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Language-Games and the Ontological Argument

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Donald F. Henze
Affiliation:
Department of Philosophy, San Fernando Valley State College

Extract

‘Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.’—Hume, Treatise, I, iv, 7.

Several years have elapsed since Professor Malcolm's astonishing revival of St Anselm's ontological argument (s). The first shock-wave of criticism has likewise passed, having been absorbed by now into the bound volumes of the periodical literature. This note is not intended to add much weight to the common conclusion of that impressive body of criticism, for, though interesting and important logical issues remain to be discussed in connection with the ontological argument, there can be little doubt that it fails as a demonstration of God's existence. Nevertheless, there is one move made by Malcolm in his determined defence of Anselm which may have had unfortunate repercussions far beyond the reaches of philosophical theology. Perhaps a discussion of this one step in the argument will help to dispel some erroneous impressions.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1968

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References

page 148 note 1 Though tangential to the ontological argument, an expression of the sort of apprehension I am referring to may be found in Nielsen's, K. ‘Wittgensteinian Fideism’, Philosophy, 07, 1967.Google Scholar

page 150 note 1 Malcolm's reasoning was nicely anticipated by Professor Bernard Williams. See his excellent ‘Tertullian's Paradox’, in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Flew, A. and MacIntyre, A. (London, 1955):Google Scholar ‘… this is our third difficulty—saying that Christian language is language about God evidently presupposes the truth of Christianity in a far more radical sense, for it presupposes the existence of God. Therefore it looks as if we have to say that, if God exists, the language of Christianity is language about God, and this seems useless as a characterisation of Christian language. … If, however, we start from the evident existence of Christian language … we might be tempted to arrive at the statement of God's existence, and so involve ourselves in a kind of ontological proof which might well be considered suspect’ (p. 198).

‘Only we do not want to say that that expression says this, but that this is what it would have to be saying if it meant anything. But that it contradicts itself in the attempt to say it—just because red exists “in its own right”. Whereas the only contradiction lies in something like this: the proposition looks as if it were about the colour, while it is supposed to be saying something about the use of the word “red”’ [P. I., sec. 58].

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