Is the ontological argument logically founded

The ontological proof of God. Descartes problem and (im) possible solution?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. The ontological proof of God according to Anselm

3. The ontological proof of God according to René Descartes

4. The problem with the ontological proof of God
4.1. Descartes' early critics
4.2. First answer to the objections in Descartes' sense
4.3. The accusation of the circle at Röd and its attempted solution

5. Henning Tegtmeyer: A definitive solution for Descartes?

6. Conclusion


1 Introduction

"Anyone who seriously wants to become a philosopher must withdraw to himself 'once in a lifetime' and try to overthrow and rebuild all the sciences that have prevailed up to now."[1]

The pursuit of solid certainty in philosophy using a method of radical doubt formed the foundation of Decartes' work. In six chapters of his "Meditationes de Prima Philosophia" he works out what we can really accept as true and provides an approach that should get along a priori.

Two of his meditations are of eminent importance with the elaboration of the proofs of God. In addition to the "Cogito", they embody the basis for Descartes' subsequent and previous judgments. How this is possible should be shown by my explanations in this work as a by-product. The philosophical debate about God has reopened for some years and is more topical than ever and Theodor W. Adorno already knew that "probably every philosophy [circles] around the ontological proof of God"[2]. This work will concentrate on this form of proof. Anselm of Canterbury already committed himself to the attempt to prove the existence of God by describing "him" as the most perfect being about whom nothing greater can be thought[3]. Descartes also drafts an ontological proof of God, which I ask to examine in this work. To what extent can his proof of God be unquestionable?

In order to be able to adequately answer this question, Descartesian proof must of course first be examined in more detail and already known criticisms must be dealt with. Since "I think, therefore I am" embodies the introspective starting point of his thinking, the meaning of this saying in the sense of the proof of God will also find attention. A comparison with Anselm is intended to provide a better understanding of how the evidence evolved. Can we even speak of a proof in the original sense of the word?

In order to be able to evaluate Descartes' findings, I will not only include my own lines of thought, but also those of other authors. To test the proof of God, I will primarily cite Henning Tegtmeyer with his elaboration on "God, Spirit, Reason" and Wolfgang Röd for a thorough evaluation, who will serve as a literary basis in addition to Descartes' meditations.

2. The ontological proof according to Anselm of Canterbury

The original form of the ontological proof of God can be found in the theologian and philosopher Anselm of Canterbury. As already mentioned in the introduction, Anselm believes that God is something "beyond which nothing greater can be thought."[4] This statement marks the beginning of his argument. With this, Anselm created a prerequisite for his further course of action, since it was first clarified what God actually is and it is difficult to deny that this "maius" is also thought by the critics of the proof of God.[5] Nevertheless, this is his image of God and it remains questionable whether he can transfer this to every person. Anselm also speaks of belief. For Anselm, faith stands above reason: the real-logical reason must be abolished in order to win reason out of faith.[6] His reasoning seems to be based entirely on faith in God, it represents the prerequisite for the conclusion, because without faith it is not possible to recognize God. So thinking in itself is not responsible for enlightenment. Anselm's belief in a god ensured that reason fell into doubt and even led to the abolition of its thinking. Through this abolition, a kind of renewed reason can arise which is appropriate to the faith that finally brought it there, and faith becomes knowing faith through which the rational insight into the existence of God is only possible.[7]

The knowledge found inside the believer (which does not refer to any object outside) is supposed to prove the existence of God itself.[8] One can understand this as a function of a limit and this limit is itself the highest, i.e. God. The existence of God now includes being.

Kopper[9] uses the example of a painting to criticize that the greatest is only what I can consciously grasp. I can imagine something, but it is still truer when I am consciously aware of it. According to Anselm, this consciousness can come to man if he thinks God correctly, but the prerequisite was that the knowledge of the existence of God should not be in the consciousness of an external object.

The difference to Descartes lies in the self-assurance of the ego and the justification of the knowledge of reality. In addition, Descartes tries to begin a proof in the infinite itself and not to understand the infinite from the negation of the finite, which, according to Hegel, would represent a defect.[10]

3. The ontological proof of God according to René Descartes

In contrast to Anselm, Descartes dispenses with the empirical assumption; his argumentation follows (initially) purely a priori. The proof of the existence of God is a necessity for his considerations in order to secure the certainty of clear and distinct knowledge, because in his meditations he establishes reasons why everything is to be doubted. In doing so, he creates a prejudice-free basis for further considerations. Finally, in his deliberations, he receives a certain insight, namely that he must exist because he thinks and doubts. Furthermore, it should be proven that "everything we see clearly and distinctly is true"[11]

In order to determine whether things exist outside of himself, he must first extract the confused ideas from the clear ones.[12] It is true that he can arbitrarily think of things that exist outside of him, but according to Descartes they are not made up, rather they have their own unchangeable nature. Using the triangle as an example, Descartes makes this assumption clear: even if he imagines this geometrical figure pictorially, it may only exist in his thinking. Nevertheless, the triangle has a certain shape, a nature. This is "unchangeable and eternal, not invented by [him], not dependent on [his] spirit."[13] From this assumption he now wants to gain his proof of God, because he can take the idea of ​​a thing from his thinking and everything that he clearly and clearly recognizes belonging to a thing also really belongs to it.[14] The concept of clarity and unambiguity represents one of the two criteria in Descartes' work, which we have to deal with in the sense of a critique of his proof. Descartes has an idea of ​​God as a perfect being (similar to Anselm), which is just as present as that of any shape or number. It can also be seen clearly and distinctly that an actual and eternal existence belongs to God's nature.[15] The well-known sophism follows in its elaboration: He could of course also think of God as non-existent, but here a contradiction arises for Descartes: to deny God as the perfect being, existence, i.e. a perfection. It is just as contradictory to think of a mountain that lacks the valley. So one can just as little separate the essence of God from his existence (analogous to the essence of the triangle from the size of its inner angle sum), although this does not mean that such a mountain including valley actually exists. Just because one can think this does not seem to imply that God exists because one thinks him. The figuratively imagined wing horse is also no proof of its existence and so it is conceivable that the existence is only ascribed to God.[16] But here Descartes makes a decisive trick in his argumentation: Although the existence of mountain and valley cannot be inferred simply because the mountain cannot be thought of without valley, mountain and valley are inextricably linked. Since God is always thought to exist, as Anselm also noted, existence and God are inevitably fused together.

In summary, the proof of God can be embedded as follows:

(1) I doubt the truth of many of my beliefs.
(2) I think.
(3) I exist as a thinking being.
(4) I am a thinking substance.
(5) I realize that I am imperfect.
(6) I have an idea of ​​spiritual perfection.
(7) Every idea has a cause.
(8) The idea of ​​spiritual perfection can only be caused by a perfect spiritual being.
(9) The idea of ​​spiritual perfection can only have been caused by God.
(10) God exists.
(11) I cannot be wrong about what I clearly see as true or false.
(12) I can make some of my beliefs true if I clearly understand their content.
(13) The idea that God exists out of himself and therefore necessarily exists is clear and precise.
(14) God exists out of himself and therefore necessarily.[17]

4. The problem with the ontological proof of God

4.1. Descartes' early critics

Even his first critics, among them Catenas, knew how to question some of Descartes' conclusions, and Descartes tried to dispel them. Catenas uses Thomas Aquinas 'objection to Anselm and applies it to Descartes' ontological proof of God. Although it still seemed difficult in the second chapter to attack Anselm's argument, Thomas criticizes at least one reading of it:

Even if one admits that the most perfect being brings about existence in its name alone, it does not follow that this very existence is actually something in the material nature, but only that the concept of existence is inseparably connected with this concept of a supreme being is. You must not infer from this that the existence of God is actually something if you do not presuppose that that highest being actually exists: then it actually contains all perfections as well as real existence.[18]

He exemplifies this objection using the phrase of an existing lion, by whose concept the statement that every existing lion exists is true. This means that if one of the two parts of the compound word should be removed, the compound word will of course not be the same and thus the knowledge of God does not necessarily require that there is one of the two elements of this compound. Consequently, it must be a prerequisite that there is the highest being.[19]

Another point of criticism addressed by Mersenne and later also taken up by Leibniz is the allegation of incompleteness of the proof, since Descartes' argument does not allow the conclusion that God actually exists, but only that God must exist insofar as his nature is is possible or there is no contradiction in terms. So, according to Mersenne, from a thorough examination of the nature of God, it is possible to conclude that it is part of the nature of God to exist. However, it does not follow from this that God actually exists, as Catenas also noted, only if the aforementioned premise is true. This remark then leads to the argument that God exists, if it is not contradictory in itself, that God exists and there are no contradictions that he exists.[20] But this minor premise is "controversial [...] because the opponents either claim to doubt its truth or they deny it entirely."[21]

Finally, Gassendi also formulates an objection which relates to the property of an object; Existence does not represent any. It is a necessary condition for properties to be ascribed to an object at all. He specifically means those who belong to the so-called perfections: "Of course, existence is neither with God nor with any other thing a perfection, but it is that without which there are no perfections."[22]

4.2. First answer to the objections in Descartes' sense

Descartes was able to respond personally to the objections mentioned in the last chapter. Gassendi's thesis, "Existence is not a predicate"[23], can be understood in two different ways. Descartes at least replies with an understanding of the statement in the classical sense, with which an object can be distinguished from others by referring to the usual usage of language. So existence can become a quality. Because one can "use the name of the property for any attribute or for everything that can be specified to a thing - and that is exactly how it should be used here throughout."[24]

In contrast, Descartes evades the criticism of the catenas to a certain extent, since he disregards the concept of the "existing lion" and refers to the possibility of being able to imagine a lion that does not exist. It becomes clear that he is talking about the simple concept of the lion.[25] Descartes also reacts to Mersenne's point of criticism. He assumes that the nature of God is possible according to his description, since it is clear to us. Here you can also find his criterion of clarity and clarity, which should be considered more closely in the following objection. He clarifies his statement using the example of man: If it is part of his nature to be a living being, one can conclude that man is a living being, so I can also say of God that he exists because it is part of his nature belongs. Since Descartes described the nature of God in such a way that he can only presuppose and recognize as belonging to it what he clearly grasps, the contradiction cannot be proven. In the other case (another imagination of the nature of God) it would be possible to take back everything else that has been recognized by man.[26] On the one hand, what is striking about this formulation is that Descartes is now extending what he thinks he can clearly see to all people. In addition, there is also the question of the meaning of the deceiver demon created by him in the meditations and its ability to falsify insights, knowledge, etc.

4.3. The accusation of the circle at Röd and its attempted solution

Since the objections of his early critics were only briefly dealt with in the course of this housework, the most problematic and well-known one will now be analyzed. In Wolfgang Röd's elaboration "le cercle cartésien" the objections of the early critics can be found in detailed form.

For Descartes everything that I know clearly and distinctly about the nature of a thing is also objectively valid and necessarily belongs to this thing.[27] This criterion should not only lead to the proof of God's existence, but is also dependent on this, as becomes clear in the fifth meditation. This expresses what Röd also worked out and Descartes' early critics already indicated: the suspicion of the "vicious circle".[28] Objectively valid knowledge can therefore not be achieved at any time unless the existence of God has been proven beforehand. As already indicated in the last chapter, Descartes cannot really escape this reproach; He tries to do this by reducing his previously prevailing doubt to the remembered certainty and denying having "extended it to the actual evidence".[29] If this assumption were correct, it would be all too easy to avoid the difficulties of proving it, but there are some passages that refer to the deus malignus, the deceiver demon: Even easily recognizable statements such as 2 + 3 = 5 become afflicted with metaphysical doubt. The purpose of the doubt raised is to call into question all ideas and findings that were previously considered objective (including the clear and unambiguous). But after the prerequisite for the cogito had been created, a possibility of objective knowledge had to be regained. Descartes' doubt itself is a condition for his first certainty ("I am") and for this he had to disregard any objective certainty. Thus, at least in a metaphysical sense, doubt is originally universal.[30]

So we want to try to counter the circular problem and the associated lack of objectivity of knowledge.

Röd offers us a first approach here: In his opinion, Descartes cannot be absolved from the charge of bad logic as long as one looks at his proofs of God in isolation. For him there is only one possibility: the certainty of God, like the cogito, should be understood as a certainty of existence and not as a certainty of relationships.However, the statement "God exists" cannot be deducted, since it "would [stand] as an expression of an existential certainty outside of any logical-deductive nexus."[31] The question of whether such a conception of the certainty of God can be combined with Descartesian metaphysics has to be answered in the negative by Röd for the time being, at least if one proceeds from the discursive character of the knowledge of God.

Another difficulty is the dependence of the causal evidence in the third meditation on the assumption in meditation five that the first cause, which is necessary to be thought, also necessarily exists. Descartes tries to trace the objective validity of the causal principle back to the cogito ergo sum, but fails because the finitude of the ego shifts to a dependency of the ego. This cannot justify the causal principle. Röd admits that Descartes is to be blamed for not distinguishing between "finite" and "depending on the first cause" according to the old philosophical tradition. Nevertheless, Descartes' justification that the finite is the negation of the infinite (the most perfect being cannot be deduced from my finitude) is not possible if an objectively valid causality is presupposed, since this opens up the problem of the circle again.[32]


[1] Husserl on Descartes: Husserl, Edmund; Elisabeth Ströker. Cartesian Meditations, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag 2012, p. 4

[2] Adorno (1966): 378, in Bromand, Joachim; Kreis, Guido (ed.): Evidence of God from Anselm to Gödel. Berlin: Suhrkamp 2016, p. 9

[3] Rainbow, Arnim; Meyer, Uwe (Hrsg.): Dictionary of philosophical terms. Hamburg: Meiner 2013, p. 270

[4] Kopper, Joachim. "Remarks on Anselmischen proofs of God". Journal for Philosophical Research, 9.2, 1955, p. 303

[5] ottmann, Henning. "Anselm's ontological proof of God". Hegel yearbook, 2005.1, 2003, p. 57

[6] See Kopper 1955, p. 303

[7] See Ibid., P.302

[8] See Kopper, 1955, p. 303

[9] 1955, p. 303

[10] See ottmann, 2003, p. 57ff.

[11] Descartes, René: Meditationes de Prima Philosophia. Meditations on the First Philosophy. Latin / German. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012, p. 59

[12] See ibid., P. 161

[13] Ibid., P. 163

[14] See ibid., P. 165

[15] See ibid.

[16] See Ibid., P. 167

[17] Tegtmeyer, Henning: God, Spirit, Reason. Principles and Problems of Natural Theology. Thübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013, p. 180

[18] Bromand et al. (Ed.), 2016, p. 109

[19] See Ibid., P.148

[20] See Ibid., P. 153

[21] Ibid., P. 110

[22] Ibid., P. 111

[23] Bromand et al (Ed.), 2016, p. 110

[24] Ibid., P. 111

[25] See ibid., P. 109

[26] See Ibid., Pp. 154f.

[27] Röd, Wolfgang. On the problem of the knowledge of God in Descartes. Archive for the History of Philosophy, 1961, p. 129

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., P. 130

[30] See ibid., Pp. 130f.

[31] Ibid., P. 132

[32] See Ibid., Pp. 134f.

End of the reading sample from 20 pages