PFI #2

2. St. Anselm’s Surrogate Formula for God

St. Anselm’s surrogate formula for God is that ‘God’ = ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived.’  Given this definition of God, St. Anselm build his argument for the existence of God.  He first asks, “Is it possible that God actually exists?”  In his surrogate formula, ‘God’ is replaced by ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived’.  So the question is posed as, “Is it possible that [that which nothing greater can be conceived] actually exists?”

First, we need to define things.  For existence, something cannot both be and not be at the same time (principle of non-contradiction).  For St. Anselm, there are two modes of existence: mental and extramental.  Something can exist in your understanding, even if it doesn’t exist in reality.

We can conceive of [that which nothing greater can be conceived].  Is it possible that [that which nothing greater can be conceived] only exists mentally?  What is better?  To exist solely in the mind, or to exist both in the mind and in reality?  Both.  Then, [that which nothing greater can be conceived] has to exist extramentally or else there would be something greater than [that which nothing greater can be conceived], and you would be embracing a contradiction.  Therefore, God must exist extramentally (God=that which nothing greater can be conceived).

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