Recently my laptop reached the end of its life, and so I had recourse back to my older computer system, on which I am now. I decided to re-familiarize myself with my older system, and when I signed back on to Paltalk, a chat program I used to enjoy spending probably too much of my time on, I discovered that a message had been left for me from a very intelligent Atheistic/Agnostic friend of mine. He had left me the following argument:
1) God is the greatest possible being conceivable.
2) x is the greatest possible being conceivable (GPBC) means there is a set of ways W, with wi as an indexed member ( for e.g. possible wis are power, knowledge, goodness etc), a measure for each mi for each wi ( mi (wi) ) ,and an overall measure M over the measure of ways such that that the overall measure M for all the measures is maximised.
For example, M could be maximal if each measure mi(wi) is maximised.
3) Initially, its not known that if M is maximal that there exists a unique possible being with M.
4) ‘the’ in ‘God is the GPBC’ entails a unique possible being with M
5) :. it is not known that God is the GPBC.
This is an interesting argument about which I would like to offer a few thoughts. First, it seems odd at first blush to suggest that God is the GPBC instead of him being simply the GPB or the (definite article) Maximally Great Being. First, the notion of conceivability is bound up with language, and thus the predication of a GPB assumes conceivability – it seems to me that predicating conceivability is therefore redundant.
The second premise is the interesting one, as it introduces the vocabulary particular to this argument. wi is any member of W where W is the set of ways a being might be great (often called Great Making properties). mi is thus a measure of any wi, so that the mi of the wi where wi is power, is the measure of power. Let us say that mi is ‘1’ just in case wi is maximal, and mi is ‘0’ just in case wi is anything other than maximal. M is the overall measure of mi, such that a maximal M simply says of all mi for each and every wi that mi is maximal, or is ‘1’. So far so good.
The third premise then says that it is not initially known that if M (measure) is maximal, that there is exists a being fitting the description of M. This premise is the one with which I take a few issues. First, it is not altogether clear to me what ‘initially’ is supposed to mean. I concede that it may not be obviated for any or all subjects S before reflection, argument or demonstration has been attempted that there exists a being fitting the description of M being maximal. However, it seems difficult to go from here to the conclusion. At best it would conclude properly to “it is not initially known that God is the GPBC.” That would be a rather trivial conclusion however, and not the sort which I imagine was intended by the writer.
On a more charitable reading, perhaps ‘initially‘ is better interpreted as a priori. However, this is precisely where I would depart from the argument, since I maintain that we can intuit, with the proper use of the rational faculty, that there exists a maximally great being, and that this can be obviated with the entire force of rational demonstration. This demonstration remains in one sense existential, however, since it predicates existence, and obviates it, in exactly the same sense which Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum did. Thus it always remains for the inquiring subject to recognize the force of the ontological argument existentially insofar as existence is predicated in this existential sense not strictly accessible to discursive and mundane predication (such as the kind about which Kant is fond). This allows me to circumvent for the moment the argument over whether existence can be a first order property (recall, in passing, that in Kripke’s quantified modal logic it is). The aim of the ontological argument is to tease out from our common rational intuitions the conclusion that a maximally great being exists, and thus the aim is essentially to show that man has the resources to know a priori that a maximally great being does exist, but the demonstration may remain irrevocably existential – perhaps it can only be obviated existentially and in such a way that discursive reason per se cannot obviate it (in just the same way as the Cogito is obviated without being obviated by discursive reasoning – I remind the reader that Carnap argued that the Cogito was actually an entirely non-logical argument, not even worthy of having its conclusion be called false). Moreover, even if the ontological argument may be construed in such a way that it makes God’s existence inescapable for all discursive reasoning (of which I remain doubtful, in part because I doubt whether any conclusion, including the Cogito‘s, can indeed be made inescapable for discursive reasoning), it may still be the case that it remains un-obviated for some subject S to whom the argument has never been presented or reflected upon.
Concerning the fourth premise, a few comments may be in order. First, the use of the definite article in “God is the GPBC” can be interpreted in two ways. First, we could say that God happens to be the only GPBC. Second, we could say that the only GPBC is God. The first interpretation is without sense since by definition if two or more beings fit the description of GPBC then each of them are uniquely ‘greatest’ and thus each greater than the other, which is self-referentially incoherent. The second interpretation, then, must be the one intended, but this is just a definition of God. It doesn’t predicate of God some attribute that God happens to have, but rather it recognizes that there is no semantic distinction between ‘God’ and ‘GPBC’.