Mixing Memory

Since it’s come up a lot, here’s a recent discussion of Anselm’s Ontological Argument in the philosophical literature (via OPP).

Millican, P. (2004). The one fatal flaw in Anselm’s Aagument. Mind, 113, 437-476.

Anselm’s Ontological Argument fails, but not for any of the various reasons commonly adduced. In particular, its failure has nothing to do with violating deep Kantian principles by treating ‘exists’ as a predicate or making reference to ‘Meinongian’ entities. Its one fatal flaw, so far from being metaphysically deep, is in fact logically shallow, deriving from a subtle scope ambiguity in Anselm’s key phrase. If we avoid this ambiguity, and the indeterminacy of reference to which it gives rise, then his argument is blocked even if his supposed Meinognian extravagances are permitted. Moreover it is blocked in a way which is straightforward and compelling (by contrast with the Kantian objections), and which generalizes easily to other versions of the Ontological Argument. A significant moral follows. Fear of Anselm’s argument has been hugely influential in motivating ontolgical fastidiousness and widespread reluctance to countenance talk of potentially non-existing entities. But if this paper is correct, then the Ontological Argument cannot properly provide any such motivation. Some of the most influential contributions to ontology, from Kant to Russell and beyond, rest on a mistake.

Yujin Nagasawa, Millican on the Ontological Argument

Peter Millican (2004) provides a novel and elaborate objection to Anselm’s ontological argument. Millican thinks that his objection is more powerful than any other because it does not dispute contentious ‘deep philosophical theories’ that underlie the argument. Instead, it tries to reveal the ‘fatal flaw’ of the argument by considering its ‘shallow logical details’. Millican’s objection is based on his interpretation of the argument, according to which Anselm relies on what I call the ‘principle of the superiority of existence’ (PSE). I argue that (i) the textual evidence Millican cites does not provide a convincing case that Anselm relies on PSE and that, moreover, (ii) Anselm does not even need PSE for the ontological argument. I introduce a plausible interpretation of the ontological argument that is not vulnerable to Millican’s objection and conclude that even if the ontological argument fails, it does not fail in the way Millican thinks
it does.

Comments

  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 8, 2006

    …Millican’s objection is based on his interpretation of the argument…

    Well there you go.

    The ontological argument is deeply confused. The reason there is so much variation in attempted refutations is that first one must try to make sense of the argument itself. The first refutation was offered in Anselm’s own lifetime; the perfect island of Guanilo.

  2. #2 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 8, 2006

    Maybe now you could explain why such ontological discussion is any more meaningful than dialogue concerning the multiplicity of pin-dancing angels.

  3. #3 CCP
    December 8, 2006

    See, and this kind of wordsalad gobbledygook is “exactly what I’m talking about.” Anselm’s argument fails for a far simpler reason: god(s) is/are just pretend.
    Call me childish and pretentious (really, spank me again! harder!)…I call it empirical.

  4. #4 MarkP
    December 8, 2006

    I call Shenanigans!

  5. #5 bob koepp
    December 8, 2006

    For what it’s worth, I think Peter King’s “Anselm’s Intentional Argument,” which you linked to in an earlier post, takes a more interesting approach. But I’m probably prejudiced because I share King’s belief that contemporary theories of intentionality are re-exploring territories first mapped by scholastics.

  6. #6 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 8, 2006

    I share King’s belief that contemporary theories of intentionality are re-exploring territories first mapped by scholastics.

    OH, but the jargon is much more advanced nowadays! supposed Meinognian extravagances, deep Kantian principles, principle of the superiority of existence’ (PSE) – Yes that’s right: it’s even got a TLA, it must be serious stuff. What it does lack is the sort of humor Douglas Adams could bring to a situation.

  7. #7 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 8, 2006

    Perhaps next these learned gentemen will undertake serious inquiry into PDA.

  8. #8 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 10, 2006

    My frustration with the Millican paper was that it stopped right where I expected an interesting analysis of “Kripke’s seminal ‘Naming and Necessity’ (1972) had made possible worlds and the occupants respectable….”
    (p.472 in Mind, p.36 of 40 in the PDF)

    That would also take us back to Vasiliev’s invention of “Imaginary Logic” — which has received recent metamathematical correction of its modern popularizer.

    The treatment of God in terms of imaginary worlds, and/or fictional worlds, has to be done carefully. One can axiomatically and precisely discuss from our Universe #1 with Logic #1 the hypothetical occupants of Universe #2 with Logic #2, or, more subtly, Universe #2 with Logic #3 as alleged by someone in Universe #2 with Logic #2 about someone who it is claimed has a different logic. Proper language strips away the common errors of anthropologists and fiction critics alike.

    An ontological argument in the proper Model Theory now becomes axiomatically possible. But, I fear, this has not been done by Kropke or Millican or anyone else I can find.

  9. #9 JJ
    December 12, 2006

    CCP: what is the source of your experience? The whole point here is that empiricism does not even apply in this realm.

    Claims regarding the source of our experience are not really testable… we just know our experience is very coherent.

    I don’t believe in god nor am I a catholic, but it seems obvious to me that belief in the abstract catholic god cannot be disproven.

    (BTW: of course, literal interpretations of the bible are inconsistent with experience, let’s not even bother with that!)

  10. #10 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 12, 2006

    “what is the source of your experience? The whole point here is that empiricism does not even apply in this realm.”

    Or, boiling it down to a simpler unaswerable question:

    “Why should I be rational?”

    My citations to Vasiliev and Kripke are to properly allow discussion of the question: “Is God real in another universe, but fictional in this one wherein you and I dispute the Ontological Question?”

    That is, can it be consistent to state: “It is posible but not necessary for God to exist in this universe, but there may be other universes in which some other truth applies?”

    We are splitting the existence predicate into a sheaf of other worlds. That avoids one type of error, but requires cuation not to introduce others.

  11. #11 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    December 17, 2006

    I don’t believe in god nor am I a catholic, but it seems obvious to me that belief in the abstract catholic god cannot be disproven.

    I hereby banish thee to Teapot Land.

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