Explain an objection to Anselm's Ontological Argument (either Kant or Gaunilo).

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The monk Gaunilo objects to Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, which defines the Almighty as that of which nothing greater can be conceived. In his Reply on Behalf of a Fool, Gaunilo attempts to refute Anselm by using the same reasoning, via reductio ad absurdum ,...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The monk Gaunilo objects to Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, which defines the Almighty as that of which nothing greater can be conceived. In his Reply on Behalf of a Fool, Gaunilo attempts to refute Anselm by using the same reasoning, via reductio ad absurdum, a form of argument that seeks to show that its opposite would lead to absurdity.

He employs the thought experiment of a mythical lost island, an island more excellent than all others. On Anselm's premises, such an island would necessarily exist as, like God, it can be conceived in the mind. Gaunilo concedes that this is an absurd conclusion, but no more absurd than Anselm's original argument.

Anselm has little difficulty in disposing of Gaunilo's argument. He rightly points out that, unlike God, it isn't in the nature of a lost island's definition that it exist. In other words, the essence of a lost island doesn't necessarily entail its existence. Furthermore, whereas Gaunilo referred to the mythical lost island as "more excellent than all the others," that's not how Anselm referred to God. He said that God is a being of which nothing greater can be conceived, which isn't the same thing at all.

Apart from anything else, God is of a completely different order of being than anything else, whether it's lost islands, rocks, trees, animals, stones, or human beings. According to Anselm, all those created objects are ultimately dependent on that of which nothing greater can be conceived: God.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team