Why Anselm’s Argument in Chapter 2 of Proslogium has Modal Significance

Elliott Crozat

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September 16, 2019

It is commonly held that Anselm’s argument in Chapter 2 of Proslogium is not a modally-significant argument, but that his argument in Chapter 3 possesses such significance. For example, in the first paragraph of Anselm’s Neglected Argument, Brian Leftow refers to the argument in Chapter 2 as “non-modal” and to the argument in Chapter 3 as “a modal argument some find.”[1] In this article, I submit that the argument in Chapter 2 is modally-significant. In short, I attempt to show that the argument in Chapter 2 contains premises which entail the Possibility Premise (PP), namely, that the existence of God is logically possible.

In Chapter 2, Anselm claimed the following: (a) that the concept of God is understood, since even the fool grasps it, and b) that whatever is understood exists in the understanding (i.e., any concept that is truly understood is such that it exists in the mind which understands that which is understood).[2] From (a) and (b), it follows that the concept of God exists in the mind which understands it.

Now, plausibly, whatever concept is understood in the mind is understandable per se. And whatever concept is understandable per se is a logically consistent concept. Moreover, whatever concept is logically consistent is one that is logically possible. Thus, whatever concept is understood in the mind is a concept of something that is logically possible. So, if the concept of God is truly understood, then the concept of God is that of something which is logically possible. But to say that the concept of God is a concept of something which is logically possible is to affirm the PP, namely, that God is logically possible. The PP is the cynosure – and the most controversial premise — of the modal ontological argument (MOA). So, Anselm’s argument in Chapter 2 is modally-significant in that it contains premises which entail the PP.

Here is another way to articulate the argument from the previous two paragraphs. For any concept C, if C is understood, then C is a mental content in the mind of the one who understands C. Now, if C is a mental content in the mind of the one who understands it, and if C is truly understood in that mind, then C itself is understandable. And if C itself is understandable, then C is a logically consistent concept. But if C is a logically consistent concept, then it is logically possible that C is instantiated in objective reality. So, for any concept C, if C is understood, then it is logically possible that C is instantiated. Anselm states that the concept of God is understood in the human mind, since even the fool comprehends it, at least to some extent. It follows from this claim that it is logically possible that the concept of God is instantiated in objective reality. This conclusion is an affirmation of the PP.

Anselm’s argument in Chapter 2 is modally-significant insofar as it supports the PP. If the concept of God is actually understood and thus understandable, then we have reason to affirm the PP. Moreover, assuming that God is necessary if existent, the PP entails that God necessarily and thus actually exists. In sum, Anselm’s short argument in Chapter 2 is plausibly construed as a buttress for the MOA by virtue of its support for the PP.

Notes

[1] See Philosophy, Vol. 77, No. 301 (Jul., 2002), pp. 331-347

[2] See https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/anselm-proslogium.asp#CHAPTER%20II

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About the Author

Elliott Crozat

Elliott R. Crozat is a full-time professor of philosophy and the humanities in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Purdue University Global. His philosophical interests include metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, ethics, and the meaning of life. He lives in Sarasota, FL.

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