Gould, James A. and Robert J. Mulvaney, eds.
Classic Philosophical Questions, Eleventh Ed. Upper
Saddle River, New Jersey
Pearson Prentice Hall: 2004
PART 6: Philosophy of Religion:
Can We Prove God Exists?
The Ontological Argument
From St Anselm, Proslogium, trans. Sidney Norton Deane (La Salle,
IL: Open Court, 1903). Reprinted by permission of Open Court
Publishing Company, a division of Carus Publishing Company, Peru,
Anselm ( 1033-1109) of Canterbury was born in Aosta, Italy.
In 1093 he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. During his
years in the abbey he wrote the two works for which he is best
known, The Monologium and The Proslogium. Anselm's name
will forever be associated with the ontological argument for
God's existence, which holds that the idea of God in one's mind
is evidence of a genuinely existing being.
Philosophy and religion have always had a close but uneasy
relationship. For some, the two mean practically the same
thing, since the concept of a way of life seems essential to both
of them. Both religion and philosophy seem to share the aim of
searching for the key to living well. On the other hand, many
have argued that philosophy has no need of a special
revelation, or even of the concept of a supreme being, whereas
religion seems to require both. And some claim philosophy is
regulated by canons of logical procedure, whereas many
religions are based sheerly on emotion and feeling. As you
think through your own conception of religion, you will want
to consider two ways in which philosophers have always
thought they could add something to religion. The first of these
is a consideration of arguments for God's existence, and the
other is a treatment of the definition or nature of God,
particularly as it concerns the great problem of human evil and
Most people believe that God exists, and many have
attempted to give rational arguments or proofs for his
existence. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-
1804) said that there are only three possible bases on which to
prove God's existence: no experience, many experiences, and
one experience. He called the first of these the ontological
argument, the second the cosmological argument, and the third
the teleological argument. The ontological argument was first
given by St. Anselm, who claims that once we understand the
nature of God as a "being than which nothing greater can be
conceived," we realize that his essence implies his existence.
One might put the argument in other words, and argue that God
is a perfect being, and it is an imperfection not to exist. Hence,
since God is perfect, he must exist.