AN APPRAISAL OF SAINT ANSELM’S ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

AN APPRAISAL OF SAINT ANSELM’S ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

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AN APPRAISAL OF SAINT ANSELM’S ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD



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1.1       STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Metaphysics is one of the major branches of philosophy. Metaphysics can be said to have started as early as man came into existence and not just when Andronicus arranged the works of Aristotle and coined the works of Aristotle and named it ‘metaphysics’. Joseph Omoregbe writes in the following words that;

Metaphysics came to mean the science of being as being, that, the discipline which studies being precisely in its aspect as being or again, it is the discipline which studies the essence of being, it tries (through reflection) to find answers to such questions as ‘what is essence of being?’, ‘what is the ground of being?’, ‘why is there something and not nothing?’, ‘why does anything exist?’, why does the universe exist?’, ‘what are the essences of things?’, ‘what is the source of the being of all beings?’, ‘what is the nature of man?’ Etc.1

In this sense, metaphysics can be defined as the science of the ultimates. It is the science that concerns itself with first principles and reality in general, it goes beyond appearance to seek to reach the reality that lies beneath appearance that is why, Ayo Fadahunsi defined metaphysics as follows;

A study of first principles, or as one ancient has said, ‘pursuing a cause to its utmost generalized end’. Still another definition of metaphysics, which properly represents it, is a systematic study of the fundamental problems related to the ultimate nature of reality and human knowledge. Metaphysics is a speculation, not in regard to the particulars of our world, its kinds and species, but rather the attempt to find some first causes from which sprang the diversities of reality.2

In support of this view, E.A. Taylor says, “because metaphysics deals with everything, we cannot specify any particular class of objects as its exclusive subject matter.”3

One of the issues that have occupied the front burner in metaphysical discourse over the different periods of time is the existence of God. Beginning with Plato, philosophers have through the ages advanced several arguments to prove the existence of God.4 These arguments can be conveniently grouped into three kinds namely, ontological arguments, cosmological arguments and teleological arguments.

An ontological argument for the existence of God begins with an analysis of the concept of God and concludes that such a being necessarily exists in reality. Omoregbe writes that, the ontological argument was first used by St. Anselm who based it on the concept of God as the greatest being conceivable.5 Onigbinde explains that Anselm’s argument for the existence of God can be seen in his Proslogium where he began by referring to the fool, the one who says in his heart that there is no God. All that is necessary is for us to fully grasp the meaning of various concepts involved in the argument. This argument takes the general form of saying that if we do have a clear understanding of the relevant concept used in the premise, then the statement ‘God exists’ will necessarily follow as a conclusion.6 A cosmological argument is an argument that begins with a phenomenon in the universe (in the cosmos) and traces it beyond the universe to its origin in an ultimate cause which as identified as God. A teleological argument for the existence of God is any argument based on order and harmony or purposefulness observable in the universe.

In line with the above sayings; Saint Anselm’s argument for God existence cut across these three kinds of argument in his works that is, the Monologium and the Proslogium. One of the arguments of Saint Anselm in the Monologium is the degrees of perfection found in things. Saint Anselm, believes and argues that the degrees of perfection found in things is a pointer to the fact that there is in existence an absolute and highest degree of perfection. That is, God. God, to Anselm, is that absolute standard of perfection and the highest degree of perfection against which we make comparison among things observable in the world.

Another argument used by Saint Anselm in the Monologium is based on the fact of existence. Whatever exists, according to him, as discussed by Omoregbe exists either through another being, or it brought itself into existence. It could not have brought itself into existence; it must therefore have been brought into existence by another being. In that case either all beings brought each other into existence or a common being brought them all into existence. The first case is ruled out, they could not have brought each other into existence (that A brought B into existence and B brought A into existence, for example is impossible). Therefore one common being must have brought them all into existence, and this being is God.7

Having, explained Saint Anselm’s arguments for the existence of God in the Monologium. There is the need to briefly discuss his argument for the existence of God in the Proslogium.

Anselm is famous in the history of thought primarily for his proof for God’s existence which in recent centuries has been titled ‘the ontological argument’ in the Proslogium. The ontological argument is based on the nature of God’s existence, that is, the concept of God as the greatest possible being. In other words, God is that being greater than which nothing can be thought or conceived. Thus, such greatest possible being must exist, both inside and outside, hence God exists.

The nature of God and their beliefs in the existence of God among the philosophers of the medieval period have led to various arguments to prove the existence of God. In the heart of theists is the idea of a supreme being who is absolutely perfect, eternal and immutable by nature. This idea portrays God as invisible and not a being of sense perception and therefore cannot be a material, physical being, and also lack emotions because physical beings only have the ability to have emotions. The idea of God for the theists rooted in the metaphysics of classic philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, etc. The theists believe that God transcends the world. To say an object transcends something, this means that the object exists independently. This transcendental nature is conceived by theists. God created the world but exists independently of the world; before the world was God and the creation of the world is a manifestation of his infinite nature. Hence, the existence of God is one concept that has raised several views in philosophy and also serves as a challenging concept to theists for several questions are raised about the nature of God. Such questions like; what is the empirical nature of God? Another question skeptics ask is: what reason is there to believe that the name designates anything real, that there exists something to which the name can be applied? One may also ask: How do we prove the existence of a metaphysical being called God? On what grounds can we say that God truly exists? What are the empirical facts to hold for God’s existence? And so on.

1.2       STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

The essence of this essay is to discuss and appraise Saint Anselm’s arguments for the existence of God.

1.3       THESIS

The work argues the thesis that Saint Anselm’s arguments for the existence of God are rational and cogent enough to prove God’s existence.

1.4       METHODOLOGY

The methods adopted in this essay are conceptual clarification, systematic reflection and evaluation.

1.5       SCOPE AND LIMITATION

This essay discusses metaphysics in relation with the nature of God’s existence and Saint Anselm’s argument to prove the existence of God. This essay is limited to the arguments of Western Philosophers in the medieval period to prove God’s existence.

1.6       SOURCES OF MATERIALS

Materials will be obtained from Olabisi Onabanjo University and other libraries around as well as internet facilities. Consultation with my supervisor will also be undertaken.

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