thoughts on gaunilo’s argument

I despise Gaunilo’s argument. I know I said I wouldn’t talk about famous people I hate, but I feel an urgent need to talk about this man. 

Let’s take a step back. Anselm proposed the first ontological argument known to man. Gaunilo tried to argue that Anselm’s argument was absurd. They’re both monks and philosophers from the 1100s, spending their days thinking about God and whatnot. I don’t think it’s important that you need to know what they’re talking about or why. I just want to vent.

Anselm’s argument:

1. God is that which nothing greater can be conceived. (Definition)

2. God exists in the mind, but not in reality. (Premise to be reduced to absurdity)

3. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. (Premise)

4. It is conceivable that God exists in reality. (Premise)

5. It is conceivable that there is a being greater than God. (Follows from 2, 3, and 4)

C. It is conceivable that there is a being greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived. (Follows from 1 and 5)

In layman’s terms, if God is the greatest being out there that we can imagine, he can’t only exist in the mind and not reality. If he did not also exist in reality, then there would be an even greater being out there that exists in both the mind and reality. Thus, God exists in both the mind and reality. I’m not here to argue whether he exists or not, that’s for another time. I am here to complain about Gaunilo. 

He tries to argue that Anselm’s argument is false and absurd, as many great philosophers have. Nothing wrong with that. He had me in the first half:

1. If Anselm’s argument for the greatest conceivable being was sound, then there would be sound proof for the greatest conceivable island.

2. Sound proof of the existence of a greatest conceivable island cannot be given.

C. Anselm’s proof for the existence of a greatest conceivable being is not sound.

Makes sense to me. Where’s the proof? I’m asking for it too, Gaunilo. I, too, find it hard to believe that everything I can conceive has the possibility of being real. Then he tries to hit him with his same argument, replacing God with an island. 

1. The Lost Island is that which no greater island can be conceived. (Definition)

2. The Lost Island exists in the mind, but not in reality. (Premise to be reduced to absurdity)

3. Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone. (Premise)

4. It is conceivable that the Lost Island exists in reality. (Premise)

5. It is conceivable that there is an island greater than the Lost Island. (Follows from 2, 3, and 4)

C. It is conceivable that there is an island greater than that island than which no greater island can be conceived. (Follows from 1 and 5)

His island argument, however, is annoying. Now, neither argument is perfect. There are flaws in the premises. ‘Exists’ isn’t defined, and we aren’t given clear differences between the mind and reality. We’re not diving into Kant or Moore, though.

We can confidently say that Anselm’s argument is valid due to the way it’s laid out. Premise 2 is reduced to absurdity, making C. false and his definition valid. His argument comes full circle. It is also sound since you can’t argue with any of the premises. Anselm makes a compelling case.

Back to Gaunilo. I’m not saying his argument is invalid or unsound. If I want to say Anselm’s argument is both sound and valid, I have to say the same about Gaunilo. He’s just restating the same argument, replacing God with an island. Now, who the fuck is imagining perfect islands? Whoever is, so what? The perfect island could exist somewhere out there, but that would prove Anselm to be correct, which is not what Gaunilo wanted. Gaunilo simply wanted proof. Shit, so do we.

You could say, well, there is no such thing as the perfect island because you’ve been to several islands and can always think of something that’s missing. An island will always depend on other things, such as the sun or the ocean. It can’t be a stand-alone object. The greatest being conceived need only depend on itself.

Now, Gaunilo, if you’re going to come for someone’s argument, why wouldn’t you make a new argument? Kant and Moore did it. Why couldn’t you? Kant and Moore are out here defining existence. Even Rowe sprinkled his thoughts a little bit. What was the point? I imagine this monk sitting at home writing his little argument, mad as hell, thinking he was going to swoon the masses.

Author: Maria Silvestri

A 22 year old trying to figure shit out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.