Ontological Argument
Schopenhauer (Arthur)
Source: Plantinga, Alvin (Ed.) The Ontological Argument, Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1965
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  1. Plantinga’s Comments: [Schopenhauer reiterated the central point in Kant's criticism, but in language that is more readily understandable. It is a common reaction to the ontological argument that it succeeds in "proving" its conclusion only by first concealing that conclusion somewhere in its premises, and in this respect Schopenhauer compared it to a sleight-of-hand trick, wherein what is produced for the astonishment and wonder of the audience has been before them all the while, though carefully concealed until the appropriate time.] Note1.
  2. We find even the excellent Descartes, who gave the first impulse to subjective reflection and thereby became the father of modem philosophy, still entangled in confusions for which it is difficult to account; and we shall soon see to what serious and deplorable consequences these confusions have led with regard to Metaphysics. In the "Reply to the Second Set of Objections to the Meditations," Axiom I, he says: "Nothing exists concerning which it may not be asked what the cause of its existence is. This may be asked even of God; not that he needs any cause in order to exist, but because the cause or reason, why he needs no cause in order to exist, is in the very immensity of his nature." He ought to have said: The immensity of God is a logical reason from which it follows, that God needs no cause; whereas he confounds the two together and obviously has no clear consciousness of the difference between reason and cause. Properly speaking however, it is his intention which mars his insight. For here, where the law of causality2 demands a cause, he substitutes a reason instead of it, because the latter, unlike the former, does not immediately lead to something beyond it; and thus, by means of this very axiom, he clears the way to the Ontological Proof of the existence of God, which was really his invention, for Anselm had only indicated it in a general manner. Immediately after these axioms, of which I have just quoted the first, there comes a formal, quite serious statement of the Ontological Proof, which, in fact, already lies within that axiom, as the chicken does within the egg that has been long brooded over. Thus, while everything else stands in need of a cause for its existence, the immensity implied in the conception of the Deity—who is introduced to us upon the ladder of the Cosmological Proof—suffices in lieu of a cause or, as the proof itself expresses it: in "Necessary existence is contained in the concept of a supremely perfect being." This, then, is the sleight-of-hand trick, for the sake of which the confusion, familiar even to Aristotle, of the two principal meanings of the principle of sufficient reason, has been used directly in majorem Dei gloriam.
  3. Considered by daylight, however, and without prejudice, this famous Ontological Proof is really a charming joke. On some occasion or other, someone excogitates a conception, composed out of all sorts of predicates, among which however he takes care to include the predicate actuality or existence, either openly stated or wrapped up for decency's sake in some other predicate, such as perfection, immensity, or something of the kind. Now, it is well known,—that, from a given conception, those predicates which are essential to it—i.e., without which it cannot be thought—and likewise the predicates which are essential to those predicates themselves, may be extracted by means of purely logical analyses, and consequently have logical truth: that is, they have their reason of knowledge in the given conception. Accordingly the predicate reality or existence is now extracted from this arbitrarily thought conception, and an object corresponding to it is forthwith presumed to have real existence independently of the conception.
      "Were not the thought so cursedly acute,
      One might be tempted to declare it silly3."
  4. After all, the simplest answer to such ontological demonstrations is: "All depends upon the source whence you have derived your conception: if it be taken from experience, all well and good, for in this case its object exists and needs no further proof; if, on the contrary, it has been hatched in your own sinciput, all its predicates are of no avail, for it is a mere phantasm. But we form an unfavourable prejudice against the pretensions of a theology which needed to have recourse to such proofs as this in order to gain a footing on the territory of philosophy, to which it is quite foreign, but on which it longs to trespass. But oh! for the prophetic wisdom of Aristotle! He had never even heard of the Ontological Proof; yet as though he could detect this piece of scholastic jugglery through the shades of coming darkness and were anxious to bar the road to it, he carefully shows4 that defining a thing and proving its existence are two different matters, separate to all eternity; since by the one we learn what it is that is meant, and by the other that such a thing exists. Like an oracle of the future, he pronounces the sentence: "Existence never can belong to the essence of a thing."



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: From The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, translated by Mme. Karl Hillebrand, revised edition. London: George Bell and Sons, 1897 (first edition 1889).

Footnote 3: Schiller, "Wallenstein-Trilogie. Piccolomini," Act ii. Sc. 7.

Footnote 4: Aristotle, "Analyt. post." c. 7.


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