Jonathan Edwards makes an interesting (and prior to a few weeks ago unknown to me) ontological argument in one of his miscellanies. But before we get to that, a little bit on Ontological Arguments:
Ontological arguments are arguments, for the conclusion that God exists, from premises which are supposed to derive from some source other than observation of the world—e.g., from reason alone. In other words, ontological arguments are arguments from nothing but analytic, a priori and necessary premises to the conclusion that God exists.
The first, and best-known, ontological argument was proposed by St. Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th. century C.E. In his Proslogion, St. Anselm claims to derive the existence of God from the concept of a being than which no greater can be conceived. St. Anselm reasoned that, if such a being fails to exist, then a greater being—namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived, and which exists—can be conceived. But this would be absurd: nothing can be greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. So a being than which no greater can be conceived—i.e., God—exists.
There are several types of ontological arguments
- definitional ontological arguments;
- conceptual (or hyperintensional) ontological arguments;
- modal ontological arguments;
- Meinongian ontological arguments;
- experiential ontological arguments;
- mereological ontological arguments;
- higher-order ontological arguments; and
- ‘Hegelian’ ontological arguments;
The first three sorts of ontological argument are probably the most commonly thought of argument when we say “ontological argument.” The first one basically goes something like this:
1-God is a being which has every perfection. (This is true as a matter of definition.) Existence is a perfection. Hence God exists.
The second one goes something like this:
2- I conceive of a being than which no greater can be conceived. If a being than which no greater can be conceived does not exist, then I can conceive of a being greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived—namely, a being than which no greater can be conceived that exists. I cannot conceive of a being greater than a being than which no greater can be conceived. Hence, a being than which no greater can be conceived exists.
Argument 2 is closest to Anselm’s type of ontological argument.
The third argument goes something like this:
3- It is possible that that God exists. God is not a contingent being, i.e., either it is not possible that God exists, or it is necessary that God exists. Hence, it is necessary that God exists. Hence, God exists.
Now lets turn to Jonathan Edwards’ argument then we can classify it:
27a. God is a necessary being, because it’s a contradiction to suppose him not to be. No being is a necessary being but he whose nonentity is a contradiction. We have show that absolute nothing is the essence of al contradictions; but being includes in it all that we call God, who is, and there is no one else besides him.
The Modal argument has several premises:
- It is possible that God exists
- God is not a contingent being
- Hence it is necessary that God exists.
- Hence God exists.
Edwards arguments can be parsed out this way:
A.It is possible that God exists.
B.God is a necessary being.
(Arguments for why God is a necessary being: It’s a contradiction to suppose God is contingent. No being is a necessary being but he whose essence is just being.)
C. God Exists.
But it could also be parsed out another way:
- “God” includes being.
- It is contradictory to have “God” without being.
This reading looks a lot like the first sort of ontological argument:
- By definition, “God” is a being which has every perfection.
- Existence is a perfection.
- God exists.
All this to say – Edwards has a rather complex and maybe convoluted version of the ontological argument or maybe he has two in the same miscellany.
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