David M. Brown's Blog

August 24, 2009

Greater than which no mind can conceive

Filed under: Philosophy — davidmbrowndotcom @ 3:21 pm

Also, Superman. How pitiful to be invulnerable, faster than a speeding bullet, and so forth, but lack existence. Ergo…

The proof, which would come to be called the ontological argument, purports to demonstrate the existence of God from ideas alone: the concept of a God that doesn’t exist wouldn’t be much of a God. A true concept of God, “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived,” would have to be a God that exists. Therefore, God exists.

I can’t tell from Nathan Schneider’s essay “The Self-Thinking Thought” whether he thinks Anselm’s “proof” of a God supplies us with anything of an evidential sort or not. Schneider’s musings seem more whimsical and provocative, and autobiographical, than logical. What was the point of tossing in an unexplained slab of Goedel (“philosophy” as inscrutable mathematical notations), for instance? I don’t see any connection to aardvarks at all.

If Shneider does not think Anselm delivered the goods, to what evidence for a God can he actually point, as opposed to his own feeling and conviction? Convictions can of course be false. A false conviction does not become true if honored with a slick but question-begging “proof” that is really just a manifestation of faith. Is the faith itself supposed to be some kind of evidence for the notion in which one has faith, as seems to be hinted at in the piece? I have faith that such a notion is incoherent.

Schneider says:

The God [Anselm] conjured in proof he had learned from his friends…. The answer I found in his proof is no answer at all, no truly abstract, autonomous assurance that I can have all to myself. I have to stitch it out of memories, hopes and loved ones, as he did. It is no self-thinking thought; it’s a pleasure built out of language and sharing….

My conversion, and with it God, is not a thing I can live down, but something I’ll always have to live in, through and around. The very fact of it, that it happened at all, is a proof for its own ongoing existence.

One might wish that imagining made things so, just as one might wish that the antecedents of all pronouns were unambiguous. Suppose I think of a perfectly fabulous, all-powerful fortune falling into my lap without any effort on my part. I have the concept of such a perfect, infinitely accessible, fabulous and all-debt-dissolving fortune, greater than which cannot be conceived, or at least I think I have conceptualized such an in-my-lap fortune. But, really, how great and perfect can the fortune be if it doesn’t exist? Ergo, it must exist, by the law of conjuro existo. I shall advise my creditors immediately.

Or maybe this answer is no answer at all. I will have to stitch or perhaps cobble my own answer out of working for a living and attending to the bills when they come. Spending is no self-thinking thought; it’s a pleasure eked out of earning an income. On the other hand, maybe the very fact of my conversion to the faith in the all-powerful fortune, that this conversion “happened at all, is a proof for its own ongoing existence.” Yes, let’s posit that also! Indeed, let’s just, you know, keep positing things. And grappling with them prepositionally, in and through and around, and about and up and down.

I guess any continuing belief in something on my part constitutes quite definitive proof, I should think, that I sure enough still continue to believe it. The same might hold for you too. Well. Well well well. Well well well well well well well. I think we have really accomplished something here today.


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