I seem to have found a significance for Anslem’s proof. It may be that it is not significance for whether God might exist, but, as I have said, significance for how I present ideas.
We will start with the rendition from Princeton’s site. I think they have a pretty good rendition there.
Without all the strict logical hoopla, I think the simple way to put Anslem’s idea is that God exists because we can think of It.
The significance of this notion appears to disrupt what we generally consider of time, it’s ‘natural and directional’ progress.
The Princeton site says that Anslem was addressing a particular issue that, actually, we still find totday in atheism. Basically, Anslem is confronting two ideas:
1.He understands the claim that God exists.
2.He does not believe that God exists.
Now, I have done only the most preliminary research into Anslem and his ideas. I am just taking the very popular simple version, and considering these two situations. There is no ‘hidden’; whatever Anslem’s results most probably are quite apparent, and the ones that are not – well, what point am I trying to make here? I have already said in my earlier post that there is no logical argument that sways me in any direction or causes me to believe something I didn’t before. So any extension of argument must be involving something else; perhaps I am attempting to get at what this something could be.
I think the main point Anslem makes is that, as Princeton puts it, this is an inherently unstable condition of being. What we might call the ‘founding essence’ can be understood to be responsible for this instability. Somewhat similar to a ‘thing-in-itself’, this founding essence would be a kind of gravity well, if you will, of mental activity. The instability arises because of the knowledge (the known-ness) of what something is able to be. The question arises: How can I know what something is if it doesn’t exist? The basic assumption in this question, what philosophers tend to lump into the category called ontology, is that existence is, that there is no need to discern what existence is because to argue for or against the being of existence does nothing to displace the argument except as much as it merely denies existence. The point of saying something exists thus should equate with what can be known, and so the instability of the situation is found in the human ability to choose on whether what exists is actually true. In this case, though, Anslem is dealing with the basis of all that exists as a category, namely, God; God, in this sense, as we cannot but apply our modern sense to consideration of it, is merely the name of the category that contains all that can exist as an active element, the element by which all else can be said to be. The extension in time to Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ can be understood as a factual description of this situation, and thus, rather than an opening up unto Being, ironically as a closing of Being unto itself and thus a factual description of what human beings do: The identification of the in-itself of human Being. More on that elsewhere.
The resolution that Anslem posits of this unstable situation occurs because of the foundational nature of the knowledge itself. In this Medieval Christian context (which I argue is still a modern context), the resolution (the clarity, the definition) that must be referred to must be understood in a context not so much of mind, but of the essential God-inundated mind that is able to uphold and entertain knowledge, which for our context might be the mind that exists. In short, the condition of knowledge is/was such that all things referred or otherwise are established in existence due to an absolute situation, a situation whereby all things gain their status in the universe, what we usually index by the idea of an absolute ethics, in a manner of speaking. In this condition it thus appears that a reflective mind will naturally be drawn into the the contradiction involved in making a choice as to the (true or false) existence of something that (already) exists (in essence), and will therefore correct (or become the correction) the instability by virtue of their own existence (in the absolute universe, or the universe that is indexed by absolution). The question of whether something actually, or physically, biologically exists, such as a race of human beings that live in the midieval antipodes,
unicorns, dragons, spirits, extraterrestrial aliens, etcetera, has no baring upon existence because of the absolute reference and access of mind to God (existence). What can be incorrect of knowledge as to what is true of existence finds its resolution in the posited (assumed) basis of existence.
The Medieval as well as Modern mind is consistent in this ideal of progressive understanding of the universe. What is significant of this orientation upon progress is the mind’s innate access to what is true of the universe with reference to an assumed basis of that truth, what we can say is an assumption of stability unto which all knowledge will inevitably resolve; despite whether we posit that there is no actual resolution or that everything is flux, or whatever conditional conditions we define, the result of any positing is always toward ends, toward a resolution. Even if we say that the universe and the knowledge of that universe is completely and utterly contingent, this contingency must be absolute; hence we say that the effect of such terms within any scheme of knowledge or organization of definitions is what we can call a “founding term”.
Oddly enough, we are able to find purchase into understanding what human beings do by looking at what philosophy does. Not, as Graham Harman might have it, that everything we might do automatically falls into a subjective appropriation of semantics that defies our attempt to locate such philosophical behavior. Rather, at some point we should be able to locate a mark by which we are able to be dismissed from this correlational philosophy that wants to avoid any critical gaze upon its method.
Once we find this mark (which I do not go into here), we can extend this situation (of existence and deferment) to apply to everything that might exist: Within this situation, a person can understand and then decide upon it. There is no thing that escapes this formula, and Anslem is making an accusation about it: It is unstable, and it will eventually resolve itself to the conclusion that the thing in question exists, in his Medieval case, God, and in our Modern case, perhaps, the object of empirical physics.
The point he relies upon is the idea that God is the greatest being or thing that can exist, for, so long as we can conceive of something greater, then that is not God. Similarly, we can use this conversely and say that because we can conceive of ‘that which nothing is greater’, this greatest thing exists as a foundational ontological ground of Modern effort as well: The ‘greatest’ thing is the most substantial.
What interests me is that this simple notice occurred late in the 11th century. Here, already, is a situation made notice that no one noticed until very recently, like 10-20 years ago with the philosophers such as Alain Badou, Francois Laruelle, an then for the younger folks (of the time), of the Speculative Realist Conference. In particular, the idea is that there may be something that exists outside of our knowledge (not necessarily our ability to know), and as for in this situation, that which is greater than the greatest thing we can know. This category has brought modern philosophy (again) to consider things like void, nothingness, chaos and such things, and the corresponding ideal that whatever works to create identity is all good. But if we are honest, we might be able to glimpse the same ruminations of Scholasticism (St. Anslem is said to be one of the founders of the Medieval Scholasticism), occurring in our Modern philosophies, but under different terms. Indeed; I argue (along with Jean-Francois Lyotard apparently) elsewhere that Postmodern scholarship is really a religious apology for Modernity.
In this post I confront the veracity of some of our current philosophical modes and arguments by asking what seems to me to be a most obvious and significant question, a similar question that Graham Harman asks of Heidegger’s “tools“: Why did no-one notice what Anslem had opened up until now, some 1000 years later? We are able to understand Anslem’s argument to this day; no one proposes that the thinkers 1000 years ago were any less astute than our thinkers today. Why is it only now that we are addressing the possibility of what might be ‘beyond’ or ‘at root but not part of’ (Badou’s consideration of set theory) knowledge? And then we might even ask more confounding question if we find that philosophers during the interim of the thousand years also considered the same question over and over.
I submit for consideration that we have gotten not very far in philosophy. We might begin to understand the vastness of time and how slowly and incrementally human beings, as a group, accomplish knowledge, and how it is much more like a science than philosophers are capable of arguing. Indeed, if we think into this situation, we can then find often the situation that we have already come across elsewhere; namely, that on one hand philosophy is the way we situate the conditions of our times, how we work out logistical problems of being in a semantic world, and on the other, merely reflections of people (the authors) in-themselves. But if this is all philosophy does and is doing, then we also might see that we are actually merely re-contextualizing not what what has already been contextualized (as thus a re-contextualization), but in actually what we’ve already done, making the same arguments over and over but under different terms. We are reminded of Shakespeare’s “a rose by any other word…“.
Upon this conclusion, we are careful to not move too fast as we might then jump to the conclusion that such an idea should negate the ontological status of what I am calling conventional philosophy, as though such a proposal should then move beyond what we have and what we get through philosophical method. This is not the case. It seems near ridiculousness to figure that we can commandeer reality by a stroke of the pen (or a keystroke) except that we might be involved in such philosophical endorsement; we should then ask how is it that am I to get beyond it merely saying something in a particular manner? No. We cannot ‘turn’ the truth of the matter; we have but to see the power that is invested in the leviathan of religious interests, of maintaining a particular formation and method to know that, as the philosophers have argued, I cannot escape it unless I wish to perform some magic, perhaps some discursive slight of hand. We should ask if we can be done with all this trickery of the ontological police. Then, all we have to do is speak of facts instead of the essential Being of things, to speak teleologically instead of ontologically. We can argue the conditional nature of real essence for the rest of eternity and never get anywhere further than circling back and forth away from and back into Medieval type scholarship. And thats fine, and thats the point: This is the factual nature of reality, the impossible aspect of what we have to deal with in reality. Of course there will be those who will argue that what the philosophers are doing now days is not Scholasticism and who will produce all sorts of argumentative and ultimately circumstantial evidence to support their claim. Great! Perfect! Does this sway me to believe something that I don’t already know? The proper response, in this case then, is that this is not a proposal toward any popular or social change, and in fact it has little to do with how political ideology might be at any moment; we can of course use it for such purposes (identifying our moment from the past conditional moments of history, for example, etcetera…), thats what Badiou and Zizek tell us…
We are not so much learning anything new as much as we are justifying our limited manner of Being in the world, and this is an end in itself that should be heeded but not as a call for change, as though we can somehow transcend what we are — we can only transcend was we identify with as political and ideological subjects. Rather, we should see this situation as a mark of what is true of being human, as a mark of significance, which is to say, a mark of fact. So another of my indictments of philosophy: Despite all the great discursive gymnastics and the twistings of subtle argumentative semantic juxtapositions, philosophy works to avoid having to look at itself as a human behavior. Conventional philosophy refuses to allow itself to be seen as an indicator of behavior, perpetually argues itself as an exceptional incarnation of divine intuition and inspiration, a blank spot of Being, and then uses this fact as a means to absorb all activity under its purview back into the real political and ideological limit — to say that this is all there is. I see the constant and basically automatic referral of all things ‘thought’ back into this kind of philosophical pond is self defeating to the effort of progress, even as progress itself is routed back into this (touted) ‘speculative’, or ‘realist’, or ‘post-post-modern’ maxim. It is no wonder outside of capitalism is so difficult to think!
As Amoreinblog has argued somewhere, perhaps anthropology is the way out of this philosophical conundrum; despite all the philosophical misappropriations of ideas involved with the AIME (An Investigation into Modes of Existence) project of Bruno Latour (even by Latour himself, lol), his book can be read as an argument for the need to open up a space (perhaps, in his terms, create a pass) whereby we can avoid this modern philosophical whirlpool that we have been involved with for at least 1000 years. It seems that only now, with Postmodernism, but as of late Post-postmodnerism (must we find a Post-Post-Postmodernism also?) do we really get an idea, but also an actual way to understand and realize what human beings are doing.
Time itself may be the issue that is involved with Modernity invading as it usurps all discourse into its machinery. The issue that opens up after Postmodernism (but is not itself Postmodern scholarship) is the break from Enlightenment Ontology. So it may not be so much that we have to philosophically get out of this temporal mode — that kind of move would be philosophy attempting to avoid itself through arguing itself out of itself, redundantly, establishing as it maintains reality for everyone. It may be as simple as admitting that there is no escaping the philosophical limit, and realizing a kind of anti-Husserlian manner: Of finding the independent object in the bare fact that we know that there is an independent object, and perhaps that we need not speculate about how it can be so in order for it to be so. Of course we can discuss how it can be so…and indeed we will, but that does not mean that we cannot stay where we are at and let the pagan-Christian rollercoaster come around again and again.
Maybe we need to make a clean break.