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Ideas of Anselm, by Text

[Italian, 1033 - 1109, Born in Aosta, Italy. Archbishop of Canterbury under King William II of England. Died at Canterbury.]

1090 Proslogion
Ch 2 p.26 Even the fool can hold 'a being than which none greater exists' in his understanding
     Full Idea: Even the fool must be convinced that a being than which none greater can be thought exists at least in his understanding, since when he hears this he understands it, and whatever is understood is in the understanding.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 2)
     A reaction: Psalm 14.1: 'The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God'. But how does the fool interpret the words, if he has limited imagination? He might get no further than an attractive film star. He would need prompting to think of a spiritual being.
Ch 2 p.26 If that than which a greater cannot be thought actually exists, that is greater than the mere idea
     Full Idea: Clearly that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist in the understanding alone. For it it is actually in the understanding alone, it can be thought of as existing also in reality, and this is greater.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 2)
     A reaction: The suppressed premise is 'something actually existing is greater than the mere conception of it'. As it stands this is wrong. I can imagine a supreme evil. But see Idea 21243.
Ch 2 p.51 Anselm's first proof fails because existence isn't a real predicate, so it can't be a perfection
     Full Idea: Anselm's first proof fails, because he treats existence as being a perfection, which it isn't, because that would make it a real predicate.
     From: comment on Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 2) by Norman Malcolm - Anselm's Argument Sect I
     A reaction: Not everyone accepts Kant's claim that existence cannot be a predicate. They all seem to know what a perfection is. Can the Mona Lisa (an object) not be a perfection? Must it be broken down into perfect predicates?
Ch 3 p.26 Conceiving a greater being than God leads to absurdity
     Full Idea: If some mind could think of something better than thou, the creature would rise above the Creator and judge its Creator; but this is altogether absurd.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 3)
     A reaction: An error, revealing a certain desperation. If a greafer being could be conceived than the being so far imagined as God (a necessarily existing being), that being would BE God, by his own argument (and not some arrogant 'creature').
Ch 3 p.26 An existing thing is even greater if its non-existence is inconceivable
     Full Idea: Something can be thought of as existing, which cannot be thought of as not existing, and this is greater than that which cannot be thought of as not existing.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 3)
     A reaction: This is a necessary addition, to single out the concept of God as special. But you really must give reasons for saying God's non-existence is inconceivable. Atheists seem to manage.
Ch 3 p.54 A perfection must be independent and unlimited, and the necessary existence of Anselm's second proof gives this
     Full Idea: Anselm's second proof works, because he sees that necessary existence (or the impossibility of non-existence) really is a perfection. This is because a perfection requires no dependence or limit or impediment.
     From: comment on Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 3) by Norman Malcolm - Anselm's Argument Sect II
     A reaction: I have the usual problem, that it doesn't seem to follow that the perfect existence of something bestows a perfection. It may be necessary that 'for every large animal there exists a disease'. Satan may exist necessarily.
Ch 4 p.27 The word 'God' can be denied, but understanding shows God must exist
     Full Idea: We think of a thing when we say the world, and in another way when we think of the very thing itself. In the second sense God cannot be thought of as nonexistent. No one who understands can think God does not exist.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Ch 4)
     A reaction: It seems open to the atheist to claim the exact opposite - that you can commit to God's existence if it is just a word, but understanding shows that God is impossible (perhaps because of contradictions). How to arbitrate?
Reply 3 p.27 Guanilo says a supremely fertile island must exist, just because we can conceive it
     Full Idea: Guanilo supposes that we imagine an island surpassing all lands in its fertility. We might then say that we cannot doubt that it truly exists is reality, because anyone can conceive it from a verbal description.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Reply 3)
     A reaction: Guanilo was a very naughty monk, who must have had sleepless nights over this. One could further ask whether an island might have necessary existence. Anselm needs 'a being' to be a special category of thing.
Reply 3 p.28 Nonexistence is impossible for the greatest thinkable thing, which has no beginning or end
     Full Idea: If anyone does think of something a greater than which cannot be thought, then he thinks of something which cannot be thought of as nonexistent, ...for then it could be thought of as having a beginning and an end. And this is impossible.
     From: Anselm (Proslogion [1090], Reply 3)
     A reaction: A nice idea, but it has a flip side. If the atheist denies God's existence, then it follows that (because no beginning is possible for such a being) the existence of God is impossible. Anselm adds that contingent existents have parts (unlike God).
1095 De Veritate (On Truth)
p.37 Anselm of Canterbury identified truth with God
     Full Idea: Anselm of Canterbury identified truth with God.
     From: report of Anselm (De Veritate (On Truth) [1095]) by Pascal Engel - Truth §1.6
     A reaction: An interesting claim, perhaps, depending on what it means. God decrees truth, God knows all truth, God makes truth possible, God connects us to the world, God is the world…?