Proslogium (Chapter II)
Truly there is a God, although the fool has said in his
heart, There is no God.
AND so, Lord, do you, who do give understanding to faith, give me, so
far as you know it to be profitable, to understand that you are as we
believe; and that you are that which we believe. And indeed, we believe
that you are a being than which nothing greater can be conceived. Or is
there no such nature, since the fool has said in his heart, there is no
God? (Psalm 14:1). But, at any rate, this very fool, when he hears of this
being of which I speak --a being than which nothing greater can be
conceived --understands what be hears, and what he understands is in his
understanding; although he does not understand it to exist.
For, it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and
another to understand that the object exists. When a painter first
conceives of what he will afterwards perform, he has it in his
understanding, but be does not yet understand it to be, because he has not
yet performed it. But after he has made the painting, be both has it in
his understanding, and he understands that it exists, because he has made
Hence, even the fool is convinced that something exists in the
understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For,
when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood,
exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing
greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For,
suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to
exist in reality; which is greater.
Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists
in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can
be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously
this is impossible. Hence, there is doubt that there exists a being, than
which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the
understanding and in reality.
argument proposes that the very existence of God is built into the concept
of God. The shape of his argument is one of reductio ad absurdum,
which attempts to show that a hypothesis, if forced to its logical
conclusions has absurd or unreasonable implications, such as that of the
fool's, that God does not exist.
Anselm defines God as
“that than which no greater can be conceived." All possibly
imaginative attributes--power, goodness, presence, and so on--are
therefore by definition God's. This includes the attribute of
If nothing greater than God
can be imagined, then a God who does not exist has one thing greater that
can be imagined, namely, a God who does exist. According
to Anselm a non-contingent being is by definition greater than a
contingent being; it is greater for a thing to exist in reality than to
exist only in the understanding. By definition the concept of God
makes God's non-existence inconceivable. While
it may be possible to imagine a God that doesn't exist, one cannot imagine
a greatest of all possible beings without existence.
Therefore, the claim that
God does not exist is a logical absurdity. Why? Because it would imply
that a being, i.e. "God" (that than
which no greater can be conceived) could exist in the mind and not in
reality, thereby claiming to conceive a being which none greater can be
conceived is greater than it actually is.
Do you find this
argument convincing? Why or why not?
sufficiently answered Anselm?
What would be the chief
value of such an argument?