Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parody Objections to the Ontological Argument

I’m revisiting the modal ontological argument today (not that there is only one, mind you). This will be a brief post discussing a lot of the parodies of Anselm’s argument that are out there. The idea of a parody, in these instances, is to show that an argument proves too much: if we accept the reasoning behind the argument, so the objection goes, it will commit us to various absurd entities existing out there, which surely we all want to reject (or at the very least, have no reason to accept and have countervailing intuitions about these things). These types of objections are the “perfect island,” or “perfect girlfriend,” or whatnot. Call these “Perfect X” objections.

In his dissertation, John Birmingham deals with these types of objections quite nicely.[1] He writes, “The problem with this line of reasoning [Perfect X objections] is that it relativizes the word ‘perfect’ to a sortal expression. . . . In each case, the property of perfection would be attributed to a sort of being, not to a being simpliciter.”[2] (emphasis in original)

The issue with Perfect X objections is that they are asymmetrical with Perfect Being Theology. In English, certainly, “perfect” modifies “being,” but in metaphysics and ontology, there is clearly a difference between a sort of being and being itself. And so, to say something against the Perfect X being instantiated is to say nothing of the kind against the Perfect Being. If that is the case, the modal ontological argument remains untouched, at least by parody objections of the Perfect X kind.

[1] I recognize that virtually nothing in philosophy is dealt with in a couple of sentences with absolutely no rebuttals from the other side. I don’t have any delusions that no one has ever had anything to say about this. My only point is that I think Birmingham has hit upon the fundamental distinction, and he’s not the only one to ever do so.

[2] Birmingham, 102.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please remember to see the comment guidelines if you are unfamiliar with them. God bless and thanks for dropping by!