A summary of Gaunilo’s perfect island objection to Anselm’s ontological argument . argument for the existence of the perfect island in his On Behalf of the Fool. Gaunilo of Marmoutiers’ criticism of Anselm’s ontological argument present in his On Behalf of the Fool. From On Behalf of the Fool, Gaunilo, a Monk of Marmoutier 1. IF one doubts or denies the existence of a being of such a nature that nothing greater.

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Gaunilo or Gaunillon [1] fl.

Little beyond this essay is known of Gaunilo; no other extant writings bear his name. Anselm wrote a reply to itessentially arguing that Gaunilo had missed his point. Anselm claimed his ontological argument as proof of the existence of God, whom he described as that being for which no greater can be conceived. A god that does not exist cannot be that than which no greater can be conceived, as existence would make it greater. Thus, according to St.

Anselm, the concept of God necessarily entails His existence. He denies Gaunilo a Godless epistemology. Gaunilo criticised Anselm’s argument by employing the same reasoning, via reductio ad absurdumto “prove” the existence of the mythical “Lost Island”, the greatest or most perfect island: This, of course, is merely a direct application of Anselm’s own premise that existence is a perfection.

Since we can conceive of this greatest or most perfect island, it must, by Anselm’s way of thinking, exist. While this argument is absurd, Gaunilo claims that it is no more so than Anselm’s. Anselm had no difficulty in rejecting this parody, because Gaunilo had described the Lost Island as “an island more excellent than any other lands”.

Because Gaunilo’s phrase did not contain the words “can be conceived”, his counter-argument cannot generate the contradiction from which Anselm concludes that something than which a greater cannot be conceived is in reality. Philosophers often attempt to prove the ontological argument wrong by comparing Anselm’s with Gaunilo’s. If one of these arguments is sound, it has been asserted, they must both be sound. By Gaunilo’s reckoning, however, one and, therefore, the other, too is unsound.

The Lost Island does not exist, so there is something wrong with the logic that proves that it does. Because the argument proves true in one case that which is patently false the Lost Islandit is fair to ask whether it may fairly be regarded as proving true the other case. The fact that there is no perfect island is put forth by Gaunilo as showing that Anselm’s argument for God’s existence is flawed.


Gaunilo’s objection to the ontological argument has been criticised on several grounds. Anselm’s own reply was essentially that Gaunilo had missed his point: Indeed, while we can try and conceive of a perfect island, that island is yet greater if it creates other beings, whereupon it would no longer be an island as we can understand it.

Similarly, Alvin Plantinga tendered a reply to Gaunilo’s remonstrance by arguing that the concept of ” that than which nothing greater can be conceived ” is not applicable to an island, or any other object, in the special way that it is applicable to God. A necessary being is both existent and the greatest conceivable and greatest possible being. Only God, as Anselm defines him, meets all of those criteria and can, therefore, be dubbed a necessary being.

Another criticism of Gaunilo’s argument points out that, whereas God is that thing than which no greater can be conceived, Gaunilo’s is that island than which no greater can be conceived.

Philosophy of Religion

Thus, while no island may exceed it in greatness, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that some non-island could. Rowe in his summary of the polemic, ” if we follow Anselm’s reasoning exactly, it does not appear that we can derive an absurdity from the supposition that the island than which none greater is possible does te exist. Gaunilo’s refutation ot also criticized on the grounds that it misinterprets the argument set forth by Anselm.

Richard Campbell contends that the argument criticized by Gaunilo is incomplete because it represents only one of three stages of a larger argument, one that is not meant to be read as a proof for God but rather as the basis for the following chapter.

David and Marjorie Haight took a very similar tack with Anselm’s proof attempt as did Gaunilo. However, whereas Gaunilo changed the target noun of Anselm’s proof, “God”, to an alternate noun that he felt was more obviously absurd, a “Lost Island”, the Haights inverted the adjective in Anselm’s reasoning.

Where Anselm used the word “greater” to define god into existence, the Haights point out that the logic can be inverted by replacing “greater” with “worse”.

The statement then follows to a conclusion that the very most bad thing has to be an existent bad thing, because it would be worse for this bad thing to exist than to not exist, therefore it must exist in its absolute badness.

Therefore, the Devil must also exist, so long as Anselm’s proof is held as consequential.

Philosophy of Religion » Gaunilo’s Perfect Island

Both Gaunilo and the Haights arguments point out that there may be other nouns, and other bivalent adjectives lf when conceived as an Anselm proof in an extreme that demands existence could also be argued to necessitate their existence as well. For example, with cold or heat: Surely an absolutely cold or hot being that exists in reality is more absolutely cold or hot than one that only exists in imagination.


Therefore, it must indeed exist in reality. The Haights show that the word “great” may not be the only adjective that pushes for existence when conceived in the extreme, just as the phrase “that God thing” may not be the only noun interacting with “great” in this way, as Gaunilo observed.

Gaunilo’s treatise is divided into eight sections. The first seven of these sections are criticisms of Anselm’s argument from the point of view of a rational non-believer. The last section 8 is simply praise for the remaining chapters of the Proslogion. The full title of Gaunilo’s treatise is: The scholarly debate has focused on section 6 the Lost Island Refutation.

Very few scholars [12] [ not in citation given ] engage with the remaining sections of Gaunilo’s text. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.

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