Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ideas Worth Casting Aside

Ophelia Benson declines to take seriously the ontological argument:
I don't get the need to grapple with the ont. arg., because it has no purchase on me to begin with. It starts with premises that I see no reason to start with. I "simply cast it aside." I don't see how saying "but a perfect being that didn't exist would be imperfect and we can conceive of a perfect being therefore that being exists" causes anything to happen. I know I've garbled the argument, but this is where the suspected not understanding comes in. I seem not to understand how the argument is anything more reasonable than that. I seem not to understand why anybody has ever thought that an ability to imagine something plus logic can cause the something to exist.
I don't think she has garbled the argument, nor do I think the argument deserves to be taken seriously. It seems an extrapolation of the claim that for any perfect X, that X must necessarily exist. Therefore the perfect puffer fish must exist. The perfect hand-written arabic 5 must exist. The perfect issue of Mini-Truckin' magazine must exist -- I leave to the reader its relationship to the necessarily existing perfect publication, reminding the reader that the perfect book, too, must exist, and also the perfect novel, the perfect compilation of short stories, the perfect anthology of poems, the perfect autobiography, the perfect essay collection, the perfect history of the Abyssinians, the perfect reference work, the perfect scientific treatise, and so on.

The perfect animal must exist. The perfect plant must exist. The perfect solid must exist. The perfect reductio ad absurdum illustration in the course of a lightly-argued philosophical argument must exist. (Was that it?)

For any perfect X, X must exist? For any perfect X, its hypothetical instantiation is necessarily less perfect than its actual instantiation? Existence is a predicate of perfection? Since when? Says who? How? Why?

Ophelia Benson is right. The ontological argument is a verbal confusion with nothing inside --- a husk.

4 comments:

Mike said...

I'm a bit mystified by this as well. I can conceive of a green and orange camel with 42 humps and an elephant's nose. But wishing it existed doesn't make it so no matter how hard I try.

I'm also inclined to question whether it's even possible to conceive of a "perfect" being. Even the main supporters of this argument don't agree on the exact nature of this being, and if it's not perfect to everyone, then it's not perfect.

This seems to me to be the exact opposite of what I had always learned,which is that "perfection", whatever that is, is impossible. Life is full of metaphorical friction messing up our dreams of perpetual motion. We can try to think it away all we want, but the friction is still there.

Sheldon said...

Well if the perfect novel existed, it would be so perfect that I would have been compelled to read it already, but I haven't, so it doesn't exist.

Same goes for the sky daddy, if he was perfect, that perfection would have compelled me into being a believer already, but I am still a non-believer, therefore, he ain't existing at all as far as I can tell.

Dale said...

Mike, Sheldon, right. A "perfect being" and a "perfect novel" are pairs of words that only look like something that makes sense. They have nothing to do with reality.

Dale said...

I just want to point out that I am continuing to hold out hope for the existence of the perfect issue of Mini-Truckin'.