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Author Topic:   Ontological arguments - where's the beef?
Posts: 5786
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005
Member Rating: 4.9

Message 6 of 74 (631897)
09-04-2011 8:48 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by cavediver
09-03-2011 4:59 PM

cavediver writes:
My first impression was simple confirmation of something I had long suspected: logic in the hands of philosophers tends to result in the use of very precise and well defined rules to push around exceptionally nebulous and ill-defined concepts.

Yes, I have the same reaction to logic use by philosophers.

Even when philosophers give logical arguments to reach correct conclusions, it often seems that the conclusion doesn't follow from the argument used, so that must really be reaching their conclusions in some other unstated way, and then simply presenting a rationalization expressed in logical form.

cavediver writes:
My second impression, primarily from reading Plantinga and associated apologetics (e.g. William Land Craig), is just how blatently dishonest the argument appears.

My own first reaction to ontological arguments is that they claim to prove, using only logic, what cannot be proved with logic alone. That makes it obvious that the arguments depend on sleight of hand, or are "blatantly dishonest" as you put it.

They are not really using logic alone. They are actually doing conceptual analysis. But there is no clear statement of what concepts they are attempting to analyze, presumably because if they were clear about that they would give the game away and admit that they were assuming what they were trying to prove.

My own second reaction is that, even if their argument were valid, it would at most be an argument for the deist's god. But they want the conclusion to be the existence of the Christian god (or the Islamic god in some variations). So that's a second sleight of hand.

cavediver writes:
So, am I missing something?

Yes. Here is what you are missing, at least according to Edward Feser:

Traditionally, the central argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument, and (also traditionally) the most important versions of that argument are the ones summed up in the first three of Aquinas’s Five Ways. But the typical modern reader is simply not going to understand the Five Ways just by reading the usual two-page excerpt one finds in anthologies. For one thing, the arguments were never intended to be stand-alone, one-stop proofs that would convince even the most hardened skeptic. They are only meant to be brief sketches of arguments the more detailed versions of which the intended readers of Aquinas’s day would have found elsewhere. For another thing, the terminology and argumentative moves presuppose a number of metaphysical theses that Aquinas also develops and defends elsewhere.

So, to understand the Five Ways, the modern reader needs to read something that makes all this background clear, that explains how modern Thomists would reply to the stock objections to the arguments, and so forth.

Or, to put it more briefly, Feser thinks you are only seeing an oversimplified version of the Ontological argument, and that you will have to invest years of study into theology before you can hope to understand the full argument.

Of course, I don't take Feser seriously (though he makes up for that in the way he takes himself seriously). Full argument or not, it still claims to prove by logic alone what cannot be thus proved. So I take Feser as implying that they managed to conceal that sleight of hand very well, so that it is hard to point out exactly where they cheated.

Edited by nwr, : fix typo

Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by cavediver, posted 09-03-2011 4:59 PM cavediver has not yet responded

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