The Ontological Argument
Got a request today the reply to which readers might find interesting and helpful since the argument in question does tend to receive ratther abstruse presentation.
Hello! I've read Laurence Bonjour's In Defense of Pure Reason and I began to rethink my rejection of the Ontological Argument. I came across your paper on the Internet (A Defense of the Ontological Argument) and found it a little hard to follow. I'm just not able to follow all those letters and symbols. Can you please point me to something akin to The Ontological Argument for Dummies or something in plain old country boy English? I think I understand the argument, but I'm having a hard time with its defense. Thanks much, in advance!
Dear, XXXX, I’m glad to do what I can to help. Unfortunately, the onto arg is one which really lends itself to technical exposition (which is one reason why philosophers love it!). You might look at Alvin Plantinga’s little volume _The Ontological Argument” for some historical perspective and various traditional formulations. And actually, his presentation of the argument in his books _God, Freedom, and Evil_ and the longer version in _The Nature of Necessity_ is in fairly plain English. He’s a talented writer and so you might be surprised.
I think, though, that I can boil the state of the art down fairly simply.According to the standard form of modal logic—the logic of necessity and possibility—if a thing is such that if it exists it must necessarily exist, then if it doesn’t exist, it’s only because its impossible.A decent analogy can be had in mathematical truths. They have the property of being such that IF they are true THEN they are necessarily true. There are no contingently true mathematical truths, truths that would have been different if the world had gone differently (unlike, say, empirical facts about evolution). So if some mathematical statement is false, then it is *impossible*. There’s no way things could have gone that would have resulted in 2 + 2 = 5 (holding the definitions fixed, of course). Obviously a necessary being exists necessarily if at all, so if it doesn’t exist it’s impossible for it to do so. But it sure doesn’t look impossible, there’s no manifest contradiction in it.
The problem is that that also seems true for the following entity: a world in which there’s no necessary being. That doesn’t have any manifest contradiction in it either. But one or the other must be impossible, so we are left to decide which one we think has the best chance of truly being possible. I argue that the idea of a world with no necessary being is a world without a ground of being and I’m less confident that that is possible than that a necessary being is possible, so to that extent the onto arg adds some credence to theism for me. Of course academic philosophers want to find some general principle from which we can DEDUCE that one is possible and the other not and that is quite difficult (though I’d say of little importance). So we will each have to consult our intuitions about possibility and continue to reflect, but I think I’ve accurately presented the logic of the situation and my own attitude toward it.