Here is a synopsis of Stephen Davis’ article ‘The Ontological Argument’ in this book. Davis’ thesis is that the ontological arguments as articulated by Anselm and Plantinga can be vindicated in the face of Michael Martin’s criticisms, because, as he sees it, Martin fails to understand what Anselm and Plantinga mean by “greatness.” With respect to Anselm, there is a sense in which “exists” adds to the greatness of the thing that has it, and the sense of greatness he has in mind is one that denotes power, ability, and freedom of action. If something has this sense of greatness, then to exist in reality is greater than to not exist in reality. If such a thing only exists in the mind, then it has less power, ability and freedom of action than it would have if it existed in reality. With respect to Plantinga, “unsurpassable greatness” (UG) means that for any being B that instantiates UG, B is such that if B exists in any possible world W, then it is necessary that B exists in W; and if W is accessible to the actual world, then B also exists in the actual world.
Both of these definitions avoid, among other things, the parody-style counterexamples offered by Gaunilo (against Anselm) and Martin (against Plantinga). Objects like the “greatest conceivable island” or a “special fairy” do not exemplify the necessary and sufficient conditions of unsurpassable greatness; no island can bring about any logically possible state of affairs and no tiny woodland creature with magical powers can exist without a material world (either it is essentially material itself or essentially connected to a material world).
With these concepts of greatness in mind, premise two of each of the parodied arguments below is false, and therefore, unsound.
|Original Argument||Parodied Argument|
|Davis on Anselm:
||Gaunilo on Anselm:
Thus, both forms of the ontological argument emerge unscathed. What is needed to prove them false is an argument that shows premise 2 to be false, and such an argument has not been given. Tomorrow we will look at Peter van Inwagen’s challenge of premise 2.