it is the case that “canBeInstantiated” is true, then “isInstantiated” must also be true. Why? Because they demonstrated from the conceptual properties other than “canBeInstantiated” that the concept itself must always have the “isInstantiated” property as true. Thus, if it can be instanitated, it MUST be instantiated.

    Now, as already said, there are a number of potential problems with their argument. But the argument you keep making is not one of them, because they are not going IN GENERAL between the concepts and the instances, but in this case saying that, analytically and conceptially, in this case you not only can, but HAVE to.

  87. #87 Verbose Stoic
    September 10, 2012

    eric.

    No, it isn’t circular. It has, perhaps, an unsupported premise, but it is not circular.

    The argument is this, adding your rider to it:

    1) The Christian God is the GCB.
    2) It is better for a GCB to exist in reality than only in the mind.
    3) Therefore, the GCB has to exist in reality, or else it isn’t the GCB.
    4) Therefore, the GCB has to exist in reality.
    5) Therefore, the Christian God has to exist in reality.

    To be circular, they’d have to be assuming that the Christian God exists in order to prove that it exist. They don’t, so it’s not circular.

    It’s also far less interesting than what almost everyone else is talking about here, because we don’t really care about getting from the GCB to the Christian God if we can’t establish that the GCB must exist. Your argument presumes that works and then attacks that specific linkage, but if the OA doesn’t work at establishing the existince of the GCB then there seems little point in pursuing that line of argumentation.

  88. #88 Verbose Stoic
    September 10, 2012

    Kel,

    Almost all of the people in this post and comment chain who are saying that the OA is important don’t think it actually works. For my part, why I say it is important is not that it works — because it doesn’t — but that you understand WHY it doesn’t work beyond basically an insistence that empiricism is the only way to come to truth, or that it seems obviously absurd. Again, to me it’s about understanding how philosophy works, and if you don’t get that then you’ll be in deep trouble with the other theological ideas that also rely heavily on philosophy and philosophical thinking.

  89. #89 Wow
    September 10, 2012

    VS, you’ve failed the test.

    Please hand in your Sapiens card…

  90. #90 Dan L.
    September 10, 2012

    @VS: You’re lawyering again. It’s really annoying to have to sort out all your semantic difficulties for you. It makes me not want to play.

    Why did you recast it back into the ambiguity?

    I can’t read your mind, VS. Nonetheless, since I distinguished between “instantiated in mind” and “instantiated in reality” I think I’ve covered your distinction without any resulting ambiguity.

    Now, I think — and have said repeatedly — that you can challenge whether or not it is greater to exist in reality than to exist only in the mind. But it is not for the reason you give.

    You’ve said it repeatedly. I still disagree because all you can apparently do is repeat yourself.

    The reason I gave makes perfect sense: the entity in your head is not the same sort of entity as the one “instantiated”. Not only is it not “greater” to exist in reality than in the mind…it’s not even the same kind of existence!

    Let me try one more time to make this clear: You can have a concept of a “GCB that exists only in my head” and a concept of a “GCB that exists in my head and in the real world.” The latter is argued to be superior on very dubious grounds. Fine. You’ve demonstrated that you have a mental concept of a “GCB that exists in reality.” In just the same way, I can conceive of “a cookie that exists in reality” alongside “a cookie that exists only in my mind.” The imaginary “cookie that exists in reality” is arguably better than the “cookie that exists only in my mind,” but it is still imaginary; it is still not “instantiated.”

    Proving that your imaginary GCB is better than some other imaginary GCB with a different imaginary property does nothing to demonstrate that the former GCB is “instantiated.”

    1) GCB’ is a GCB that is only in the mind.
    2) GCB has one more quality than GCB’, namely existing in reality.

    This is exactly my problem. An “instantiated” GCB is not simply a mental GCB with the property of “existence.” The concept of a GCB and an “instantiated” GCB are completely ontologically distinct entities.

    Of course not. It is a trivial example. But that doesn’t make analytic proofs invalid or unable to produce interesting truths. You accuse me of basically saying “nuh uh” elsewhere, but you do it right here.

    I offered it as an aside to explain to you that we have very different starting points with respect to philosophical analysis. I invite you to find me a single analytic proof that is truly analytic and produces interesting truth. No mathematical proofs count because they all depend on axioms. I also don’t buy proofs of “logical impossibility.” Again, quantum physics doesn’t seem logically possible, but that says more about our limited cognitive capacities than it does about the possibilities inherent in the universe.

    But I think you overstate the issues with modal logic/reasoning.

    Apparently you didn’t even understand my argument, so I’ll happily dismiss your opinion.

    We are talking about the propositions, not the specific states themselves.

    You’re exactly wrong here; an “instantiated” GCB is exactly the “specific state itself”. By contrast, the OA features a propositional description of the “instantiated GCB”. The OA at best demonstrates the existence of a description. It does not demonstrate the validity of the “specific state itself.” This is the argument I’ve been making all along; the fact that you can’t see the relevance speaks volumes to me.

    Well, first, I deny that it does that. Secondly, the problem is that if under YOUR definition of existence it is ambiguous, that doesn’t mean it is under THEIRS.

    I don’t have a definition of “existence”. That is why it’s ambiguous. I don’t know what their definition is, do you?

    I do know that I’ve never heard “existence” used in an unambiguous way. Give me a definition of “existence” and I’ll show you what’s wrong with it.

    You’d have to assert that those are fundamentally different types of existences … but, as I showed when I replaced it with “instantiated”, the questions still remain.

    They are clearly two fundamentally different types of existences, and you showed no such thing.

    So, let me recast this into the “conceptual” idea I posited above. Imagine that we have two conceptual properties: canBeInstantiated and isInstantiated. For the cookie, your argument is that its conceptual property of “canBeInstantiated” is true but we don’t know if the “isInstantiated” property is true or false.

    No, that is not my argument. It cannot be because I do not believe mental concepts have the properties “canBeInstantiated” and “isInstantiated”. This is the essence of my criticism of the OA: these properties would constitute magical linkages between the concept and physical reality. I don’t believe such linkages exist (besides, obviously, sense experience and memory thereof). That is, I believe the only connection between my concept of a cookie and the contingent facts of cookies in the real world are my sense experience of cookies and memories thereof.

    In the OA, the argument is that for that specific object, if it is the case that “canBeInstantiated” is true, then “isInstantiated” must also be true. Why? Because they demonstrated from the conceptual properties other than “canBeInstantiated” that the concept itself must always have the “isInstantiated” property as true. Thus, if it can be instanitated, it MUST be instantiated.

    All of which is irrelevant since I don’t actually believe in these magical properties.

  91. #91 Dan L.
    September 10, 2012

    Well, first, I deny that it does that. Secondly, the problem is that if under YOUR definition of existence it is ambiguous, that doesn’t mean it is under THEIRS.

    To be perfectly clear on this point, VS, I don’t think the OA should be taken seriously so I’m not about to go buy their book. It’s just not interesting to me. Furthermore, you’ve completely failed to convince me otherwise. So no, it’s not on me to show their definition of “existence” is ambiguous. It’s on them, or you, or anyone else to try to convince me that the OA isn’t just philosophical word games.

  92. #92 Dan L.
    September 10, 2012

    For my part, why I say it is important is not that it works — because it doesn’t — but that you understand WHY it doesn’t work beyond basically an insistence that empiricism is the only way to come to truth, or that it seems obviously absurd.

    My “insistence” that empiricism is the only way to come to truth is based on open-minded philosophical analysis of my experience with the world, not dogmatic adherence to a philosophical premise.

    By way of comparison, you’ve never been able to adduce even one example of something that is not learned through empiricism. I have an opinion on who’s being dogmatic on this point. I’ll give you two guesses.

  93. #93 eric
    September 10, 2012

    VS:

    The argument is this, adding your rider to it:

    1) The Christian God is the GCB.
    2) It is better for a GCB to exist in reality than only in the mind.
    3) Therefore, the GCB has to exist in reality, or else it isn’t the GCB.
    4) Therefore, the GCB has to exist in reality.
    5) Therefore, the Christian God has to exist in reality.

    To be circular, they’d have to be assuming that the Christian God exists in order to prove that it exist. They don’t, so it’s not circular.

    AIUI, you are incorrect, because you are downplaying the extent to which the concept GCB is defined as something that must exist. 2 is wrong. 3 Is more correct; its not simply that the GCB is contingently or empirically determined to have existence; it tautologically has the property of existence. And so if the Christian God is premised to be the GCB, it is premised to tautologically have existence.

    If someone premises the Christian god is definitionally greatest, and premises that greatest definitionally includes existence, then the Chrisitan god definitionally includes existence, and this is not an argument or deductive proof at all, its merely an exercise in definition.

  94. #94 Wow
    September 10, 2012

    “It’s really annoying to have to sort out all your semantic difficulties for you. It makes me not want to play.”

    That’s what VS does. And why.

    A deluge of bullshit with NO content. You have to do both sides of the conversation and, if in doing so you show it is incorrect, VS then gets to say “you’re misinterpreting me”.

    And the loop starts again.

  95. #95 @blamer
    September 11, 2012

    The seriousness of the OA meme can be seen, when that god that exists in their mind, insists on existence in historical time.

  96. [...] read it much these days, so I enjoyed Jason Rosenhouse’s take on the ontological argument here. For those who don’t know, it’s a weird a priori argument for the existence of a [...]

  97. #97 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    In my head, I always end up wanting to take their argument down to its base like this:

    A. All objects which are logically possible possibly exist.
    B. It is logically possible for an object to have the property: “In order for X to possibly exist, X must exist”

    I suppose I could be wrong, but so far as I can tell all the rest of the BS about better/more perfect versions of god, etc. are all a smokescreen (intended or otherwise) to justify their endorsement of B above. They also seem to believe that this would justify limiting B to only one object, rather than innumerable possible objects which might logically have that property if that property was valid.

  98. #98 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    And yes, I know this is all pretty much the same thing as many, many others have said. Including above, including Kant’s objections, etc. It’s just how I picture their argument, because (for me) brings out all the oddities. For instance, I wonder, under the sort of rules they must be using to come up with this idea, what would be invalid about saying “In order for the existence of X to be impossible, X must not exist”? That seems to bring the backwardness and circularity of the whole thing into better focus, for me anyway.

    You can say “If X exists, then X is possible.”
    You can say “If X is impossible, then X doesn’t exist.”
    But you can’t say “If X doesn’t exist, then X is impossible.” And you can’t say “If X is possible, then X exists.”

  99. #99 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    “If X is impossible, then X doesn’t exist.” This is a deductive argument. To invert it and say “If X doesn’t exist, then X is impossible” is to turn it into an empirical claim. In order to verify the truth of this inversion, even with perfect knowledge of everything that exists, you’d still have to add an assumption that all things that possibly exist, actually exist. That isn’t an assumption that’s there before the argument was inverted.

    One other possibility would be to say that some subset of objects have the property that if they possibly exist, then they actually exist, while others do not. And then you have to add yet another rule to determine what sorts of possible things would be in that subset. For those things in the subset, the inverted argument would be valid. But that’s true if, and only if the assumption that there is at least one object which has the property “if X possibly exists then X must exist.”

    “If X exists, then X is possible”. This is an empirical argument. We observe X to exist, therefore it’s possible for X to exist, whether we understand all the rules giving rise to its existence or not. Whether we understand what it “really” is, or not.

    If we invert that to “if X is possible, X exists,” we change the empirical argument into a deductive argument. But in order to do that, we have to add a hidden assumption that all things that possibly exist must exist. In order to fix this problem without invoking an infinitely weird universe, theologicans modify the assumption to make it read “some things that possibly exist must exist.” That’s the same assumption that I added to the inversion above. This assumption only exists when these arguments are inverted in this way, and not in their original forms.

    But if god does indeed have the property that makes “If god is possible, then god must exist” true, then it also has exactly the same property that makes “If god does not exist, then god is impossible” true. Why is the first argument more important than the second? Because it’s a deductive argument that is the inverse of an empirical argument? Is it clear that this would carry greater weight than an empirical argument that is the inverse of a deductive argument? This is where I get confused.

  100. #100 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    Oh, one more thing: Verifying the statement “If X is doesn’t exist, X is impossible” requires perfect knowledge of everything that exists. Verifying the statement “If X is possible, X exists” requires perfect knowledge of everything that is possible. I make no claim to the first kind of perfect knowledge. Why would a theologian feel secure claiming the second?

  101. #101 Verbose Stoic
    September 11, 2012

    Enki23,

    You can say “If X exists, then X is possible.”
    You can say “If X is impossible, then X doesn’t exist.”
    But you can’t say “If X doesn’t exist, then X is impossible.” And you can’t say “If X is possible, then X exists.”

    I think this is putting it clearer than what you said above (our putting it backwards) and I think this does highlight, at least, how I think the OA is being misinterpreted. The OA accepts that, in general, you can’t say that. So, as a general rule, yeah, that sort of argument is invalid. But the OA counters that IN THIS CASE, you can. Why? Because you end up defining the concept as necessarily existing in reality. And if that’s not necessary existence, what is?

    One of the issues, of course, is if you can indeed really do it that specific way, by assigning the concept the property of existing. Kant says you can’t (no pun intended [grin]). There’s also an issue over whether you can really say that it is greater to really exist than to exist only in the mind.

    But the key here is that the OA means to establish that it is logically impossible for this GCB, with the properties the GCB has, to NOT exist. Ergo, it is logically necessary for it to exist. And most philosophers will agree, I think, that if you could indeed do that, then that would be a monumental result and would say something about reality. This is what I think some here are denying, and to do so is basically to reject philosophy outright, which will make looking at the philosophical underpinnings of a lot of theology problematic.

    As an aside, it strikes me that the OA is similar to Hawking’s and Kraus’ attempts to describe how we get something from nothing. Essentially, they try to argue that it’s logically impossible — or, at least almost logically impossible — to just have nothing, or at least to have a stable nothing. They may rely on empirical studies more, but as I argued elsewhere empirical data’s really bad at proving logical necessity. Are their arguments, then, obviously absurd? Or what is the difference, aside from a little bit of empiricism?

    (Note that I disagree with them because I say that philosophically they start from what is called a something to get to different somethings. It’s hard to claim to have solved a philosophical problem when you aren’t using the same terms that it’s using in the same way; it ends up being just a different problem that you’re solving).

  102. #102 Dan L.
    September 11, 2012

    But the key here is that the OA means to establish that it is logically impossible for this GCB, with the properties the GCB has, to NOT exist. Ergo, it is logically necessary for it to exist. And most philosophers will agree, I think, that if you could indeed do that, then that would be a monumental result and would say something about reality.

    Sorry, VS, this is a basic category error. Proof inside a symbol system does not carry into physical reality. You can’t poof something into existence by making a clever argument.

    This is what I think some here are denying, and to do so is basically to reject philosophy outright, which will make looking at the philosophical underpinnings of a lot of theology problematic.

    No, it does not reject philosophy outright. It’s a principled rejection of very specific philosophical theories that have never been justified except by philosophers’ “intuitions”.

    Are their arguments, then, obviously absurd? Or what is the difference, aside from a little bit of empiricism?

    As far as I can tell, Hawking and Krauss aren’t insisting that it’s logically impossible to have nothing. They’re saying it’s possible, and given physical theory, plausible — even likely — that nothing is impossible. My impression is that both Krauss and Hawking accept the epistemology of science: nothing can ever be proven conclusively. And so they resort to this possibility as the best explanation, not as the only logically possible explanation. Not everyone is a dogmatist, believe it or not.

  103. #103 Verbose Stoic
    September 11, 2012

    eric,

    AIUI, you are incorrect, because you are downplaying the extent to which the concept GCB is defined as something that must exist. 2 is wrong. 3 Is more correct …

    Then as far as I know, you understand incorrectly, as it seems to me that 2 is explicitly stated in most forms of the OA. From wiki:

    1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
    2. The idea of God exists in the mind.
    3. A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
    4. If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
    5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
    6. Therefore, God exists.

    Seems like mine aligns with this, which aligns with one of the ones given in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (although it isn’t stated anywhere near as clearly there). So, where’s the definition?

    Now, there is one there that looks a bit like what you’re after, which is this:

    God is a being which has every perfection. (This is true as a matter of definition.) Existence is a perfection. Hence God exists.

    Is this the sort of thing you mean? It’s not the OA that I’m talking about, and I’d be on your side about that one if the first sentence really is only by definition and not by argument from the qualities. It would still share some of the issues with the OA I’m talking about as well.

  104. #104 Verbose Stoic
    September 11, 2012

    Dan L.,

    If I could prove that it is a logical contradiction for a concept to not actually exist in reality, then either you’d have to accept that it exists in reality or you’d better toss out the Law of Non-Contradiction. Take your pick.

    No, it does not reject philosophy outright. It’s a principled rejection of very specific philosophical theories that have never been justified except by philosophers’ “intuitions”.

    Well, you say that it’s only by “intuitions”, but you’d be wrong. And as a theory, it seems to me to be about as fundamental to philosophy as parsimony is to science, or that “You can’t get an ought from an is” is to morality. YES, it might be wrong, but you have to argue that or else you really are simply dismissing one of the underpinnings of the entire field.

    As far as I can tell, Hawking and Krauss aren’t insisting that it’s logically impossible to have nothing. They’re saying it’s possible, and given physical theory, plausible — even likely — that nothing is impossible. My impression is that both Krauss and Hawking accept the epistemology of science: nothing can ever be proven conclusively. And so they resort to this possibility as the best explanation, not as the only logically possible explanation. Not everyone is a dogmatist, believe it or not.

    So, if that tiny shade of doubt is all you care about, would it make you feel better if they said that it isn’t a conclusive proof, but makes it merely quite likely that a GCB exists? You leap to charges of “dogmatism”, but I never accused them of such, just of using similar arguments. If the argument is similar, then would you accept it with that minor alteration to avoid your concerns about logical impossibility?

  105. #105 Dan L.
    September 11, 2012

    If I could prove that it is a logical contradiction for a concept to not actually exist in reality, then either you’d have to accept that it exists in reality or you’d better toss out the Law of Non-Contradiction. Take your pick.

    Failure of imagination on your part. In reality, I understand the context in which the Law of Non-Contradiction is valid. Existence in physical reality is not part of that context. There is no way to determine a priori what is or is not logically possible.

    Well, you say that it’s only by “intuitions”, but you’d be wrong.

    Prove it. At least give an argument.

    And as a theory, it seems to me to be about as fundamental to philosophy as parsimony is to science, or that “You can’t get an ought from an is” is to morality.

    Only if you accept logic as a limit on physical reality rather than a limit on human cognition. There is good reason to accept logic as a sort of limit on human cognition; I see no reason whatsoever to accept it as a limit on reality.

    YES, it might be wrong, but you have to argue that or else you really are simply dismissing one of the underpinnings of the entire field.

    Only if you have a blinkered, benighted, extraordinarily unimaginative interpretation of what constitutes the field of philosophy.

    If the argument is similar, then would you accept it with that minor alteration to avoid your concerns about logical impossibility?

    The argument isn’t similar. Your misinterpretation of the argument may be similar, but ultimately Krauss’ argument is made on the basis of physical theory that is justified by empirical evidence, not by airy-fairy philosophical lawyering.

  106. #106 Dan L.
    September 11, 2012

    If I could prove that it is a logical contradiction for a concept to not actually exist in reality, then either you’d have to accept that it exists in reality or you’d better toss out the Law of Non-Contradiction. Take your pick.

    Again, this is a basic map/territory distinction. If you can prove something is logically impossible then you have only done so for the symbol system in which the proof is produced. Unless that symbol system happens to be the symbol system, the ultimate language for describing reality, the proof is not also valid in the real world. I highly doubt that such a symbol system even exists. We have to do with the limited, imperfect symbol systems we have.

  107. #107 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    It’s like an Escher drawing. All things that exist must be possible. All things which must exist in order to be possible must exist.

    But then, as well noted, we have to determine whether it is possible for something to exist such that it must exist in order to be possible.

    Or could one counter that there are possible things which, in order to be possible, must exist in a state in which it is possible to need to exist in order to be possible.

  108. #108 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    Is there a difference between asking:
    “Is it possible for something to necessarily exist?”
    and
    “Is it possibly necessary for it to be possible for something to necessarily exist?”

    Can you propose an ontological argument in favor of ontological arguments? Or does it simply reduce to an ontological argument? I haven’t been able to work that out yet.

  109. #109 Wow
    September 11, 2012

    I would ask is it necessary that something that might possibly be real has to exist?

  110. #110 Enki23
    September 11, 2012

    Wow: But that’s separate. Not that I’m in favor, I’m just flailing around trying to sniff out just how far down the absurdity hole ontological arguments go. It’s like saying if P then Q. You can’t say Q therefore P, obviously. But the ontological argument says “there is a subset of Q for which it is necessarily true that, if Q therefore P, and oh yeah definitely Q (but only for god. And shut up about special pleading).”

    There’s really two parts to all the given ontological arguments for god. The primary part uses some sleight-of-hand to tie off a self-referential logic knot to (ostensibly) establish the existence of possible things which must exist in order to be possible. Though it doesn’t actually establish anything like that at all, unless (so far as I can tell) it intends the ontological argument to apply to itself in some massively recursive fashion.

    The other part, and most of the effort, seems to be expended trying to limit that category to god. That’s what all the god-maximization silliness is about. They exploit all sorts of confusion about how you’d measure various “perfections” etc. And somehow always seem to avoid any discussion about how it would be impossible to maximize all of them simultaneously if there were any interactions between them. And if you can’t maximize them all simultaneously, how would he weight them? Is there more than one possible solution? Do we have a god stuck at some local maximum because he doesn’t have the imagination to strike out for better regions of possibility?

    And yes, I feel silly blathering about all the silliness, but I just can’t seem to help it. It’s just so damnably, beautifully absurd. I think it’s the self-referential nature of it, like the whole argument turns itself inside out every time you poke at it. It’s this perfect little self-contained bit of completely inconsequential fluff. The fact obviously remains that there’s no reason whatsoever, like many a smart person has said above and elsewhere, to think you can discover a damned thing about inacessible bits of reality by logic-ing them into existence. Out, maybe. But not in.

  111. #111 Wow
    September 11, 2012

    “Wow: But that’s separate.”

    It’s rather central to the logical hop to the segue, though.

    Just because something could exist doesn’t mean it must.

    And every version of the ontological argument jumps from “it could exist” to “it must exist” with no real connection other than another assertion that it would be “more perfect” to exist.

    Just because A A Milne could imagine the existence of a Heffalump doesn’t mean it exists. Even though it would be a much better Heffalump if it did.

  112. #112 Kel
    September 11, 2012

    Again, to me it’s about understanding how philosophy works, and if you don’t get that then you’ll be in deep trouble with the other theological ideas that also rely heavily on philosophy and philosophical thinking.

    That’s where I don’t understand. I’ve raised this problem with you before, but I just cannot see how almost all theistic claims aren’t (at least in some sense) empirical. Whether or not there’s life after death, whether or not we have something non-physical as part of us, whether or not a deity actually interferes in the universe, whether or not Jesus was God-incarnate, how it is we come to this knowledge – you can’t really get any of that a priori.

    For my part, why I say it is important is not that it works — because it doesn’t — but that you understand WHY it doesn’t work beyond basically an insistence that empiricism is the only way to come to truth, or that it seems obviously absurd.

    My general understanding is that existence is not a predicate (at least that covers some versions of the ontological argument), and that for a being to be maximally great doesn’t entail anything necessarily personal – it need not have a mind, a psychology, an interest in the affairs of humanity, etc.

    But even if there are problems with the argument, I still have the concern of why we shouldn’t just apply Hume’s fork and cast it to the flames. That is to say, I’m not suggesting that the argument doesn’t deserve consideration and should require a closer inspection, but I’m suggesting I cannot see why it should. That’s the hardest thing for me to grasp – I just cannot see its relevance.

    I’ll go reread the SEP article on the topic, or if you could recommend me any resources that might give me a meta-appreciation of the approach, that might help too. I’m not trying to be dismissive of it for the sake of it, I just can’t see the point.

  113. #113 Wow
    September 11, 2012

    “but that you understand WHY it doesn’t work beyond basically an insistence that empiricism is the only way to come to truth”

    A query here.

    Why the sudden leap over to “stop saying empiricism is the only way to come to truth”?

    How the hell do you VERIFY you have the truth, if you don’t have empiricism? And I’m talking about genuine truth, rather than a form of truth-table. Something about reality, i.e. existence or instantiation can be verified by empirical evidence and what else?

  114. #114 eric
    September 12, 2012

    VS:

    God is a being which has every perfection. (This is true as a matter of definition.) Existence is a perfection. Hence God exists.

    Is this the sort of thing you mean? It’s not the OA that I’m talking about

    Fair enough. I think there is still some definitional sleight of hand going on in the standard OA. It essentiially defines God as best as a premise, defines ‘best’ as including existence as a premise, then combines them.
    But I do agree, you accurately summarized the form of the argument I was attacking and we are in agreement it’s a bad one.

    Dan L.:

    Again, this is a basic map/territory distinction. If you can prove something is logically impossible then you have only done so for the symbol system in which the proof is produced. Unless that symbol system happens to be the symbol system, the ultimate language for describing reality, the proof is not also valid in the real world.

    This nails it on the head. Arguments – even deductive ones – are only predictive of reality to the extent that they model it correctly. There is always the possibility that the model is wrong.

    To put this in philosophical terms, not all valid deductions turn out to be sound. When we are faced with a valid deduction that seems to disagree with empirical reality, there are two possibilities to consider: our empiricism is incorrect, or our deduction is valid but not sound.

    The strongest argument in favor of the OA is that it appears to be valid*. But the absence of godly action in the world – the absence of empirical fact that would be consistent with the OA being sound – should make us at least suspect that there is something fundamentally incorrect about the set of premises on which it rests.

    The reason QM is often claimed to be the most rigorously tested theory in science is because the mathematical (i.e. deductive) conclusions it gives are so absurd, we feel compelled to test them even though they are deduced logically from things we have already confirmed. I bring that up to point out that the OA is not just being treated exceptionally rigorously or unusually. People who conclude ‘there must be something wrong with its premises’ are not simply showing a sort of bias against the conclusion. They are behaving pefectly rationally and normally: when faced with a valid deduction that appears to give absurt or nonsensical results, you test it. You test both the premises and the conclusions to the extent that you are able. You do not merely accept the argument because it is deductively valid.

    *There are people who take issue even with its validity. Kant’s counterargument ‘existence is not a real predicate’ is an example of someone taking issue with its validity. However, for sake of argument I’m giving a best case scenario.

    Models of reality (and our arguments are in some sense models)

  115. #115 Lenoxus
    September 12, 2012

    One ironic consequence of the ontological argument is that it adds to the attributes of the defintion of “God”, which under most circumstances decreases the likelihood of the entity’s existence. (“At least one sheep exists” is more probable than either “At least one black sheep exists” or “At least one white sheep exists.”)

    “God” is generally agreed to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and the first cause of the universe as we know it, and is usually assumed to have intervened within the universe one or more times. This is already a lot (for some people) to swallow. Along comes the (modern variant of the) ontological argument, which insists that “necessary existence” is yet another attribute that defines “God” to be “God”. If a mere omnimax first cause could possibly-not-have-existed, then it’s close, but no cigar.

    The somewhat sneaky trick of the argument, then, is this:
    1. Get the “listener” to agree that “God” is possible. Well, only the most philosophically-stingy atheist would deny that, right?
    2. Add on the surprise “necessary existence” attribute.
    3. Profit.

    Well, one person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens. If God is “necessarily necessary” or whatever, then I guess I’m even more of an atheist than before; I had been willing to concede the tiniest possibility of God’s existence, but obviously not if “God” actually has this weird extra attribute. For one thing, I can apply modus tollens:

    1. It is observed that God does not actually exist (by various numerous atheist arguments).
    2. If God’s existence is possible, then it is necessary, and actually exists.
    3. By modus tollens, God’s existence is impossible.

    However, I’m still feeling quite charitable: If incontrovertible evidence arises suggesting an extremely powerful intelligent cause for humans, or earth, or Jesus’s “miracles”, or whatever, then my atheism will die and I will call that intelligence God — even if that entity is a mere alien or whatever. I’ll have become a theist in a respect that some religious people, in their extreme insistence on an “extreme” god, will be atheists!

  116. #116 Sean T
    September 12, 2012

    Even granting the validity and soundness of the OA, (which I personally do not), does it really lead to the conclusion that God exists? The argument is essentially that
    1. “the greatest possible being” can be conceived of in the mind and therefore exists in the mind.
    2. Any being that exists in actuality is greater than one that exists only in the mind.
    Therefore, the “greatest possible being” must exist in reality.

    However, where does this argument imply that the “greatest possible being” must be omniscient, omnipotent or even benevolent toward humans? The greatest possible being might well fall short of complete perfection.

    An analogous argument, which like the OA is probably not really sound, would be:
    1. I can conceive of the “greatest possible pizza”, therefore it exists in the mind.
    2. Any pizza that exists in reality is greater than one that exists only in the mind.
    Therefore, the greatest possible pizza actually exists.

    It may be true that the greatest possible pizza does exist in reality, but where is there the notion that this would somehow be a “perfect” pizza, whatever that might mean?

  117. #117 Wow
    September 12, 2012

    Douglas Adams’ “Babel Fish” is a kind of obverse Ontological Argument.

    God can be imagined, he requires faith, but if he proves himself, there is no faith, therefore God requiring faith to exist, doesn’t exist because the Babel Fish is a dead giveaway.

  118. #118 eric
    September 12, 2012

    Another variation of classic counter-argument, for your viewing pleasure (or nausea). Credit: I’m using VS’ 5-point version of the OA, pulled from his post above, and modifying it.

    1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
    2. The idea of a God that stands besides me, right now, in reality, exists in the mind.
    3. A being which exists and stands beside me both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists and stands beside me only in the mind.
    4. If God only exists and stands beside me in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists and stands beside me, this second, in reality.
    5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
    (5a. I observe no God standing physically beside me in reality)
    6. Therefore, God does not exist.

  119. #119 eric
    September 12, 2012

    Thinking about it more generally, adding properties is a major issue for this argument. If you call ‘exists in the mind’ property A, ‘exists in reality’ property B, and whatever silly property you want to add to the argument C (in my case, ‘stands beside me,’ but you could also pick ‘is blue’ or ‘has a horn’ or whatever), then you have essentially this:

    Original: A+B is greater than A. Remember, this is supposed to be the convincing form of the argument.

    Modified: A+B+C is greater than A+C. Remember, this is supposed to be the illegitimate form. You aren’t supposed to just be able to add “is blue” or whatever to it.

    However, if you subtract C from both sides of the second inequality you just get the first. For any value of C, if the first one holds, so does the second. So, if the original OA is sound, you should be able to add properties like “is blue,” “has a horn,” or “is standing right beside me” to it and it should still be sound. If adding a C-property to it renders the deduction unsound, it can only be because the original was unsound; the added Cs cannot change its soundness.

  120. #120 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    eric,

    Addressing your specific argument — and you do have to address the specifics in these arguments — the answers are:

    1) Absolutely … which is why the GCB must be present everywhere all at the same time, and thus omnipresent. 5a) is not just a bracketed add on, but the key to your argument … except that there’s no reason to think that you’d have be able to see the GCB beside you for your property to hold.

    2) The issue is that “stands beside me” is a relational property between the GCB and yourself. That’s clearly not the right sort of property to judge greatness. “Stands visibly beside you” is even worse, because it may be a property of the GCB that its greatness makes it so that our limited minds simply could experience it visually. That would be a limitation of us, not of the GCB. This is the same sort of problem that Gasking’s argument — that I read in “The God Delusion” — has: “being impressive” isn’t a property of the GCB, but of the relation between the GCB and us, and so if a non-existent God doing what it does would be more impressive if it didn’t exist that only reflects a limitation in what we find impressive, not in the God/GCB itself.

    Now, your more general argument is interesting, but it has to address the basic argument of if there is a quality that the GCB could have that it doesn’t have, and that quality is not a quality that would make it lesser, then the GCB is really the GCB with that property and what we thought was the GCB is not, in fact, the GCB. I’ve already talked about the issues with relational properties, but what about colour? Well, we can say that GCB + a colour is greater than a GCB without colour, but we can’t get to “GCB is blue” from there, because why would we say that that quality is better than being red? So, if we argue it that way, then being blue and being red are both qualities that the GCB should have … except that other than being multi-coloured, the GCB can be both blue and red. And there’s no reason to say that being multi-coloured or being blue or being red are any better than any other, so at most you could say that the GCB must have a colour, but not what colour it has. And that addresses the supposed invalid case. The same reasoning applies to having a horn; the GCB either has or doesn’t have a horn, but it can’t have both — we can’t conceive of something that’s logically contradictory — and having a horn or not having one isn’t any better than the alternative, objectively.

    Note that here I want to clear up what might be an issue, The “illegitimate” form is that you can’t merely declare that having a property means that the thing exists, so saying that “It has a horn, and to have a horn it must exist, therefore it must exist” is completely out. The OA doesn’t do that, but argues from something that we think means that it must exist. So it’s not quite the same argument.

    Anyway, you could make a similar argument about existence as above: sure, the GCB either exists in reality or exists only in the mind, but that’s only saying that it has a property telling us that it’s one or the other, not which value it has, and there’s no strong reason to say that existing in reality is better than existing only in the mind. This, however, has to treat “existence” as one property, like coloured, and then treating whether it exists or not as different values here. The OA treats them as different properties that don’t contradict each other, and so can get the benefits of the addition, sidestepping — at least potentially — the objection I made to colour. And it doesn’t seem like existing in reality, at least, is a relational property.

  121. #121 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    Sean T,

    However, where does this argument imply that the “greatest possible being” must be omniscient, omnipotent or even benevolent toward humans? The greatest possible being might well fall short of complete perfection.

    It’s actually not in that argument, but derives in ways similar to that argument from what it means to be a GCB:

    The GCB must be as powerful as we can possibly conceive a being to be, and so must be able to do anything that we can conceive possible to do, or else we could conceived of a being greater than the GCB, which would be the GCB we have plus that ability, which would then by definition have to be the GCB.

    The GCB must know as much as can be possibly known, or else again we have a being greater than the GCB that knows that one extra thing, which would make it the GCB.

    I think benevolence runs into the same problem that existence does: intuitively, we think that both being good and existing are clearly better than their alternatives, and if that was true the above argument would apply. But if that isn’t true, then the above argument doesn’t apply, and I think you can challenge both that being good is better than being evil and that existing is better than not existing.

    It may be true that the greatest possible pizza does exist in reality, but where is there the notion that this would somehow be a “perfect” pizza, whatever that might mean?

    Again, the GCP, by definition, is the most perfect pizza that we can conceive of. If you deny this, then you’ve denied the whole starting point, and that’s not a good thing to do here since that starting point, in and of itself, is pretty much uncontroversial, even if a lot of work would need to be done to determine what it means to be a perfect pizza.

  122. #122 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    Lenoxus,

    1. It is observed that God does not actually exist (by various numerous atheist arguments).
    2. If God’s existence is possible, then it is necessary, and actually exists.
    3. By modus tollens, God’s existence is impossible.

    Well, this argument is pretty much irrelevant. If I can establish that God’s existence is possible, then the arguments listed in 1) must be incorrect. And if I can’t establish that God’s existence is possible, then we don’t need to worry about this line of argumentation at all.

  123. #123 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    Kel,

    That’s where I don’t understand. I’ve raised this problem with you before, but I just cannot see how almost all theistic claims aren’t (at least in some sense) empirical. Whether or not there’s life after death, whether or not we have something non-physical as part of us, whether or not a deity actually interferes in the universe, whether or not Jesus was God-incarnate, how it is we come to this knowledge – you can’t really get any of that a priori.

    I don’t deny that there are a lot of empirical claims rolled into this, but with the ones you listed I wonder how you’d intend to test that empirically. The only way, for example, to really test whether there’s life after death is to, well, die. Few are going to rationally try that [grin].

    But there are a couple of claims that conflated here:

    1) Can we get any interesting facts about the world a priori? The answer seems to be “Yes”, especially since there are at least some pieces of knowledge that we have to have to have experiences that are in any way understandable, which we must get before we have experiences.

    2) Are there questions about God that are best handled not by science — reasonably construed — but by fields like philosophy doing things like conceptual analysis?

    I think the questions you list here fit into 2). They may be partly empirical, but it’s the conceptual parts and figuring out how to test it at all that are the key issues. The OA fits into 1), in my opinion. What both have in common is that those sorts of discussions are pretty much by definition more philosophical than anything else, requiring the use of the philosophical method — which I outline on my blog, along with the differences between it and the scientific method — rather than anything else. If you don’t know how to apply the philosophical method to those questions, you won’t see why your answers aren’t really addressing the problem. This is what I’d call Hawking and Krauss out for more than anything else.

    But even if there are problems with the argument, I still have the concern of why we shouldn’t just apply Hume’s fork and cast it to the flames. That is to say, I’m not suggesting that the argument doesn’t deserve consideration and should require a closer inspection, but I’m suggesting I cannot see why it should. That’s the hardest thing for me to grasp – I just cannot see its relevance.

    Well, to apply Hume’s fork, you’d have to prove to me that Hume’s fork applies and is correct, which requires more philosophical work. But to try to answer your question, I’d say that you should look at it because:

    1) It is one of THE classic theological arguments that has been discussed over and over in theology and philosophy of religion; if you aren’t aware of it, then it seems that you haven’t even really gotten through the introduction to theology.

    2) It is, of the classic arguments, the most philosophical, and so if you can’t understand the issues that underlie it you are unlikely to be able to get the issues underlying the other more philosophical theological arguments, like I dare say Plantinga’s.

    Now, at the end of all of this, you don’t have to be convinced that it’s right. Everyone in this post chain supporting it is not convinced that it’s right, at least. But I think it’s the dismissiveness of it being obviously absurd that grates on philosophers; it’s not OBVIOUSLY absrud, at least, and to say that it is is … problematic, to say the least.

    That was what I pounded on about Dawkins’ discussion of it in “The God Delusion”: he spent more time mocking it than addressing its serious issues, and then demonstrated that he didn’t understand it — and philosophy — immedately thereafter. Don’t mock something unless you’re sure you understand it [grin].

  124. #124 eric
    September 13, 2012

    VS:

    2) The issue is that “stands beside me” is a relational property between the GCB and yourself. That’s clearly not the right sort of property to judge greatness.

    Why not? Isn’t defining greatness in a non-circular manner one of the key problems with the OA? Moreover, deciding that ‘exists in my understanding’ is less great than ‘exists in reality’ is a relational property. The first is atoms and electrical currents in my brain, the second is atoms and currents outside my brain.

    if there is a quality that the GCB could have that it doesn’t have, and that quality is not a quality that would make it lesser, then the GCB is really the GCB with that property and what we thought was the GCB is not, in fact, the GCB.

    You are missing the point. My last general argument is not an argument that Anselm’s and Christianity’s GCB must have property C. Throw that thought out. Its not what I’m saying. Your GCB does not have to be blue or red or multicolored. I’m saying that the conclusion of the standard OA must always have the same truth value as the concluson of a second (and third, and fourth…) OA argument when property C is added.

    IF the OA is sound, THEN OA + C must also be sound for any value of C. Any value. C could have positive greatness, negative greatness, or zero greatness (i.e. be irrelevant to the question) – the truth value of the two arguments must be the same in all cases.

    Here, watch (remember, A = exists in mind, B = exists in reality, C = has some additional property. I will use { and } to denote less than and greater than, to avoid any html wierdness. ={ is ‘less than or equal to.’)
    (1) For OA conclusion to be true: A+B } A
    (2) For OA+C conclusion to be false, A+B+C not} A+C
    (3) Rephrasing (2), you get A+B+C ={ A+C
    Subtracting C from both sides of (3), regardless of C’s value, gives you:
    (4) A+B ={ A.
    Which is a direct logical contradiction to the first equation. IOW, for the OA+C argument to be false, the standard OA argument must also be false. There is no way around it. No value of C can change this relation. Either both arguments yield true conclusions or both yield false conclusions, but the standard OA cannot yield a true conclusion while OA+C yields a false one.

    So, IF the OA argument demonstrates that a GCB exists, then it also demonstrates that a blue GCB exists. And a red GCB. And a horned GCB. It seems that like Pascal’s wager, one problem with the OA is that it justifies too many Gods, not too few. :)

  125. #125 Wow
    September 13, 2012

    “You are missing the point.”

    Deliberately.

    He uses 10,000 words when 100 will do in the hope that you’ll be buried in BS. It also allows him to have several contradicting stories and when you point the hole in one, he points to the other to show how he’s right, ergo no holes.

  126. #126 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    Aw, whassa matta VS? Can’t figure out how to respond to my arguments so you gave up?

    1) Can we get any interesting facts about the world a priori? The answer seems to be “Yes”, especially since there are at least some pieces of knowledge that we have to have to have experiences that are in any way understandable, which we must get before we have experiences.

    I’ve asked you many times for an example of this and you have never provided one. Please stop making this claim until you have adduced at least one acceptable example.

  127. #127 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    eric,

    Why not? Isn’t defining greatness in a non-circular manner one of the key problems with the OA? Moreover, deciding that ‘exists in my understanding’ is less great than ‘exists in reality’ is a relational property. The first is atoms and electrical currents in my brain, the second is atoms and currents outside my brain.

    A relational property is a property that describes a relation between two things. So, it’s not really a property of one thing at all, which means, from the start, that you can’t say that the property BELONGS to one of the things or to the other; it applies in an odd way to both. Now, given that, if you prove say that it would be better if there existed this relation between the GCB and E (for eric) and we discover that it doesn’t, does it say anything about the greatness of the GCB? Does it reveal a flaw in the GCB, which is why that relation isn’t there? No, because the reason that relation might not be there might be due to a failing in E. In short, it might be the case that it’s the fact that E is not great enough to have that relation entail. Thus, we still have a GCB without having that relation, and so the proof doesn’t work.

    I did talk about this, BTW, in my comment, right below. I didn’t simply assert it as your quoting here might imply.

    IF the OA is sound, THEN OA + C must also be sound for any value of C. Any value. C could have positive greatness, negative greatness, or zero greatness (i.e. be irrelevant to the question) – the truth value of the two arguments must be the same in all cases.

    Let’s imagine that we have a C such that if anything possesses it that thing is less than it would be if it didn’t have that property. Then, if we assign C to the GCB, the GCB would be made lesser if it had not had that property. But, then, it can’t be the GCB, because we can conceive of a greater being, simply by not having it have that property. Therefore, the GCB cannot have the property C. Thus, your argument can only apply to properties that are at least neutral wrt greatness.

    I actually think that’s the biggest confusion here, although I’m not all that clear on what argument you’re making. I assume that when you say “OA” above, you really mean “GCB”, and so that’s how I’m taking it. But the OA essentially says this:

    1) The GCB MUST contain any property P that would make a being greater.
    2) ONE argument for what it means for the GCB to be greater implies that if there’s any neutral or positive property that the GCB doesn’t have, then it must have it or else it isn’t the GCB.

    Now, returning to your initial argument:

    Original: A+B is greater than A. Remember, this is supposed to be the convincing form of the argument.

    Modified: A+B+C is greater than A+C. Remember, this is supposed to be the illegitimate form. You aren’t supposed to just be able to add “is blue” or whatever to it.

    The problem is that A+B+C is greater than A+C isn’t actually illegitimate. Under 1) if B is a positive trait then it’s required, and under 2) it’s required as long as it isn’t negative. You in theory can add a property to it and still be legitimate. So starting from that point seems wrong, and that seems to affect your math.

    Now,

    So, IF the OA argument demonstrates that a GCB exists, then it also demonstrates that a blue GCB exists. And a red GCB. And a horned GCB. It seems that like Pascal’s wager, one problem with the OA is that it justifies too many Gods, not too few. :)

    You say that I missed the point, but my comment aimed precisely at this conclusion. It does not, in fact, prove that the GCB must be red or blue or horned, because while it says that you have to have that property — coloured, horned — it doesn’t say what colour that it has to have. It can be blue or red or whatever and that will not affect its greatness or existence, as long as it doesn’t try to have both (as that would be a logical contradiction).

    The problem here is that you seem to be saying that each of those Cs creates a DIFFERENT GCB. But there’s no reason to create a new GCB as opposed to assigning the property to the GCB itself. And if you can’t assign the property itself to a single GCB — ie it can’t be both blue and red — then you don’t invent a new GCB, but simply note that since it can’t be both it has to be one of them, but we don’t know which one.

    So, no, it doesn’t seem to prove too many GCBs at all, but perhaps I’m not getting your argument.

  128. #128 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    I actually think that’s the biggest confusion here, although I’m not all that clear on what argument you’re making.

    “I don’t know what you’re saying but I’m quite sure you’re wrong.” VS in a nutshell.

  129. #129 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    eric,

    To put this in philosophical terms, not all valid deductions turn out to be sound. When we are faced with a valid deduction that seems to disagree with empirical reality, there are two possibilities to consider: our empiricism is incorrect, or our deduction is valid but not sound.

    The strongest argument in favor of the OA is that it appears to be valid*. But the absence of godly action in the world – the absence of empirical fact that would be consistent with the OA being sound – should make us at least suspect that there is something fundamentally incorrect about the set of premises on which it rests.

    The problem is that sound only means that the premises in the argument are true. The premises of the OA DON’T imply the empirical facts that you say they imply, or that contradict it. Without adding the rider “God is the GCB”, the OA says nothing about what the GCB should actually do in the world, and with that rider added we always run into the issue that perhaps what we think we’d see in the world if God existed isn’t the case. Maybe God really SHLOULDN’T be visibly interacting like it’s suggested.

    If the premises of the OA are valid and sound, then if we run across those sorts of supposed empirical counters we’d have to re-examine our concepts to see if we have the right expectations. When QM reared its ugly head, a number of philosophers wanted to reinvent logic to make it make sense, a move that I thought unnecessary. All we needed to do was refine our concepts of cause and “through the slit” to cover how QM worked and cordon it off from other areas where the traditional notions worked. The same would apply to the supposed case of interventions, and if you recall — and how could you forget — my comments about the Problem of Evil they’re the same sort of thing: perhaps it isn’t that the thing doesn’t exist, but that our notions of what it means to be good are the problem.

    So, again, I don’t see any reason to hold that empirical data against the OA, because the soundness of none of the premises depends on it. Now, if you could show a really good empirical argument for why God DOESN’T exist, that might be different, and akin to a “Zeno’s Paradox”. But I don’t think you have that, especially since most of your arguments will rely on attacking the “It’s the Christian God” part rather than “It’s a GCB” part.

  130. #130 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    Dan L.,

    No, that’s my basically saying “If I have your argument right, I think this is what you’re getting wrong. But I’m not sure of your argument, so please clarify it if I’m getting it wrong”. It’s generally polite and quite reasonable intellectually, and is actually expressing UNCERTAINTY that he’s wrong, but that then it would be because he’s expressing an argument that I’m missing.

  131. #131 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    @VS:

    In that case, your entire post should have consisted of that one sentence. Perhaps phrased so that your intention would be clear. Instead, you posted five paras explaining why eric was wrong, burying the admission that you might not understand the argument somewhere in the middle.

    I’ve given you four or five chances in this thread to shut me up by making a clear focused argument for a straight-forward proposition. How about addressing any one of those? For example, what “interesting facts about the world” can we deduce a priori?

  132. #132 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2012

    Dan L.,

    Failure of imagination on your part. In reality, I understand the context in which the Law of Non-Contradiction is valid. Existence in physical reality is not part of that context. There is no way to determine a priori what is or is not logically possible.

    Square circles.

    If you buy the Problem of Evil, a world created by an all-good being that contains suffering. What? You didn’t think the Problem of Evil used that sort of logical impossiblity logic? What PHYSICAL law says that an all-good being can’t allow suffering? It’s CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS that does the work there, not empirical examination.

    We can indeed prove that something is logically impossible by pointing out that it is a logical contradiction, using the Law of Non-Contradiction. Science relies heavily on this to filter out theories — ie the ones that simply cannot be true — before then applying parsimony and empirical testing to weed out the others. To deny this is to deny the use of reason entirely, and if you want to deny the use of reason in the real world then more power to you, I suppose. Most, however, won’t do that.

    Only if you accept logic as a limit on physical reality rather than a limit on human cognition. There is good reason to accept logic as a sort of limit on human cognition; I see no reason whatsoever to accept it as a limit on reality.

    So … you’re saying that logical possibility and impossibility is in no way a limit on reality? So we should expect to see actual square circles any time now, I suppose? Seriously, logic UNDERPINS ALL REASON. Why in the world would you think it a good idea to toss it out?

    The argument isn’t similar. Your misinterpretation of the argument may be similar, but ultimately Krauss’ argument is made on the basis of physical theory that is justified by empirical evidence, not by airy-fairy philosophical lawyering.

    And we’re right back to “Well, I don’t think a purely logical argument can work”. You, of course, have absolutely no reason to think this, and no argument for it, and have spent your time wrangling for examples before you accept it. Well, I say that the OA would be such an example if the premises were sound because it would establish necessary existence, and that at least should give us exceptionally good reason to think the thing really exists even if we accept your wrangling over “Well, we can’t be certain, because, you know, we could be wrong like QM showed we were wrong and yes modal logic handles that but I don’t care because, well, that we could be wrong is enough to toss the whole thing out except when there’s even a smidgen of empirical knowledge in there, at which point then it must just be accepted and anyone who disagrees is just being overly skeptical.”

    I’ve asked you many times for an example of this and you have never provided one. Please stop making this claim until you have adduced at least one acceptable example.

    Tell me how to derive the concept that there are differences between things purely from sense experience without already being able to understand that there are differences between things. I can get sameness, but not differences.

    Also note that you are conflating “a priori” and “analytic” here. They aren’t the same thing, and so this is actually a different question.

    Aw, whassa matta VS? Can’t figure out how to respond to my arguments so you gave up?

    I don’t have unlimited time, and so I started at the bottom and worked my way back up because it’s easier. Being a jerk, of course, is not exactly a good way to entice me to want to engage in discussion with you. I’d say that was your goal, but in general it’s you that reply to me and not the other way around, leaving your goals rather doubtful.

  133. #133 Wow
    September 13, 2012

    “I’ve given you four or five chances in this thread to shut me up by making a clear focused argument for a straight-forward proposition.”

    Look again at his num de plum, Dan.

    It’s like expecting a scorpion not to sting you.

  134. #134 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    Square circles.

    Actually, under the (non-Euclidean) geometry defined by the taxicab metric, square circles are not only possible: square circles are the only kinds of squares and circles. Square circles are impossible in Euclidean geometry, that’s for sure…but is the universe itself Euclidean? Scientific evidence and theory suggest that no, the universe is not actually Euclidean.

    So you see, we cannot prove a priori that square circles are impossible. There is no logical contradiction involved in supposing that the universe abides by the taxicab metric. That the universe doesn’t abide by such a metric is an empirical fact about the universe. And so square circles are not logical impossibilities: they’re ruled out by empirical observations of what the universe is actually like.

    If you buy the Problem of Evil, a world created by an all-good being that contains suffering.

    This isn’t actually a grammatical statement, but I think I see where you’re going. No, I don’t think the Problem of Evil is a good argument against theism. Pretty much for exactly this reason.

    We can indeed prove that something is logically impossible by pointing out that it is a logical contradiction, using the Law of Non-Contradiction.

    I’ve already explained to you that the law of non-contradiction (why the capitalization? to suggest it’s more important than it actually is) isn’t as powerful as you’d like it to be. It only applies within particular symbol systems, none of which is necessarily the correct symbol system for describing the universe.

    For example, take an electron E and a position X. According to quantum mechanics, “E is at X” and “E is not at X” are simultaneously true. How does that comport with the law of non-contradiction?

  135. #135 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    So … you’re saying that logical possibility and impossibility is in no way a limit on reality? So we should expect to see actual square circles any time now, I suppose? Seriously, logic UNDERPINS ALL REASON. Why in the world would you think it a good idea to toss it out?

    The fact that logic is not a constraint on reality does not imply that we should see square circles. How would it? There’s no way to get from point A to point B. In fact, the assertion that logic doesn’t constrain reality makes such an implication impossible. We do not know whether we should expect square circles a priori. Through empirical observation of the world, we have come to discover that we do not seem to exist in a universe in which we should expect to see square circles. But that is on the basis of empirical observations of the sort of universe we live in, not logical arguments about what sorts of universes are possible.

    Now, what I said was that logic may impose constraints on human cognition. That is exactly what you say when you say “logic UNDERPINS ALL REASON” (settle down, scout). But why should we assume that the universe is subject to the same constraints as our cognition? Can you provide an actual argument for why the same sets of constraints should apply to both domains? Whether or not it’s a “good idea” to throw it out is an implicit argument from consequences, and is thus fallacious.

    And we’re right back to “Well, I don’t think a purely logical argument can work”. You, of course, have absolutely no reason to think this, and no argument for it, and have spent your time wrangling for examples before you accept it.

    Must you so consistently misrepresent my position? If you don’t understand my position you’re free to ask for clarification. In this case, I think purely logical arguments work within the domain in which they’re applicable. If I assume a set of premises, then logical arguments work as long as those premises are true. But we cannot know a priori whether our premises are true. I in fact have very good reasons to think so. For example, the Pythagorean theorem is true according to the premises of Euclidean geometry. But the physical universe is not Euclidean, and so the Pythagorean theorem is not strictly true in the real world (although it is an incredibly good approximation anywhere sufficiently far from a large mass). That is, it’s not that logic doesn’t work but that it is very limited. Much more limited than you seem to want to think it is.

    Well, I say that the OA would be such an example if the premises were sound because it would establish necessary existence, and that at least should give us exceptionally good reason to think the thing really exists even if we accept your wrangling over “Well, we can’t be certain, because, you know, we could be wrong like QM showed we were wrong and yes modal logic handles that but I don’t care because, well, that we could be wrong is enough to toss the whole thing out except when there’s even a smidgen of empirical knowledge in there, at which point then it must just be accepted and anyone who disagrees is just being overly skeptical.”

    Again, a ridiculous misrepresentation of my position. Incidentally, the very concept of necessary existence is an implicit premise of the argument. This implicit premise implies a particular ontological model for which there is no justification — it is simply assumed. This is exactly what I was saying is justified only by “philosophers’ intuitions” — an ontological model in which modal logic actually provides a constraint on what is possible (rather than just what we think is possible). Essentially, I’m just arguing “there is more on heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.

    Being a jerk, of course, is not exactly a good way to entice me to want to engage in discussion with you.

    Sorry, VS. It annoys me when people make the same tired claims over and over without justifying them, especially when challenged to provide even simple examples of what they’re talking about.

  136. #136 Wow
    September 13, 2012

    Why be sorry? VS is continually being a jerk by, as you point out, misrepresenting your statements, hiding admissions in reams of impeneterable text, refusing to give examples to justify hir statements and refusing to be clear and consise.

    If someone continually gives you the finger and you tell them eventually to eff off, why do they get to say “Being a jerk, of course, is not exactly a good way to entice me to want to engage in discussion with you.”?

    After all, being a jerk isn’t going to make anyone want to be nice and polite to windy teabagger here.

  137. #137 Wow
    September 13, 2012

    And you notice, despite having had time enough to berate you for being a jerk, it still couldn’t answer your question over which you were being called a jerk for.

    A classic “look! ponies!” move.

  138. #138 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    This implicit premise implies a particular ontological model for which there is no justification — it is simply assumed.

    By the way, I think this is why you objected to my terminology “instantiated in the mind” vs. “instantiated in the physical world”. You had a particular ontological model in mind, perhaps not consciously, and you devised your “instantiated” concept to comport with that model. My distinction between two types of instantiation contradicted your implicit ontological model and so you objected on completely specious grounds (of ambiguity — strange, since prima facie my distinction seemed at least as strong as yours). But in reality, there is no a priori reason to favor either ontological model over the other, although there may be empirical reasons to do so.

    Also, I disagree that “logic underpins all reason” except in the tautological case where you define the word “reason” to mean “cognition obeying the laws of logic.” For example, I suspect you may at some point in your life have had an “ah-ha!” moment. These are not achieved by obeying the laws of logic, but through gestalt shifts in the way we understand or frame the problem we are dealing with. This is not a strictly logical process, but I would nonetheless claim it is part of what we mean by “reason”.

  139. #139 Dan L.
    September 13, 2012

    “Well, we can’t be certain, because, you know, we could be wrong like QM showed we were wrong and yes modal logic handles that

    The electron is at X. The electron is not at X. How does modal logic handle this again?

  140. #140 Wow
    September 13, 2012

    Schroedinger’s equation was an “ah ha!” moment. Even the man himself doesn’t know why he made it that way, all he needed were the right combination of factors in the equation that allows several operations to be made in a manner that is self-consistent. No reason for it to use sin and cosine, he just put them in.

  141. #141 eric
    September 13, 2012

    VS:

    A relational property is a property that describes a relation between two things.

    Yes, and existence as the OA uses it is a relationial property. The relation between ‘exists in the understanding’ and ‘exists in reality’ is just ‘in my brain’ to ‘outside my brain.’ Of course, you can at this point say that “exists in the understanding’ is not really any sort of existence at all, its just a vernacular use of the same english word for very different concepts. But I think Dan L. already covered the problem with that.

    Thus, your argument can only apply to properties that are at least neutral wrt greatness.

    A fair criticism. Okay, the set of gods proven by the OA includes only those gods for whom the “C” property has neutral or positive value (in terms of greatness). You still have the same problem.

    It [erics A+B+C counterargument] does not, in fact, prove that the GCB must be red or blue or horned, because while it says that you have to have that property — coloured, horned — it doesn’t say what colour that it has to have.

    What it says is that the conclusion about a blue GCB must have the same truth value as the conclusion about a red GCB, which must have the same truth value as the no-C CGB. All these conclusions must be true or they must all be false.
    So no, it does NOT mean that the GCB must have a color but we don’t know which one. It says that if there is a (standard) GCB, then by the same logic there must be a red GCB. By the same logic there must be a blue one. You can choose to interpret that as a single contradictory entity, or multipl entities. Either interpretation spells disaster for the OA as a support for the Christian God.

  142. #142 Enki23
    September 14, 2012

    Ha. Finally worked this BS out, I think. It’s been done before me, of course, but I always understand it better when I flail around a while on my own. It’s nice to see that other smart people agree with me, even if they beat me there (and did it better) a long while ago.

    Anyway…. ontological arguments aren’t complicated at all, in reality. They just have a bunch of smoke and mirrors and other bullshit to hide an enormously simple fallacy.

    All of them say some version of:

    1. God is possible
    2. Gods that don’t exist aren’t gods (and therefore, aren’t possible).
    3. By elimination, god, in order to be possible, has to exist.

    The whole stupid trick is in getting people to sign to this reification of gods “possibility” as if the possibility was something that existed. Put the two premises together, and it’s a compound question-begging. Replacing “possible” with “(true or false),” exists with “true” and doesn’t exist with “false” it’s easier to see, at least for me.

    1. God is (true or false)
    2. Gods that are false are not (true or false)
    3. By elimination, god must be true, because if god is false, you have a contradiction between 1 and 2.

    Signing on to premise 1, you think what you’re saying is that god may or may not exist. What you actually said, though, was that god’s “true or falseness” is something that existed. And having established the existence of this nonexistant “thing”, we can narrow down what that thing is by elimination. And so we eliminate all non-existant gods, and, since we think we’ve signed on to the *existance* of this possibility of god, that only leaves the option of existing gods.

    The whole thing melts away if you get rid of this whole “to be” nonsense (no, I don’t want to figure out how to write it in e prime)

    1. God may or may not be possible
    2. Gods that don’t exist are not possible gods
    3. Therefore, if no gods exist, god is not possible. If at least one exists, then god is possible.

    Problem solved.
    It’s the same in the modal logic versions as well. That, at least, is where someone long ago beat me to that particular punch. Oh, and as I’ve said before, all the “maximal greatness” or “every perfection” nonsense is actually just smoke and mirrors, mostly. The only thing they do for the argument is allow it to specify a *particular* god. You could use this sort of argument (if valid) to establish the existence of a particular *anything*. You could establish the existence of a being with the most “median” greatness. Whatever. It matters not one whit how you specify it. It’s just that things like “greatest” and “least,” particularly when you have some boundless sort of measure, allows you to narrow the field down to one (or, at worst, a bunch of identicals).

  143. #143 Enki23
    September 14, 2012

    Replace all “existance” with “existence” as necessary.

    Oh, and it works even better like this:

    Ontological version:
    1a. God is possible
    2a. Gods that do not exist are not possible
    3a. Therefore, God exists

    Simple fix:
    1b. God does or does not exist
    2b. Gods that do not exist do not exist.
    3b. Therefore, if god exists, god exists

    And that’s where the whole trick lies, in all of them. God’s “possibility” doesn’t exist. God either exists, or doesn’t. The rest falls right into place from there.

  144. #144 Wow
    September 15, 2012

    “You could establish the existence of a being with the most “median” greatness. ”

    You can use it to prove a man with 16 legs exists.

    1) It’s possible for there to exist a single man with more than the normal number of number of legs.
    2) 16 legs are more than a normal number of legs for a man
    3) A man with 16 legs who doesn’t exist is not a man with more than the normal number of legs
    4) Therefore a man with 16 legs exists.

  145. #145 melior
    September 15, 2012

    My counterproof is unstoppable:
    1. An existent god has already experienced everything there is to experience.
    2. This implies crushing boredom, which is plainly and trivially not “better” than the alternative.
    3. God is nonexistent, Q.E.D.

  146. #146 Verbose Stoic
    September 18, 2012

    eric,

    Yes, and existence as the OA uses it is a relationial property. The relation between ‘exists in the understanding’ and ‘exists in reality’ is just ‘in my brain’ to ‘outside my brain.’ Of course, you can at this point say that “exists in the understanding’ is not really any sort of existence at all, its just a vernacular use of the same english word for very different concepts. But I think Dan L. already covered the problem with that.

    I think we have different definitions of “relational property”, or else this is quite a semantic argument here.

    A relational property, to me, is a property that exists only to define a relation between two things. So, for example, “Father” is a relational property that joins a male parent to the child. You can’t have that property without having both things involved and, in fact, the property makes no sense without them. So, the property “Father” always implies the question “Of whom?” (you can answer in the shorthand “of someone in general”).

    Now, “exists only in the mind” does not, in and of itself, specify a relation to any particular mind at all, or even minds in general (which is why running past “mind” to “atoms in my brain” only confuses things even more). To put it better, what it means “to exist only in the mind” is simply to be a concept, but not to be instantiated. But this only implies it being a relational property in some really odd sense; it’s not really saying anything about a direct relation between things. To take the “concept” angle, we can certainly say that to exist as a concept in some loose sense means “that it only exists in the mind”, but it seems generally reasonable to say that concepts can still exist even if they don’t actually exist at the moment in ANY specific mind. Surely we wouldn’t want to say that if no mind was around that comprehended mathematics that concept “1″ would not suddenly cease to exist. And for instances, it is clear that they would still exist even if there were no minds to perceive them; the moon clearly existed even when there were no minds. Thus, it is clear that “exists only the mind” and “exists in reality” do NOT mean “in my brain” and “outside my brain.”. And the OA uses the terms in the way I describe them, because “exists only in the mind” and “exists only in reality” are the TWO properties that it talks about; it does not, in fact, posit a relation between them, and that surely was not the property I was talking about, nor was it the property that you were talking about.

    And the property you were talking about “exists beside me right now” is relational, as it describes a relation — roughly positional — between the GCB and you. And this doesn’t work because in order for the GCB to be less if it doesn’t have this property, it has to be definitively a property whose loss is assignable to the GCB … but in relational properties, the loss may be due to YOUR being less that you ought to be, not the GCB.

    What it says is that the conclusion about a blue GCB must have the same truth value as the conclusion about a red GCB, which must have the same truth value as the no-C CGB. All these conclusions must be true or they must all be false.
    So no, it does NOT mean that the GCB must have a color but we don’t know which one. It says that if there is a (standard) GCB, then by the same logic there must be a red GCB. By the same logic there must be a blue one. You can choose to interpret that as a single contradictory entity, or multipl entities. Either interpretation spells disaster for the OA as a support for the Christian God.

    Well, the issue here is that the OA-style arguments only apply to properties that the GCB MUST have in order to be a GCB, but when we shake it out no such property can do the work you want it to.

    Let’s assume that “blueness” and “redness” are properties that are not required for a GCB to be a GCB. This means that the GCB could be not blue or not red but still be a GCB. Which means, then, that the OA does not establish a blue GCB or a red GCB, but establishes that the GCB COULD be blue or COULD be red and still be the GCB, as I argued. Thus, we have no reason to invent a red GCB and a blue GCB OR to assign both properties to the same GCB; we can have a red GCB or a blue GCB, and potentially even have multiple GCBs, but we don’t know what colour it is or if we have it, because the OA is limited to those properties that the GCB must have to be the GCB, not the ones it CAN have (or not have) as the GCB.

    So, then, we move on to it being a necessary property, in short that to be the GCB it has to have this property. The easiest way to do this would be to demonstrate that it is greater to be blue than to not be blue. This would be hard to demonstrate, but if you could then you’d demonstrate that the GCB can’t be red, because being red is not being blue and you’ve shown that being blue is better than not. If it works for both, then we have a problem with the logic since it would imply that the GCB would have to have both and since that would be contradictory we wouldn’t have a GCB. So either you show that the GCB must be one specific colour or you’ve made it impossible to conceive of it. Neither get you what you want.

    So, you can move on to borrowing the argument I mentioned before, about saying that lacking a property that it can have without being lesser means that it wouldn’t be the GCB. But the problem we run into here is that trying to do this for both “blue” and “red” can’t apply to the GCB, and so either of your choices don’t work. Imagine that we try to assign “blue” and “red” to the GCB. Since it can’t be both — again, putting aside “multi-coloured” — then that would be a contradiction, that would mean that we can’t conceive of it, and so it can’t be a GCB. So, let’s then invent a “blue GCB” and a “red GCB”. Except that under this reasoning neither of THEM are GCBs either because they lack something: the property of being “red” for the first one and “blue” for the latter. Thus, the argument would be that I could imagine a being that was greater, but that being isn’t conceiveable, so I can’t. Thus, we have two choices:

    1) Retreat away from blueness or redness or colour in general as being a property that the GCB must have, cycling back to the first counter.

    2) Claim that the property is not, in fact, “blueness” or “redness”, but is in fact “colouredness”. Thus, the GCB MUST have a colour, but it need not be blue or red or any specific one, preserving the “lack of a property” argument without running into these issues.

    Thus, either way, your argument won’t work, as far as I can see, using the logic of the GCB or the OA.

  147. #147 Verbose Stoic
    September 18, 2012

    Dan L.,

    Actually, under the (non-Euclidean) geometry defined by the taxicab metric, square circles are not only possible: square circles are the only kinds of squares and circles. Square circles are impossible in Euclidean geometry, that’s for sure…

    And, of course, I’m talking about Euclidean square circles, which you have conceded cannot exist. The problem here — and I think this follows through more opaquely in the other examples, so it’s good to bring it up here where it’s clear — is that you confuse the English language word that we use to denote a concept with the concept itself, and so assume if we use the same English language word then we are talking about the same concept. But a Euclidean “square circle” is not the same concept as a taxicab “square circle”, and thus I can clearly say that it is logically impossible for a Euclidean square circle to exist, and so it doesn’t exist in this universe. If this universe is non-Euclidean, then we don’t have Euclidean squares and circles and so we can’t have a Euclidean square circle, and if this universe CAN contain Euclidean squares and circles then by Euclidean geometry Euclidean square circles can’t exist.

    So, yeah, I can indeed say that square circles don’t exist, as long as I’m talking about Euclidean ones. Which I clearly was.

    I’ve already explained to you that the law of non-contradiction (why the capitalization? to suggest it’s more important than it actually is) …

    Or, you know, because I was using it as a NAME? I’ll get into your example later, though, because it’s better to address the modal logic and the LNC issue together.

    By the way, I think this is why you objected to my terminology “instantiated in the mind” vs. “instantiated in the physical world”. You had a particular ontological model in mind, perhaps not consciously, and you devised your “instantiated” concept to comport with that model. My distinction between two types of instantiation contradicted your implicit ontological model and so you objected on completely specious grounds (of ambiguity — strange, since prima facie my distinction seemed at least as strong as yours). But in reality, there is no a priori reason to favor either ontological model over the other, although there may be empirical reasons to do so.

    Actually, the reason was that that phrasing “only in the mind” and “also in reality” was in the OA and as far as I could it was that sort of phrasing that you claimed was obfuscating the question, which is why you supported Everitt yanking it out. Remember, YOU had said that under your definition of existence adding those qualifiers didn’t make sense, and not treating “existing in the mind” AS existence is what I called out Everitt over. Thus, after you demanded that I clearly define existence my thought was to not get into a debate over that — since I favoured the OA’s approach and didn’t see that as the problem — but was to remove “existence” altogether and talk about different terms … but ones that matched YOUR (and likely Everitt’s) definition of existence at least in the case that being in the mind and being in reality weren’t comparable properties. Thus, I deliberately and explicitly defined what you claimed you had problems with out of the definition by using conceptual to mean, roughly “in the mind” and instanitated to mean “in reality”. Thus recasting the argument so that the purported confusion wasn’t there but that the logic still worked. And then your reply that ignored the restatement and reintroduced the very confusion that you said caused the problem when I had taken pains to remove it was, in fact, basically setting the argument back up to fail in the way you said it would … except that the restatement was explicitly AVOIDING that confusion.

    So that, then, was the real problem, not this ontological thing you bring up.

    Also, I disagree that “logic underpins all reason” except in the tautological case where you define the word “reason” to mean “cognition obeying the laws of logic.” For example, I suspect you may at some point in your life have had an “ah-ha!” moment. These are not achieved by obeying the laws of logic, but through gestalt shifts in the way we understand or frame the problem we are dealing with. This is not a strictly logical process, but I would nonetheless claim it is part of what we mean by “reason”.

    Well, first, many people would indeed deny that intuitive flashes are rational, just as they would deny that emotional responses are rational mechanisms. And some argue otherwise. This is a massively big question that we really don’t want to try to settle here.

    But more importantly, even if you have your “ah-ha” moment you would still check it, and you would check it initially by seeing if it COULD be the answer, and that would be done at least in part by seeing if that solution contradicts anything else we already know. That uses logic, and the LoNC explicitly. All reasoning relies on filtering out the things that simply cannot be the case and focusing on the ones that can be; without this, we are doomed.

    Think about this: if our cognition is bound by logic, and cognition is roughly the mechanisms by which we can understand, how could we ever understand or come to know something to be true without it passing the standards of our logic? To deny my claim here, you’d have to be denying that our cognition is limited by logic, but that isn’t what you actually argue.

    The electron is at X. The electron is not at X. How does modal logic handle this again?

    As I already said, under modal logic all it means for something to be logically impossible is that it does not exist in any possible world. This world is a possible world. Therefore, if it exists in this world it exists in a possible world and so is not logically impossible. This, then, indicates a problem in our conceptualization somewhere, and so we go back to the drawing board to figure out what that is.

    The LoNC is more difficult, but as long as we don’t get too attached to the English words of ANYTHING we can see how it works. Remember, the LoNC is actually A & ~A -> F, NOT “A and not A is always false”. Yes, that’s a good rough translation, but when we plug in actual statements like:

    “The electron is at X” and “The electron is not at X” we;ve expanded it a bit, and can do so problematically. If it turns out that A & ~A is true for this case, we can’t immediately say that this violates the LoNC, and in fact I would insist that we shouldn’t. Instead, what we should think is that “The electron is not at X” is NOT, in fact, the ~A for “The electron is at X”. Again, we’ve done our concepts badly, and thought that the negation of A WAS “The electron is not at X” when it isn’t … a fact we’ve proven by discovering that you can indeed have A & ~A.

    Now, we don’t stop here in either case. We go back and see where our conceptualization went wrong. In this case, for example, I’d probably say that we were using the wrong concept of “at”. We were using the one that applies at the macro level — which we still, I think, don’t want to abandon — but at the electron level “at” just doesn’t mean the same thing any more. It means something that can allow for something to be at and not at a position at the same time.

    One of the reasons that eric points out that QM is so massively tested is because we took the normal first option first: once we find this supposed contradiction, we make sure that we’re really seeing it and not just having an issue measuring, for example, how things really are. But once we settle that, then we might have to update our concepts. And that was why I keep harping on your objection basically being that we could be wrong in our conceptualizations and might go beyond our intellectual capacities, so let’s not try; that seems to be the only objections you’ve raised that I haven’t actually addressed.

  148. #148 Wow
    September 18, 2012

    VS, if you weren’t so damn boring, you’d be a laughing stock.

  149. #149 Michael Fugate
    September 18, 2012

    In the famous words of Bill Clinton: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” If the current definition doesn’t match what you need to support your argument, by all means, change it to one that does. It does make it easy to never need to admit you are wrong. So VS, is a god/cosmic mind feeding you this stuff or are you just able to somehow interface with it munificence and absorb these fascinating tidbits?

  150. #150 eric
    September 18, 2012

    VS:

    Now, “exists only in the mind” does not, in and of itself, specify a relation to any particular mind at all, or even minds in general

    So, just to be clear, you think “exists in the mind” can be a property something has when there are no minds? To what does “in” refer to in such a case?

    Surely we wouldn’t want to say that if no mind was around that comprehended mathematics that concept “1″ would not suddenly cease to exist.

    If there are no minds, then the concept cannot be in any mind and it ceases to exist in the mind. There would still be countable objects, sure, but I fail no see how the concept could be in any being’s mind if there are no beings with minds.

    the moon clearly existed even when there were no minds.

    Sure, because nobody is claiming the moon merely exists in the mind.

    Well, the issue here is that the OA-style arguments only apply to properties that the GCB MUST have in order to be a GCB

    So, properties that are in the GCB concept by definition, eh?

  151. #151 Verbose Stoic
    September 21, 2012

    eric,

    So, just to be clear, you think “exists in the mind” can be a property something has when there are no minds? To what does “in” refer to in such a case?

    No, I think “exists only in the mind” was a flowery way to say “conceptual”, and concepts can exist — to the degree they exist — without minds. Even if my interpretation is wrong, the OA still works with that substitution, and so it would have to be addressed anyway.

    So, properties that are in the GCB concept by definition, eh?

    No, the properties we discover about the GCB through conceptual analysis. Unlike the meanings of English words, what it means to be a GCB is not determined by simply what people agree on, but through philosophical argument — like the one I did at the end of that comment that showed why “blue” could NOT be one of those properties.

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