Essay: One person's view of the Ontological Argument

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INTRODUCTION: Greed, construction of practical concepts, and a priori knowledge

Within the state of affairs that:

1) you have a hundred thalers in your pocket;


2) you empirically know that you have a hundred thalers in your pocket,

You cannot prove to your friend, Bill, who is empirically removed from you, that you have a hundred thalers in your pocket.

Nevertheless, given 1) and 2), you yourself must presuppose that you have a hundred thalers in your pocket in order to construct the argument pro a hundred thalers in your pocket which Bill will find credible.

Now, more deeply than that hundred thalers is something which is known so a priori to all people that most people find too obscure just how they know it. So, it is difficult to prove to most people, not because they lack a priori knowledge of it, but because it is so subtly known that it is so easily ignored or even rejected. This is because that which is the most a priori requires no cognitive energy, or even awareness of it, in order to make use of it for far more obvious, more energy-intensive concerns:

Sentient creatures (i.e., current-state contingent, limited sentient agents) rightly give pride-of-place to abstractions over personal empirical knowledge. This is because, for sentient creatures, abstraction is the neurological function of allocating the least possible explicit knowledge of, and, hence, the least neurological energy to, the correspondence between the abstraction and that from which the abstraction is abstracted. In other words, for the sentient creature, thoughts and ideas, including the process of forming ideas from percepts, is a matter of efficiency in the use of limited active cognitive resources.

But, in a world of deficiency regarding our basic needs of life, health, and harmony, we have a problematic motive involved in our abstraction processes. The problem is that this motive trips us up in regard to the substance, or, in some cases, the lack thereof, of the most profoundly important ideas. The problem which this motive poses for our abstraction of ideas has to do with the fact that, the more important is a given kind of knowledge, the more we rightly abstract it while ignoring the bases for the abstraction. In other words, the sentient creature seeks both to maximize the effects which its favored ideas have for meeting its basic needs, and to minimize the effects which its most hated ideas have for preventing those needs being met. But, in a world of basic deficiency, the sentient creature is especially impelled to abstract ideas from the more perceptual realm of knowledge, even to the point of hastily cutting corners in the act of abstraction.

So, in regard to the most a priori knowledge, people can easily position themselves skeptically in regard to it, just like Bill can position himself in regard to the hundred thalers in your pocket, but with one step worse: Bill refuses to grant you the rational right to presuppose it as a starting point for proving it to him.

A basic question is whether deduction itself presupposes a universal content (native content). Because, if deduction has no native content, then the only things that can be proved are things in the familiar empirical realm: whether you really do have a hundred thalers in your pocket.

Omnipotence, 'existence', and other angles

Now, imagine that a prehistoric caveman, in trying to invent the wheel, uses a 'square wheel' as the conceptual precedent. He shapes a stone into a square, puts a hole in the center, fixes a ‘feet axle’ into the hole, and tests it out. The 'wheel' 'rolls' very poorly, and makes a horrible bumping action each time it 'rolls' over one of its corners. Soon, he gets an inspiration: he pulls out the ‘feet axle’ and saws straight through from one corner of this ‘wheel’ to the opposite corner, puts a hole in the middle of one of the resultant triangles, puts the ‘foot axle’ through the hole, and really thinks that this new ‘wheel’ might just be an improvement on the original square one, since this new ‘wheel’ has one less bump. But, when he tests it out, it just makes one-of-every-three ‘rolling’ bumps that much worse, and is harder to roll beyond that ‘bump’. So, he ends up concluding that a perfect wheel is logically impossible, and goes back to running.

In the Thomist view, the nature of God is the being the existence of which is the same as its essence: there are no bumps. The contrary to the Thomist view, namely that omnipotence includes the power to cause itself to cease to exist, implicitly allows that 'existence' is a thing in itself. I call the idea that "existence is a thing in itself" "meta-existence". So, for anyone who thinks that existence is a thing in itself, I say that "they think that meta-existence exists."

Some say that existence is not a 'property' and, thus, that it cannot add anything to the greatness of something. I think this is why many find the Ontological argument to be an empty-and-failing attempt at defining greatness. But, what I just said about meta-existence is my attempt to communicate what I see as the error of abstracting existence in such a way as to hold that it is a non-thing. I think that only if there is no thing which exists necessarily can existence add nothing to greatness. In other words, if nothing, including existence, is inherently mutual to anything, then I see no way for anything to be deduced from anything.

But, I would say that the way in which "existence" is deduced as a property of perfection is different from the way in which a future (pending) puddle on pavement is deduced from present rain, in that, unless something exists as a property of itself, then nothing exists.

I would say that non-existence is not, I repeat, not a property either of anything that does exist or of anything that does not exist; while existence is a property of anything that does exist; and, only some things may exist necessarily; and, perfection of the ultimate concept (God) includes necessary existence. How the concept of 'necessity' can be divorced from the concept of 'existence' is beyond me, but there it is.

Imagine if the catch-all abstraction called ‘logic’ did not exist: would existence add nothing to it? In other words, if logic did not exist, then how could you so much as begin to identify it? But, since logic is merely an abstraction of those things that can be identified by their actually existing, the question is as to the connection between the ‘existence’ of logic and the ‘existence’ of those actual things.

Of course, in taking for granted that something at all exists, as opposed to there being nothing, it is self-evident that the fact that something at all exists does not mean that the ‘properties’ called ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ exist independently of actual entities. These ‘properties’ are not independent even of the controversial notions of omnipotence, for it is by that which exists that we have any notion at all of omnipotence.

I say, that, for something which currently does not exist, but, which may exist, existence is a condition. I say, also, that, for something which necessarily exists, existence is a condition, in that it both exists and its existence cannot not exist. But, I say, that, for something which cannot exist, existence is not a condition, in that it ‘simply’ does not exist.

Now, the statement that, ‘for something which cannot exist, existence is not a condition’ is justified by the fact that the concept of ‘condition’ is derived necessarily and only from that which exists. The concept of ‘condition’ cannot be ‘truly derived’ (i.e., derived in the first place) from that which does not exist, much less from that which cannot exist. In short, the abstraction called ‘existence’ cannot be derived (abstracted) from that which ‘simply’ does not exist.

Similar to the concept of ‘condition’, the concept of non-existence is derived from that which necessarily exists, and additionally confirmed by the redundant overlap, or ‘similarity’, which that which may exist has with that which necessarily exists. That which necessarily exists is that from which is derived the concept of ‘necessary non-existence’.

Now, consider statement N: Nothing necessarily exists.

Is N analytic or synthetic? If N is true, then N is a condition (C) of all things that exist: (NC). Therefore, a condition exists: C. Does C necessarily hold true? According to N, NC necessary holds true. If NC necessary holds true, then NC necessarily exists. In short, if NC is true, then the condition of ‘No Condition’ necessarily exists. If N is true, then ‘absolute’ omnipotence is true, and, ‘either way’, the Ontological Argument is unsound. But, N is false on all counts, including being self-contradictory.

Further Reading

Essay: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?