Ontological argument from S4

  1. It is conceivably conceivable that existence is a property (eg. Krypke’s quantified modal logic uses existence as a first order predicate).
  2. If something is conceivably conceivable then it is conceivable (by S4 modal logic).
  3. Therefore, it is conceivable that existence is a property.
  4. If it is conceivable that existence is a property then existence possibly is a property
  5. Existence possibly is a property
  6. If existence possibly is a property then God possibly exists
  7. If God possibly exists then God does exist (by the ontological argument)
  8. Therefore, God exists.

About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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17 Responses to Ontological argument from S4

  1. Larry Myers says:

    This was a little wordy and I might just not get it, but doesn’t this hinge in the idea that God is conceivable, but and infinite being like God is unconceivable?

    • Right, the argument only works if a being like God is conceivable, and I claim that God is conceivable. God isn’t fathomable, but that just means our conception of God will never be exhaustive, not that our concept of God, partial as it might be, isn’t accurate.

      • Larry Myers says:

        How do you have a partial concept of god, while still being an accurate concept? How could you know that it is accurate?

      • A partial idea can be accurate. For instance I may only partially recall what somebody looks like, but all that I do recall is correct. To know it is accurate is different. I claim that the concept of God is obviated by careful analysis and rational intuition. In other words, I think that it is self-evident, though I recognize as Aquinas did that just because the idea is self-evident in itself doesn’t mean that it is self-evident to all people. Certain mathematical truths are not self-evident to students, even though they are plausibly self-evident (some or all). God’s existence is, I submit, this same kind of truth. It can be known a priori by rationally reflecting on the concept of ‘that than which nothing greater could be conceived’, which is what the Theist means by the word ‘God’, that the thing of which this is a conceptual description, must exist.

  2. Larry Myers says:

    Also, I guess the general response to this is that, this logic can prove anything exists. For example a perfect butler. I have heard this defence a lot. But I have never heard a response to the response. But I guess I should ask a question so, not everything that is conceivable exists, why does this only apply to God?

    • Larry Myers says:

      I feel I should clafiy, by saying I am an athiest, but I like your posts. Some are over my head but the ones I do get are refreshing to read. I get sick of reading the same 4 arguments for God over and over again. And I alway knew if I just dug deeper I would find new arguments, but you do the digging for me it’s awesome!

      • You’re welcome, and I’m glad you enjoy the blog (that’s what it’s there for). Also, if you don’t mind taking a recommendation or two, I can recommend some resources if you are interested in looking into arguments for the existence of God, but aren’t steeped in technical analytic jargon. The first among which is the third chapter from a book by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli called “Handbook of Christian Apologetics” where a brief summary of twenty arguments for the existence of God are given. You can preview these summaries here: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/20_arguments-gods-existence.htm

        Also, I would check out the work of William Lane Craig, who may be the most well known Christian philosopher advancing arguments for the existence of God, among which are the Kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument, and others. You could also look into the argument from reason for God’s existence which was first given by C.S. Lewis but is championed today by Victor Reppert. Also, there is the argument from Logic for the existence of God from John M. Frame. You may want to look at Descartes’ Trademark argument (which I have an article on, and which you can read for yourself in Descartes’ third meditation).

        If you are interested in looking into the more heavy-weight arguments, I strongly recommend procuring a copy of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, where Alexander Pruss gives what I take to be a sound and compelling argument for God’s existence (you can preview a rough draft here: https://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/papers/LCA.html ). Robert Maydole also gives a great overview of ontological arguments, presenting two of his own, and Robin Collins presents a careful teleological argument from the fine-tuning of the physical universe for life.

        That’s probably enough to get you started.

    • Au contraire, actually the Gaunilo type parody doesn’t work. The reason is because existence is not a property of anything which contingently exists. The objection to which you refer takes ‘God’ to be something over and above the description ‘that than which nothing greater could be conceived’ so that you are thinking that what the Theist means is the God they have in mind is the one ‘that than which none greater could be conceived’, but that’s not right. For me, there is no sense in talking about this or that God. There is no Christian God as opposed to the Hindu God (some schools of Hinduism are monotheistic). There is only ‘God’ and God is defined as ‘That than which nothing greater could be conceived.’ What the Theist means by the word God just is that than which nothing greater could be conceived, and such a concept is singular. One cannot say that the logic applies to a perfect butler because the noun ‘butler’ has a definition other than ‘that than which nothing greater could be conceived’. This is just a semantic mistake, and a very common one.

      Not everything which is conceivable exists, but whatever it is self-contradictory to deny must be affirmed. Just as the proposition ‘Pv~P’ is one such proposition as cannot be denied, so also are other analytic truths like “all bachelors are men”. Moreover, if one is careful to think about what the concept ‘God’ is, and what the word refers to, then one can know as an analytic truth that God is, for instance, all powerful. He is so by definition of being that than which nothing greater could be conceived. However, God is similarly, by definition, existent, since it is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the mind.

      • Larry Myers says:

        Okay, I’m not that smart so this will take me a few goes to fully understand what you are saying, so just one more question and ill stop bothering you for now. Is this argument for the existence of God a double edged sword for theists who believe that their belief is the only path to God (Calvinism for example). Because the argument depends on a conceivable God and Calvinism requires a full understanding of Gods will, which requires conceiving all of God which is impossible. Is this a fair understanding of the argument?

  3. No, unfortunately that isn’t a fair understanding of either the argument or of Calvinism. Now, I’m adamantly not a Calvinist, but I don’t think it should be misrepresented. Calvinism does not require that anyone other than God have a full understanding of God’s will. If the argument is any kind of double-edged sword, it isn’t one for anything like this reason.

    However, in trying to understand what you could mean by saying these things of Calvinism, I think I may have some more to add. For starters, if you meant to infer from Calvinisms religious particularism or exclusivism that a Calvinist claims to know the whole will of God, then I disagree that religious particularism entails the commitment to knowing the whole will of God. Perhaps somebody believes that God has revealed to us that only Calvinism is true and only those who profess the faith according to Calvinism are truly saved. In that case the Calvinist wouldn’t be claiming to know the whole will of God, but to know something which God has revealed. Notice again that I am not a Calvinist. As a Catholic I do affirm a certain species of religious particularism, but it isn’t like what you apparently have in mind, since I’m happy to affirm that those who do not confess the whole Catholic faith are or may be saved outside the visible bounds of the Church. That claim as well carries no entailment about knowing all of God’s will.

    • Larry Myers says:

      Olay, first of all I guess it was pretty lazy of me to assume the idea of Calvinism was mainly that of exclusivism from the examples I have heard, (west burrow Baptist) live and learn. But I guess I could argue with a brooder brush and just say the whole Christian faith.
      The Christian faith though diverse has in common one thing, accepting Jesus as lord and saviour. Without this you will not be saved. If God is “That than which nothing greater could be conceived”, would it not be greater if there was more than just one path to him, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism. Many other faiths has had God reveal himself to them, seeing parts of Gods will. So how can you say Christianity is the “only” path to God when it can be conceived a greater God would have many different paths to him.
      Sorry if this is a little disjointed, just trying to juggle a couple of balls at the same time.

      • Well, might I recommend a closer reading of my last response? There I clarified that Catholics, for example, believe that 1) Catholicism is exclusively true, and 2) there are those outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church who are saved, including, possibly, Muslims, Mormons, Atheists, etc. (Mormons, by the way, do not believe in God as he is here understood, since what they mean by the word ‘God’ is a contingent being extended in space on another planet who was born a long time ago but who happens to be in charge of planet earth).

        You make an interesting point in saying that you think that a great-making property of God would be his acceptance of worship in whatever form, and however confused (morally or otherwise). However, remember that the Catholic already believes this about God. The difference is that the Catholic is not indifferent to which religion one follows, since the Catholic faith is thought to be not only true, but it is where all the treasures of faith and grace lie for all mankind. The Eucharist, the real body and blood and soul and divinity of Christ, is not found outside the Catholic Church. The forgiveness of sins – no other religion even claims the ability to have your sins forgiven. All the graces of the Catholic faith, if it is true, make it imperative to tell everyone about, since anyone who wishes to come to God should have an easier time doing so if they avail themselves of the very gifts that God has given mankind in the Catholic Church (which he, Jesus Christ, has given us in his earthly ministry when he started the Church about two thousand years ago (just less).

      • Larry Myers says:

        So you think that the Catholic Church is not the only path, but the best path with most reward. Which is a fair point. So I’ll change my question a bit, IF a sect of the Christian faith considered itself to be the only way to God, would this argument be a double edged sword for them, because it has to be conceived that there would be other paths to God, even though they might not me as good?
        Oh and good point about the Mormons.

      • No, it wouldn’t be a good point against such a Christian sect either, as I explained above. Their commitment to an extreme form of religious particularism would not logically entail that they claim to fathom God or have a complete knowledge of God’s will.

  4. Larry Myers says:

    So in terms of the argument, if a person claimed exclusivity to God and used this argument to prove his existence. He could take the position that “it COULD be conceived that there are multiple paths to God, but you CAN only conceive what has been told to you through revelation about God, anything else would be speculation about something that cannot be speculated about” this might be a straw man objection, but wouldn’t this position be against one of the clauses in the ontological argument, that which nothing greater can be conceived, because a being with more that one path is greater than one with only one. Also it seems like circular reasoning in that, God is real because he can be conceived, and God is conceivable because he told me what to conceive .
    I know I said one more question a while ago, but I’m just trying to fully understand the answer. But I understand your probably a busy person, or just getting tired if the subject. So just say you don’t have time and ill leave you alone. But thank you for your patience so far.

    • Speculations always fall within the range of conceivable scenarios. However, for a being to have multiple paths to itself is not for that being to have a property in addition to what it would have if it had only one path (or indeed no path at all). If you think that this is incorrect (which, if you do, I’d like to know why), then I could simply argue that having multiple-paths to oneself is not a great-making property. I could do this in a few ways theologically, for instance by arguing that the only logically possible way for multiple constellations of propositions to be true, where one constellation affirms or entails some proposition P, and another affirms or entails some proposition Q, such that (Q⊃∼P), is that these constellations be incommensurable. That entails, however, that religious claims are incommensurable, and if that claim is accepted, then unwelcomed implications follow for philosophy of language and meaning in general, along with a breakdown of both religious meaning and religious disagreement. Religions become merely prescribed methods of attaining some good end, but religious propositions are not true or false (so that some propositions are not true or false independent of linguistic frameworks). In short, the affirmation of multiple true religions leads to the breakdown of language, meaning, and truth, not only in religious affairs, but in empirical matters as well. A God who actualized such a world would be less good than a God who actualized a world which was consistent, logical, and in which beings who exercised rational deliberation could, possibly, accurately perceive the way the world is. More to the point, there would be no way to talk about logically possible worlds if our ability to conceive of the world in terms of modalities was not sufficient to capture and understand the way the world really is. If such a world existed, we could never rationally affirm it. I feel much more comfortable affirming things which I can understand to be true, and so to affirm something like what you suggest of God looks, to me, to be at best not a great-making property, and at worst entirely incomprehensible.

      Also, God’s being conceivable has nothing to do with revelation. It falls under what Christians generally call ‘Natural Theology’, meaning it is the Theology which can be derived without the aid of God’s special revelation of himself, but takes the world itself to be ‘general’ revelation. In other words, the Theist, especially if she champions the ontological argument, is claiming that all men can know by reflecting on the idea of ‘God’ (i.e., that than which nothing greater could be conceived) that God exists. This is not a religious claim, nor does it entail the truth of any religion. It is a philosophical claim.

      Finally, you’ve been very polite and courteous. I don’t mind answering questions you may have, and if I don’t answer, which sometimes happens, do me the favor of presuming that, being busy, I have found myself so occupied that I can’t make time to answer.

  5. Larry Myers says:

    Does more paths to God equal more properties of God? Well I would say that God allowing himself to be knowable is an extra property as apposed to him not allowing himself to be known. But there being many ways to know God would not increase Gods properties, because it would just be more if the same property, property of knowability. But I would rather focus on the idea that a God that allows himself to be known in multiple ways is greater than the one who only allows one way.
    I agree with the notion that if multiple religions were correct, it would logically follow that no religion would be correct, and any discourse to find the truth would be meaningless.
    But if we concede the idea that this God is a personable God (which like you said isn’t a direct implication of the argument, but I’m arguing against the idea of an exclusivity (which needs a personable God) claim of a religion) then I think multiple paths to God would be greater.
    The goal of a personable God is to develop a relationship with all humans. If God didn’t want this God would simply not let himself be known. To a truly great God, it would be obvious that one connection with God would not have a chance of resonating with each individual person. But lots of different connections will resonate with more people and greater the chance of true connection. Simply put, you catch more fish with a bigger net. This would lead to confusion between the people not allow for truth to be known, but that would assume that truth can be known within our finite lives. If complete truth could only be know in the afterlife, Gods relationships with people would be paramount over the limited truth that can be know in this life. And any war, confusion, cognitive dissonance or any other negative result from this will easily be retributed in the eternal after life. And to argue that such a plan would be illogical, would be in danger of applying finite human logic to a divine plan. I am trying to reattach a response to the problem of evil (retribution) I heard once, but in not sure its really working.
    So if its a personable God, that God should place relationships above knowledge of truth, because the truth cannot be known to us.

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