Thursday, July 31, 2008

Can We Say That God Exists? II

Following up on this post, I was thinking that there is another reason we can (ironically) say that God exists. Anselm of Canterbury famously composed an ontological argument for God's existence. You can read about it here: link. In an imprecise nutshell, a perfect being must exist because otherwise it would not be perfect.

Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason (2:3:4), demolished the argument in a way that has largely been accepted as conclusive (link). Essentially, Kant argued that existence is not a property and therefore a perfect being need not exist. One website summarizes Kant's objections like this (link):
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According to Kant, existence is not a predicate, a property that a thing can either possess or lack. When people assert that God exists they are not saying that there is a God and he possesses the property of existence. If that were the case, then when people assert that God does not exist they would be saying that there is a God and he lacks the property of existence, i.e., they would be both affirming and denying God’s existence in the same breath. Rather, suggests Kant, to say that something exists is to say that the concept of that thing is exemplified in the world. Existence, then, is not a matter of a thing possessing a property, existence, but of a concept corresponding to something in the world.

To see this more clearly, suppose that we give a complete description of an object, of its size, its weight, its colour, etc. If we then add that the object exists, then in asserting that it exists we add nothing to the concept of the object. The object is the same whether it exists or not; it is the same size, the same weight, the same colour, etc. The fact that the object exists, that the concept is exemplified in the world, does not change anything about the concept. To assert that the object exists is to say something about the world, that it contains something that matches that concept; it is not to say anything about the object itself.
While Kant's word is not final on arguments for God's existence (link), his point about existence is useful in our current discussion. It seems to me that it undermines the Rambam's objection to attributing existence to God. If existence is not a property then saying that God exists is not defining God in any way.

Maybe someone with more knowledge in this area can weigh in on this in the comments section. Is this correct and it is possible to use Kant's argument against proof of God's existence as a basis to say that God exists?

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