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Photo of a stained glass window depicting Anselm of Canterbury

Posted: 30 October 2012

The ontological argument, one of the classic ‘proofs’ of God’s existence, first formulated by Anselm of Canterbury in 1078, was recently explored on BBC Radio 4 in the weekly programme In Our Time, by presenter Melvyn Bragg and three academic guests.

Wikipedia has a useful summary of the argument, which seeks to show that God exists by using reason alone…

Anselm defined God as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’, and then argued that this being could exist in the mind. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, a greater being is possible – one which exists in the mind and in reality.

The argument has proved controversial in the centuries since, and has been restated or resisted by many major philosophers, including Descartes, Kant and Hume. In modern times, philosophers continue to write about it, although even believers in God believe it has lost its power as a convincing argument for God.

Joining Melvyn Bragg for the programme were John Haldane, 
Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; Peter Millican,
 Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and Clare Carlisle,
 Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King’s College London.

To hear the programme, see this In Our Time page.

For a blow-by-blow account of Anselm’s argument, see this page by Princeton Professor Gideon Rosen.

Photo of a stained glass image of St Anselm in Mansfield College, Oxford, by Lawrence OP

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