St Anselm (1033-1109) fame rests on his belief that faith is prior to reason: I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this I also believe- that unless I believed, I should not understand. Anselm employed his powers of reason in order to establish, by rational argument, the existence of God (Ally 2010:62). Anselms ontological argument When we are really thinking of something (and not merely uttering the associated verbal symbol), that thinking is our understanding (2010:63).
Of course, we need not understand that it exists, for we may be thinking of something which we believe does not exist, or we may be thinking of something of whose existence we are uncertain (2010:63). But in any of these cases, if we are thinking of something, if we understand it, then it, and not something else, is in the understanding (2010:63). This point applies to our thoughts of anything including God (2010:63). However, in the case of God, we are thinking of a unique thing, for we are thinking of the greatest thing conceivable, the being than which nothing greater can be conceived( Stumph & Abel 2002:107).
Now if a being exists in the understanding alone, it cannot be the greatest conceivable thing, for a being that exists in reality as well as in the understanding would be greater (2010:63). Consequently, since God is the greatest being conceivable he must exist in reality as well as in our understanding (2010:63). Or, to put it another way, if the greatest conceivable being exists in the understanding alone, then it is not the greatest conceivable being- a conclusion which is absurd (2010:63). Gaunilos objections Do we in fact have an idea of an absolutely perfect being?
This was the question posed by Anselms contemporary, Gaunilo, who noted that the sceptic who is not convinced of Gods existence would not grant Anselms assumption that people have an idea of a most perfect being (2010:63). To this Anselm could have replied that he was not trying to convince sceptics that God exists, but to provide Christians with a rational understanding of Christian truth (I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand- Anselm 1987:225).
In any case, he would have aintained that he could prove that people have an idea of a perfect being (2010:63). Anselm actually argues that we have various experiences of degrees of perfection- for instance, we experience some things as better or more beautiful than others (2010:64). We can make this kind of relative judgement only because we have a standard of comparison: the idea of absolute perfection (2010:64). It will be seen that the argument here turns on the question how can a finite mind transcend and reach an understanding of an infinite object? 2010:64).
What a finite mind feels to be an intellectual grasp of an infinite object may be only an emotive response (2010:64). One ought to remind oneself of the need to distinguish between emotive understanding and the kind of meaning needed for philosophical communication (2010:64). So, although most perfect being has a powerful emotive meaning, has Anselm actually provided this phrase with of a meaning that enables us to discuss the most perfect being philosophically and unemotionally? (2010:64).
Is existence indeed an added perfection? That is, is a being that exists necessarily greater (more perfect) than one that does not exist? (2010:64). Allowing that people have an idea of a most perfect being, does it follow that a being corresponding to this idea must exist? (2010:64). Anselms assumption is that existence is indeed an added perfection (2010:64). If existence is not an added perfection, there is no contradiction in allowing that the most perfect being exits only as an idea (2010:64).
Just because I am thinking of a being, thinking of it as the greatest conceivable being, and thinking of it as existing necessarily, does not provide any evidence that there is actually such a being, for the thought of a necessarily existing being is one thing and necessarily being is another. Conclusion What is significant about Anselms attempt to prove Gods existence using reason alone is that it demonstrates the possibility of a distinct contrast between faith and reason (2010:65). Questioning such proofs inevitably raises issues about the relation between faith and reason (2010:65).
Even in an age of faith, human beings could not get on without using their reason (2010:65). Clearly, they need to know where reason is appropriately used and where it should be set aside (2010. 65). They need a logical decision process that shows what a valid proof is (2010:65). If this decision process discloses that certain articles of the Christian faith cannot be proved, then they need a theological doctrine that shows how faith and reason are related at the point where reason leaves off and faith takes over (2010:65).