Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

A conference to be held at Boston College, 27-30 July 2015.

For more details go to conference website.
This Blogsite is dedicated to the work and legacy of Anselm of Aosta, Bec and Canterbury, who died in Canterbury on 21 April 1109.

© 2008-2015 Ian Logan. All rights reserved.
To notify me of recent publications, forthcoming events or anything of interest to Anselm scholars, please contact me using the form provided:

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.