Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument Analysis

Barbara Nalls


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In this paper I will investigate Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument in order to make an attempt at establishing some clear evidence to answer this question; Did Saint Anselm believe in GOD?


Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), is the creator of the ontological argument. Saint Anselm’s ontological argument is distinctive from other arguments that attempt to prove that it is the existence of God, the creator, and not just some abstract entity that is being defined. Saint Anselm’s argument reads as follows:

In my opinion, while Saint Anselm was a deep thinker, he was even more so, in this case, a deeper writer. I believe the common reader should be able to see the soundness of an argument, so that they may be able toaccept or reject the writer’s position. I think the Ontological Argument of Saint Anselm is unclear because the writing style is confusing and it needs to be more understandable. Maybe a simpler script or updated version of Saint Anselm’s message would clarify his position to ordinary readers like me. Based on Clifford’s comment “It is never lawful to stifle a doubt, for either it can be honestly answered by means of the inquiry already made, or else it proves that the inquiry was not complete”, 2(Encountering the Real,pg. 502).

Speak of the devil! Saint Anselm does have a 2nd version of his Ontological Argument, and it states:

With all that being said, this version of Saint Anselm’s argument is also about as clear as mud! However, by definition, God is a being than which none greater can be imagined, is now more properly put as follows:


Along with his 1st Argument, Saint Anselm’s 2nd version of the Ontological Argument is also believed to have failed in its efforts to clearly state his position to his readers/audience, according to some of his peers. The following names are some of Saint Anselm’s peers along with the some other writers who sighted their objections to the clarity and understandability of his Ontological Argument.

Monk, Gaunilo of Marmoutier, a contemporary of Saint Anselm, expressed an important criticism against Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Monk Gaunilo states that Saint Anselm is basically defining things into existence. Monk Gaunilo remarks that he believes this practice is unacceptable. Monk Gaunilo thinks that by using Saint Anselm’s method of argument authors could simply employ such tactics in an attempt to argue and even confirm the existence of all sorts of non-existent things.

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) wrote that God’s existence is self-evident. Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that since many people have different thoughts of God, Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument works only to sway those people who would define the idea of God the same way or have the same concepts of God. In Saint Thomas Aquinas’s view he believed, even if everyone had the same concept of God “it does not therefore follow that he understands what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally.” In Saint Thomas Aquinas’ understanding he points out that when we try to connect the phrase “a being than which none greater can be imagined” with more familiar predictable concepts they don’t help us to get an in depth view of God.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) directs his famous objection at the third premise of Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument. This is where Saint Anselm makes the claim that a being that exists as an idea in someone’s mind as well as in reality, is greater than if that being exists only as an idea in just their mind alone. Based on Saint Anselm’s premise number three, existence is what’s understood to be a great-making property or, as sometimes referred to, a perfection. Premise three thus explains that (a) existence is a property; and (b) to characterize existence makes a thing better, if all things are equal, than it would have been otherwise. Immanuel Kant rejects premise three on the ground that, as a purely formal matter, existence does not function as a predicate. While Kant’s criticism is phrased a bit obscurely in terms of thelogicof predicates and copulas, it also makes a conceivable metaphysical point. Existence is not a property like the way that being red is a property of an apple. Instead existence is a precondition for the exemplification of things in the sense that, it is not possible for a non-existent thing to exemplify any properties because there is nothing that such a property can stick itself to. Nothing has no qualities whatsoever. To say thatxexemplifies or instantiates a propertyPis hence to presuppose thatxexists. So, with this line of reasoning, existence isn’t a great-making property because it is not a property at all; it is rather a metaphysically necessary condition for the instantiation of any properties. Okay, Immanuel Kant also writes like Saint Anselm, way too deep for the poor little old average readers like me!


In response to Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument, other writers have made modal versions to express their thoughts about his ontological argument, below are two of those responses.

The first response to Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument comes from: (“Anselm’s Ontological Argument,”Philosophical Review, vol.69, no.1 (1960), 41-62 by Norman Malcolm). According to Malcolm’s view, the existence of an unlimited being is said to be either rationally necessary or logically not possible. Norman Malcolm’s argument for this claim is either that an unlimited being exists or that an unlimited being does not exist; by his logic there are no other possibilities. Reducing Malcom’s argument to its basic elements it would read as follows:

The next response to Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument is from Alvin Plantinga, (God, Freedom, and Evil(New York: Harper and Row, 1974). Plantinga complains that Saint Anselm’s argument is remarkably unconvincing if not downright irritating; he says that it looks too much like a parlor puzzle or some kind of word magic riddle. Not surprisingly, Alvin Plantinga shares my feelings about Saint Anselm’s writings.

Finally, here is my response to Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument. In just my lowly opinion, I think a person who writes in riddles is not out to teach as much as they are out to prove how smart they are. God does not need our help to show his existence, we need His help to see that He exists. This to me is like a child trying to prove they have parents, the process is self-evident. I am, so they are!


Per Anselm –

A being thatnecessarilyexists in reality is greater than a being that does notnecessarilyexist.
Thus, by definition, if God exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exist in reality, then we can imagine something that is greater than God.
But we cannot imagine something that is greater than God.
Thus, if God exists in the mind as an idea, then God necessarily exists in reality.
God exists in the mind as an idea.
Therefore, God necessarily exists in reality.”

In reaction to the above riddle, I investigated several sources to establish clear evidence to answer the question, “Did Saint Anselm believe in GOD?” My findings were; Saint Anselm wrote, in his 1st version of his ontological argument “… there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality.” 1(Anselm, In the 2nd version of his Ontological Argument Saint Anselm states: “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.… And [God] assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist… There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.” So the answer is YES, Anselm believed that God does exist.



2(Encountering the Real,pg. 502)

3(Malcolm, Norman, “Anselm’s Ontological Argument,”Philosophical Review, vol. 69, no. 1 (1960), 41-62)

4(Plantinga, Alvin,God, Freedom, and Evil(New York: Harper and Row, 1974)


Anselm, St.,Anselm’s Basic Writings, translated by S.W. Deane, 2ndEd. (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1962)

Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence,

Davenport, Ronald. Saintleo, Modules 1- 4 Lecture Notes.

Aquinas, Thomas, St.,Summa Theologica(1a Q2), “Whether the Existence of God is Self- Evident (Thomas More Publishing, 1981)

Kant, Immanuel,Critique of Pure Reason, translated by J.M.D. Meiklejohn (New York: Colonial Press, 1900)

Malcolm, Norman, “Anselm’s Ontological Argument,”Philosophical Review, vol. 69, no. 1 (1960), 41-62

Plantinga, Alvin,God, Freedom, and Evil(New York: Harper and Row, 1974)

Saint Leo University. Encountering the Real. 2013 ed. New York: Cengage Custom. Print

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