The line that I am comfortable with the most is the conceptual way of thinking. The definition of God given by Anselm is the most interesting line in the argument. He states “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived” (94). This designation captures all human imagination of a greater being than anything else in the world and he ascribes the name God to this being, which makes it inconceivable to have any other god or being with that definition. He then states “that which can be conceived not to exist is not God” (94). This helps everybody to have a vision of God in mind.
In chapter II, Anselm argues that God exists because we believe he does. And that his nature is the nature that we have given him. He posits that those who do not believe in the existence of “that which nothing is greater” understands it but do not understand its existence. His argument is that if one can understand and define something, then it must exist (93).
With the example of the painter, Anselm explains that when you visualize something in mind, it is possible to actualize it in reality. The fact that it could not be seen when it was in the mind does not prove its non-existence since with time the painter is able to show it. In this same way, he says that those who do not accept as true the existence of God understand God. This is so because it is impossible to frame and argument against something that you do not understand. Therefore, the very fact that they can frame the non-existence of God proves his existence.
Anselm says “it is one thing for an object to be in the understanding, and another to understand that the object exists” (93). In this statement, he brings attention to the fact that the capability to understand the existence of something lies with the person understanding it. Since the people who do not believe in existence of God understand God, the only thing they do not understand is his existence. The statement shows that just because they do not understand his existence it does not mean he does not exist. It only shows that they do not have the ability to understand his existence.
He then refutes the notion that it is possible to conceive this being that is greater than everything else and at the same time to have, in reality, a being that is less than what is conceived.
In Chapter III, Anselm posits that it is possible for one to think of something that can be imagined to exist, and this is greater than something that is imagined not to exist. Since there is no way one can imagine God to exist and still imagine him not to exist, then it follows that God has to exist to be imagined to exist. To this Anselm says “so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist” (94).
In reply to these arguments Gaunilo’s endeavors to show that the existence of God as described by Anselm is flawed. He states that it is impossible to infer the reality of something from its ability to be understood. A man may be able to imagine a woman who is more loving than any other woman in the world. He may also describe her with every imaginable trait of the ideal woman. However, just because he is able to understand and describe such a woman does not me that such a woman exists.
In his example, Gaunilo says that there is no difficulty in understand and island described to have “an estimable wealth of all manner of riches.” He goes on to refute the statement that just because it is understandable it exists. He states that for an argument to be valid it must be proven beyond doubt that the “excellence of the island exists.”
In his reply, Anselm criticizes Gaunilo’s position of being based on the non-existence of the lost island. He refutes this analogy to his proof of God’s existence by saying that if the sequence of his argument is followed, then he can be able to find the lost island.
Gaunilo’s argument is such that the lost island can be conceived not to be. This then makes the island exist only in the mind but not in reality. Since it is conceivable that such a perfect woman does not exist, then through the sequence of reasoning provided by Anselm, that woman does not exist. For something greater than everything else to be real, it must be inconceivable for it not to exist.
Anselm explanation presents a catch 22 situation. This is because the possibility of imagining God not to exist implies that one has imagined “a being than which a greater is inconceivable.” This then proves that there is a God. The only other explanation is that the person fail to imagine at all hence fails to prove God’s non-existence.
Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Anselm of Canterbury. Trans. Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 2000. Print.