Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

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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.