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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


ANSELM

(1033—1109)

 

AUGUSTINIANISM

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

[1] 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.

The 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].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

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.

 

READING

Anselm: Monologion and Proslogion. See S. N. Deane (ed.), St Anselm: Basic Writings; or McKeon, op. cit., vol I, ch. 4. The Proslogion is also available in a Penguin edition.

Studies

C. Hartshorne, Anselm's Discovery. A Re-examination of the Ontological Proof of God's Existence.

D. P. Henry, The Logic of St Anselm.

J. M. Hopkins, A Companion to the Study of St Anselm.

J. M. Hopkins, 'Anselm', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

Collections of essays

B. Davies and B. Leftow (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Anselm.

N. Malcolm, 'Anselm's Ontological Arguments' in Knowledge and Certainty.

 

CONNECTIONS

Anselm

 

[1a] Role for reason but faith/ revelation has primacy

   Augustine

Abelard

Bonaventura

Aquinas

[1i]

[1a]

[1a]

[1a]

 

[1b f] God: ultimate cause; absolute qualities; Truth and participation

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Boethius

   Wm of Auvergne

Alexander of Hales

Bonaventura

Duns Scotus

   Nicholas of Cusa

[12e]

[1g 3a b 4c]

[1e]

[1h i]

[1f h]

[1c]

[3a]

[2d]

 

[1c] God: proof from degrees of being

   Aristotle

   Boethius

   Augustine

   Alexander of Hales

Bonaventura

Aquinas

Duns Scotus

   Nicholas of Cusa

[12f]

[1e]

[3c 4c]

[1h]

[1b]

[3g]

[3a]

[2d]

 

[1d] Universals — realist theory

   Plato

Abelard

Nicholas of Cusa

[1b]

[2a]

[2g]

 

[1e] God: ontological argument; existence as a quality — belongs to God's essence

   Albert

Bonaventura

Aquinas

   Henry of Ghent

Duns Scotus

Ockham

   Nicholas of Cusa

Descartes

   Kant

[1d]

[1c]

[3d]

[1j]

[3a]

[4a]

[2b]

[3c]

[5d]

 

[1g] Truth and correspondence Aristotle [2a]