On the Logic of the Ontological Argument


Paul E. Oppenheimer and Edward N. Zalta


Philosophical Perspectives, 5, 1991, 509-529

Selected for republication in The Philosopher's Annual: 1991, 14, 1993, 255-275


In this paper, the authors show that there is a reading of St. Anselm's ontological argument in Proslogium II that is logically valid (the premises entail the conclusion). This reading takes Anselm's use of the definite description "that than which nothing greater can be conceived" seriously. Consider a first-order language and logic in which definite descriptions are genuine terms, and in which the quantified sentence "there is an x such that…" does not imply "x exists". Then, using an ordinary logic of descriptions and a connected greater-than relation, God's existence logically follows from the claims: (a) there is a conceivable thing than which nothing greater is conceivable, and (b) if x doesn't exist, something greater than x can be conceived. To deny the conclusion, one must deny one of the premises. However, the argument involves no modal inferences and, interestingly, Descartes' ontological argument can be derived from it.

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