Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

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This Blogsite is dedicated to the work and legacy of Anselm of Aosta, Bec and Canterbury, who died in Canterbury on 21 April 1109.

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Sunday, 20 December 2009

Recent Publications - December 2009

Sara L. Uckelman, 'Anselm's Logic of Agency' in Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, 12 (2009) 248-268.

Friday, 18 December 2009

When is Anselm's argument Anselm's argument?

An interesting paper from earlier this year is P. Schlenker, 'Anselm's argument and Berry's paradox' in Noûs, 43 (2009) 214-223. A version can be found here.

A problem with this paper, like so many others, is that it claims to have found where Anselm's Proslogion argument goes wrong. It is interesting to note how many different, competing ways of going wrong there supposedly are in Anselm's argument. I suspect that there needs to be more care taken with the hermeneutics of translation from natural to formal logical language.

As Geach and Strawson famously pointed out, 'there is no one logical form that is the form of a given concrete argument; one and the same argument may correspond to more than one abstract schema; and accordingly an argument is not shown to be invalid by sharing some logical form with an invalid argument, for it may simultaneously have some form that makes it into a valid argument.' (P. Geach, 'Why Logic Matters' in H.D. Lewis, Contemporary British Philosophy: Personal Statements, Fourth Series, London 1976, pp. 86-99, p. 95.

One lesson to be drawn from this is that coming up with something that sounds like it might bear some relation to what Anselm thought does not constitute the basis for an account of what he thought that is sufficiently nuanced to allow one to draw the conclusion that his argument was unsound and/or invalid. At best, using such an approach one could demonstrate the invalidity or unsoundness of one's own account. But from the perspective of Anselm studies, that would not be very interesting. It would be useful to produce a set of criteria that would allow one to come to a conclusion about the formal validity at least of a complex natural language argument. One of those criteria would have to be that provided by Geach and Strawson: 'there is no one logical form that is the form of a given concrete argument'.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Mistranslations of the Proslogion

One of the most frequently mistranslated passages in Anselm's writings is the following from Proslogion, 4:

'Deus enim est id quo maius cogitari non potest. Quod qui bene intelligit, utique intelligit id ipsum sic esse, ut nec cogitatione queat non esse. Qui ergo intelligit sic esse deum, nequit eum non esse cogitare.'

'For God is that than which a greater cannot be thought. Whoever understands this [i.e. that than which a greater cannot be thought] properly, understands at least that this same thing exists in such a way that not even in thought can it not exist. Therefore, whoever understands that God exists in the same way [i.e. as that than which a greater cannot be thought], cannot think that He does not exist.'

The word 'Quod' is usually left ambiguous. It refers to 'that than which a greater cannot be thought', rather than to the phrase 'God is that than which a greater cannot be thought'.

The phrase 'id ipsum' is commonly translated as 'God' or 'he', suggesting that the translators do not understand the argument at this point. Since this is a summary of Anselm's argument in Proslogion 2-4, that is a problem to say the least.

Interestingly Jasper Hopkins is one translator who recognised this error and amended his earlier translation of this passage (see J. Hopkins & H. Richardson, Anselm of Canterbury, Vol. 1, London 1974, p. 25) in his A New Interpretative Translation of St. Anselm's Monologion and Proslogion, Minneapolis 1986, p. 229.

I have more to say about this in 'Whoever understands this: On translating the Proslogion' in New Blackfriars, 89 (2008) 560-74.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Anselm and Russell's Paradox

Having hinted in my book on Anselm's argument at a refutation of Christopher Viger's claim that Anselm's argument falls foul of Russell's Paradox, I was interested to see that Maciek Nowicki had already attempted a more detailed refutation of Viger. Nowicki's paper is downloadable as a .pdf file here: 'Anselm and Russell' in Logic and Logical Philosophy, 15 (2006) 355-368. Also of interest and downloadable is Uwe Scheffler's paper, 'Is it paradoxical to not be greater than God?'

Viger's paper, 'St. Anselm's Ontological Argument Succumbs to Russell's Paradox', can be found in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 52 (2002) 123-128. Unfortunately it does not appear to be downloadable without a subscription.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Non sequitur

From Yiftach J.H. Fehige,'Thought experimenting with God. Revisiting the Ontological Argument' in Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie, 51 (2009) 249–267: 'it makes sense that Anselm of Canterbury offered his versions of the ontological argument in the form of a prayer, which, presupposing the existence of god [sic], seems to run counter to a proof of god's [sic] existence.'

Presumably in much the same way that Newton's belief that apples would fall ran counter to his work on the law of gravity.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The mediocrity of crowds: Anselm on Wikipedia

Having had occasion to look at the Anselm article on the English language version of Wikipedia recently, I have my doubts concerning the process of production of such an article.

The theory of 'crowd sourcing' which lies behind such on-line projects as Wikipedia is questionable. What is produced by the crowd will at best approximate very roughly to accuracy and coherence. The crowd is as likely to nibble away at what is good as well as what is bad in the article, constantly reducing it to mediocrity. Just try to work out from this article what works Anselm actually wrote!

Here is an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal on the current situation at Wikipedia: Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages. My view is that a crowd is more likely to riot than to come up with the theory of relativity. Hopefully at some point, the crowd will disperse.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Recent publications - November 2009

W. Hasker, 'Katherin A. Rogers, Anselm on Freedom' in Religious Studies, 45 (2009) 499-503.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Anselm and the Stoics

An interesting paper on the possible Stoic forerunner of Anselm's Proslogion argument from Luke Gelinas, originally published in Phronesis, 51 (2006) 49-73.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Closer to Truth, except in the case of Anselm

There is a marvellous resource for those interested in the big questions of philosophy at Closer to Truth. The interviews with philosophers such as Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Peter Van Inwagen and Brian Leftow are particularly fascinating and incredibly informative. Swinburne provides a masterful summary of his cumulative inductive probability argument for God.

Needless to say, there is a particular area that lets the site down. The discussions which deal with the ontological argument do not deal with Anselm's argument, not because those engaged in the discussion think Anselm's argument is different from the ontological argument as they present it, but because they think that their accounts of ontological arguments provide accurate accounts of Anselm's argument. The problem is that they don't.

For Anselm, 'that than which a greater cannot be thought' is the middle term of his argument. (As a dialectician, he thinks ALL logical arguments have middle terms.) The middle term of an argument cannot be replaced by another middle term without changing the argument, unless of course the two terms are synonymous. But the usual suspect, 'perfect being', is not synonymous with 'that than which a greater cannot be thought'. If it were it would be possible to substitute it for 'that than which a greater cannot be thought' in Anselm's argument without changing the argument (by the rule of replacement). But the argument is changed if such a substitution is made. Anselm's proof of the existence of 'that than which a greater cannot be thought' in Proslogion 2, changes if we substitute 'perfect being'. If a perfect being only exists in the understanding, then I can think of something greater, does not deliver what Anselm's argument delivers. One has to make another change to this argument, changing 'greater' to 'more perfect'. We end up with different arguments: one concerning perfection; the other concerning epistemic claims about the greatness of God. This can be seen in the conclusion of Proslogion 15 that 'God is greater than can be thought'. This does not follow from the non-Anselmian version of the argument. However, it does follow from Anselm's version: since God is 'that than which a greater cannot be thought', and since I can think of something greater than Him if He is not greater than can be thought, then He is 'greater than can be thought'. There is no reason to think that this kind of greatness is required in a 'perfect being', and it would not follow in the non-Anselmian version of the argument that it is more perfect to be greater than can be thought.

Anselm invested much effort in discovering his middle term, it seems a unfortunate to discard it with such apparent ease.

Friday, 30 October 2009

'A distinguished volume'

Brian Davies has graciously reviewed my book (see previous post), and has made a some interesting criticisms, particularly in relation to the work of Elizabeth Anscombe. As I am aware that there are other reviews in the pipeline I will hold fire on responding, since I hope to publish 'a review of the reviews' on this blog at some point.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Recent publications - October 2009 - updated

B. Leftow, 'Anselmian Presentism' in Faith and Philosophy, 26 (2009) pp. 297-319.

K. Rogers, 'Back to Eternalism : a Response to Leftow's "Anselmian Presentism"' in Faith and Philosophy, 26 (2009) pp. 320-338.

B. Davies, 'Ian Logan, Reading Anselm's Proslogion' in New Blackfriars, 90 (2009) 741-743.

G.R. Evans, 'Sandra Visser and Thomas Williams, Anselm' in Journal of Theological Studies, 60 (2009) 731-732.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Anselm in the New York Times

Thanks to Jay Diehl for sending me this link to a discussion of Anselm's Proslogion argument in the New York Times:

The Self-Thinking Thought

Whilst the article bears little relation to what Anselm's argument is actually about it shows its enduring fascination. Particularly enjoyable are the comments posted by what I hope are some of the less bright readers of the Times.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Recent publications - June 2009

Toivo J. Holopainen, 'The Proslogion in Relation to the Monologion' in The Heythrop Journal, 50 (2009) 590-602.

J.M. Idziak, 'Katherin Rogers, Anselm on Freedom' in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 65 (2009) 171-175.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Recent publications on Anselm

- Ian Logan, Reading Anselm's Proslogion: The History of Anselm's Argument and its Significance Today, Ashgate 2009.
- Katherin A. Rogers, Anselm on Freedom, OUP 2008.
- Sandra Visser & Thomas Williams, Anselm (Great Medieval Thinkers series), OUP 2009.
- Benedicta Ward, Anselm of Canterbury: His Life and Legacy, SPCK 2009.

- Richard Sharpe, 'Anselm as Author: Publishing in the Late Eleventh Century' in Journal of Medieval Latin, 19 (2009) 1-87 available online as a pdf file.

- Samu Niskanen, The Letter Collections of Anselm of Canterbury, University of Helsinki 2009.

- Ian Logan, 'Peter Boschung, From a Topical Point of View: Dialectic in Anselm of Canterbury's De Grammatico (Brill 2006)' in New Blackfriars, 90 (2009) 266-268.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Early Manuscripts of Anselm: a discussion with five manuscripts

The Bodleian Library, Lambeth Palace Library, and Trinity College Cambridge present
'Early Manuscripts of Anselm: a discussion with five manuscripts'

Bodleian Library, Oxford
Monday 27 April 2009
10:30am - 4:30pm

New Library Seminar Room

In the presence of the manuscripts

10:30am - 1.00pm

Booklet circulation in Normandy in the 1080s
(Bodleian MS. Rawlinson A. 392 presented by Richard Sharpe)

Booklet circulation in England in the 1090s
(Trinity College MS. B. 1. 37 presented by Teresa Webber)

2.00pm - 4:30pm

William of Malmesbury and the collected works and letters
(Lambeth Palace MS. 224 presented by Samu Niskanen)

The Canterbury collections of works and letters
(Bodleian MS. Bodley 271 and Lambeth Palace MS. 59 presented by Michael Gullick)

Respondents: Ian Logan, Rodney Thomson

Space is limited, so registration is essential.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

St Anselm College, NH, Conference - Programme and Registration

The preliminary programme for the conference to be held at St Anselm College, New Hampshire, from 17-18 April 2009, has been published on-line and can be viewed here.

To obtain the registration forms as a Word document follow this link.

Information concerning logistics, booking of hotel rooms, etc., can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Canterbury Conference - Finalised Programme

The full programme for the Canterbury conference has been finalised and published on the Conference website. You can access details here.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Canterbury Conference - Outline Programme

An outline of the programme for the Anselm conference in Canterbury has been published on the conference website. To view it click here.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Register on-line for Canterbury conference

Registration for the Canterbury conference is now open and can be accessed at the Conference web-site.