Anselm was born of a
noble family at Aosta in the Piedmont (now in Italy) and studied in Burgundy
and Normandy (Bec), where he entered the Benedictine Order. He became Abbot in 1078, and in 1093
succeeded his teacher Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. He subsequently came into conflict with the
king and was exiled.
RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY/ METAPHYSICS
 Anselm showed little interest in metaphysical issues for their own
sake. His main concern, as a medieval
scholastic, was to use
reason to explore and support both the
revealed and the natural truths of Christianity [a]: as he said, "Credo
ut intelligam" ("I believe so that I may understand") [Proslogion I]. He is known
primarily for his attempts
to prove that God exists. In his Monologion [II,1] he developed Neoplatonic arguments based upon
the supposed presence of various qualities to a degree corresponding to their
place in the hierarchy of created things. Thus we observe being, goodness, and
greatness in objects of experience, which reflect that in which they
participate. Moreover, whatever exists finitely must have derived its being from that is, be
caused by something else [b]. So there must be an Ultimate Being which is absolutely
good and great, that is, possesses these qualities to a perfect degree. This is God [c]; only He can possess qualities which are absolutely better for Him to have than not to have. Underlying Anselm's arguments is a
commitment to a realist
theory of universals (ante rem) [d].
Anselm regarded the arguments of the Monologion as a connected chain. But in the Proslogion [III, 3], which was originally titled Fides quaerens intellectum ("faith
seeking understanding"), he set out a "single argument" the ontological argument (as Kant called it), which moves from the idea of God to the claim that God must exist in reality. The argument may be summarized as follows:
(1) God is that than which no greater (or better)
can be thought.
(2) What actually exists objectively has more
reality, is greater than the idea.
(3) Therefore God must exist in reality; for if He
existed only as an idea in the mind, that idea would not be that than which
nothing greater can be thought.
argument was criticized by the monk Gaunilo. He said that Anselm's view would also license us to move from our idea
of the most beautiful island to assert that the island necessarily exists. In reply Anselm said that, unlike that of the
island, God's existence is
necessary because God as a possible being is absolutely perfect, and absolute
perfection must include existence [e]; otherwise such a being would not be absolutely
perfect. God, as absolute and existent being, is supreme
Truth. Individual things have truth to
the extent that they embody and exemplify absolute Truth [f]. Judgements of course remain true
by virtue of their correspondence to what actually exists in the world [g].
Although Anselm stressed the primacy of
faith and regarded philosophical reasoning as its handmaid, considered as a
contribution to philosophy his arguments and claims may be legitimately
criticized. His view in the Monologion, for example, that the common
qualities point to 'absolutes' is open to the objections to which Plato's
theory of Forms is prone. As for the
ontological argument, Anselm seems (1) to confuse God's actual existence with
the existence of the concept of God in the mind; (2) to regard existence itself
as a predicate (as Kant pointed out). So
there is no inconsistency in saying God is absolutely good and yet does not
exist. However, many philosophers
throughout the ages have accepted the argument. In the 20th century he has been interpreted as having (in the Proslogion) attributed necessary existence to God as the absolute perfect and infinite
Being; and it has been argued that if God's existence is not logically
impossible it must therefore be logically necessary. However, against this it has been said that
advocates of this approach have failed to distinguish logical (de dicto) necessity from ontological (de re) necessity, and that Anselm's
argument must therefore still be considered invalid.
Hopkins, 'Anselm', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A
Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.