Reading Anselm: Context and Criticism

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Anselm's argument and the 'devil' parody

Yujin Nagasawa has just published an article which attempts to refute two versions of the 'devil' parody of Anselm's argument (those of Millican and Chambers). (See Y. Nagasawa, 'The ontological argument and the devil' in The Philosophical Quarterly, 60 (2010) 72-91.) Nagasawa's conclusion is that such attempted parodies fail as parodies because they are not structurally parallel to Anselm's argument (to which he unhelpfully, but in common with so many others, insists on referring as the ontological argument) or because they make assumptions that a proponent of Anselm's argument does not need to make. If one restructures a parody argument to meet these points, it is no longer a parody argument, but the argument itself (p.91).

One point that Nagasawa does not address is my suggestion that the proof of anti-God is a proof of the non-existence of anything that is nothing. (See Reading Anselm's Proslogion, p. 183). My view is that 'nothing' is a more accurate inversion of 'God' than 'devil'. In this way we can have a parody of Anselm's argument, which is not Anselm's argument, but is formally valid and produces a true conclusion. Of course, this would support the contention that Anselm's argument is sound.

My parody runs thus:

'Anti-God is that than which a lesser cannot be thought.
Anti-God does not exist in the understanding [alone] or it is not anti-God, since it is less great for it not to exist in reality than for it not to exist in the understanding [alone].
Therefore anti-God does not exist in the understanding or in reality, since this is less great than not existing in the understanding [alone].'

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