The Proslogion (Latin: Proslogium, lit.'Discourse') is a prayer (or meditation), written by the medieval cleric Saint Anselm of Canterbury in 1077–1078, serving to reflect on the attributes of God in order to explain how God can possess seemingly contradictory qualities. This meditation is considered to be the first-known philosophical formulation that sets out the ontological argument for the existence of God.

The original title for this discourse was to be Faith Seeking Understanding.[1]

The ontological argument

The Proslogion marked what would be the beginning of Saint Anselm's famous and highly controversial ontological arguments for the existence of God. The first and most famous argument of his can be found at the end of chapter 2, followed by his second argument shortly after. While opinions concerning Anselm's twin ontological arguments widely differ—and have differed since the Proslogion was first conceived—there is a general consensus that the argument is most convincing to Anselm's intended audience, i.e. Christian believers who seek a rational basis for their belief in God.

First argument

There are various reconstructions of Anselm's first argument, such as Dr. Scott H. Moore's analyses, for example:[2]

Objection

Philosopher Immanuel Kant gave an objection to the argument, although it would be toward ontological arguments in general, rather than at Anselm specifically. In fact, it is actually unclear as to whether Kant had Anselm in mind at all. Kant's objection famously states that "existence is not a predicate." If Kant were considering Anselm's work in his analysis, he certainly left it up to the reader to grasp the applicability of the objection. One possible interpretation is to say that, because existence is not a predicate, a being that exists could not be said to be greater than one that does not exist; they would be equal.

Second argument

Just as the first, Anselm's second ontological argument can be formulated in numerous ways. William Viney, for instance, renders the second argument as follows:[3]

  1. "God" means "that than which nothing greater can be conceived."
  2. The idea of God is not contradictory.
  3. That which can be thought of as not existing (a contingent being) is not as great as that which cannot be thought of as not existing (a necessary being).
  4. Therefore, to think of God as possibly not existing (as contingent) is not to think of the greatest conceivable being. It is a contradiction to think of the greatest conceivable being as nonexistent.
  5. Therefore, God exists.

Chapters

Original translation, from Latin

Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, your occupations; hide yourself, for a time, from your disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, your burdensome cares, and put away your toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid you in seeking him; close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms xxvii. 8).[4] And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.

Modern translation

Come on now little man, get away from your worldly occupations for a while, escape from your tumultuous thoughts. Lay aside your burdensome cares and put off your laborious exertions. Give yourself over to God for a little while, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the cell of your mind, shut out everything except God and whatever helps you to seek Him once the door is shut. Speak now, my heart, and say to God, "I seek your face; your face, Lord, I seek.

—translated by Sidney Norton Deane, 1903[5] —translated by David Burr, 1996[6]

Editions

References

  1. ^ Logan, Ian. 2009. Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Arguments and its Significance Today. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. p. 85.
  2. ^ Moore, Scott H. "Proslogion." Scott Moore. Waco, TX: Bayler University. Archived 12 May 1997. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  3. ^ Dowbrowski, Daniel. 2006. Rethinking the Ontological Argument: A Neoclassical Theistic Response. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86369-8.
  4. ^ Psalms 27:8
  5. ^ St. Anselm. 1078 [1903]. "Exhortation of the mind to the contemplation of God." Ch. 1 in Proslogium (1926 reprint ed.), translated by S. N. Deane. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company.
  6. ^ Burr, David. 1996. Anselm On God's Existence. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook. New York: Fordham University. ch. 1.