The ontological argument

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Everyone now agrees the problem lies with Descartes’ premise (3). What is a ‘perfection’? It’s a property that it is better to have than not have. So is existence this kind of property? Descartes and Anselm are supposing that it is – that something that ‘has’ existence is greater than something that doesn’t.
Immanuel Kant developed the objection to this claim (Critique of Pure Reason, Book II, Ch. 3, § 4). Things don’t ‘have’ existence in the same way that they ‘have’ other properties. Consider whether ‘God exists’ is an analytic or synthetic judgment. According to Descartes, it must be analytic: his argument is that ‘God does not exist’ is a contradiction in terms, for the concept ‘God’ contains the idea of existence (necessary existence belongs to God’s essence). But, Kant claims, this is a mistake. Existence does not add anything to, or define, a concept itself; to say something exists is to say that some object corresponds to the concept. To say something exists is always a synthetic judgment, not an analytic one.
When we list the essential properties of something, we describe our concept of that thing. For instance, a dog is a mammal. But now if I tell you that the dog asleep in the corner is a mammal and it exists, I seem to have said two very different sorts of things. To say that it exists is only to say that there is something real that corresponds to the concept ‘dog’. It is not to say anything about the dog as a dog.
Existence, Kant argues, is not part of any concept, even in the case of God. To say that ‘God exists’ is quite different from saying that ‘God is omnipotent’. So it is not true to say that ‘God exists’ must be true.

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