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Platos Proof of Gods Existence

John S. Uebersax

ost anyone who has taken a course in the philosophy of religion or the history of Western philosophy has likely run across the famous ontological argument for the proof of Gods existence associated with St. Anselm of Canterbury. Actually several versions of the ontological argument have appeared over the centuries, the simplest one being: 1. By definition, God is a being which has every perfection. 2. Existence is a perfection. 3. Hence God exists. One of the most interesting things about these arguments is that they have attracted so much attention despite the fact that they are basically unconvincing. Please dont mistake my intentions when I say this. I of course believe in God; I only mean that these arguments, analyzed the logical level, arent very good, and everyone knows that. The strange thing is that, despite this, the ontological argument with been ceremoniously taught to philosophy students for nearly 1000 years. Its as though as to say, We dont really have a logical proof for Gods existence; but trying to formulate one is a good idea so lets look at this unconvincing argument pretty much our best shot and gloss over its glaring deficiencies. In other words, lacking a first-rate argument, lets content ourselves with a second-rate one. Curiously, all this overlooks the fact that we do, I believe, have a much better philosophical proof of Gods existence. Admittedly, to call it a proof might be technically incorrect its really more of a demonstration, or perhaps only what we might call a strong plausibility argument. Nevertheless, regardless of how we classify it, its evidential value for supporting a belief in God is, I believe, substantially stronger than that of the ontological argument. This argument comes from Platos dialogues, most notably, the Republic and the Symposium. It can be illustrated as follows: 1. Consider some beautiful thing say an incredibly beautiful sunset, the kind that totally absorbs you in a profound sense of beauty, awe, and wonder.. 2. Now, instead of pausing in that experience alone which is our usual tendency elevate your thoughts still higher and consider that this is not the only beautiful thing. There are many other experiences equally or more beautiful as this one.

3. Then consider that there must be something in common amongst all these experiences in exactly the same way that there is something in common with all triangles, or all horses, or all trees. That is, each of these things has some defining principle or principles, some essence. 4. Consider further that a defining essence has, at least in theory, some existence outside of its instantiation in actual examples. Hence we may conceive of the abstract Form of a triangle, which would exist even if somehow we were able to remove all physical triangles from the world. Therefore we may also suppose that there is some Form of Beauty, which is the principle that all beautiful things have in common. 5. Moreover, Beauty is not the only good. There are also things such as Truth, or Virtue, or Excellence, or Justice things which we unhesitatingly consider good, which delight or assure us, and can bring us very deep levels of satisfaction. 6. And, just as with Beauty, we may suppose that there is some Form for each of these other things: a Form of Truth, a Form of Virtue, of Excellence, of Justice. 7. And finally, we may contemplate the possibility of some principle or essence which all these different Forms of good things have in common. This, too, would be a Form the Form of Goodness. 8. God is defined as that being than which nothing can be more Good. Therefore God is the Form of Goodness. For me, this comes very close to being a fully logically persuasive argument for Gods existence. Yet, besides this, it can also be approached as a contemplative or spiritual exercise. That is, as Plato himself presents this line of thought, one is not so much trying to logically convince oneself, as to elicit, by focusing on these principles, an awakening or remembrance (anamnesis) of an innate, intuitive understanding of God. It will of course be up to you to investigate this line of reasoning individually and to determine how well in your view it works but I will add one more thing. Not only does this demonstration supply evidence of Gods existence, but it may also promote the development of a sincere gratitude for and love of God. As one contemplates the nature of Goodness, that is, as one begins to become more conscious of the principle that, if there are good things, there must be a Form of Goodness, one also becomes amazed at the very idea that there is such a thing as Goodness. And also that we, as human beings, seem particularly attuned to crave, seek, and experience Goodness. It is quite remarkable that we have this word and this concept, good, such that we may apply it a huge variety of things and experiences. The counter-argument of the reductionist will not do here: he or she might say, What we consider good merely derives from sensory, practical, and survival considerations; it is all explained by Darwinism we desire and prefer certain things because they are advantageous. But that does not explain, among other things, why some of the things

we consider most good say a heroic sacrifice of some noble person is not materially advantageous. If, then, we accept that there is something deep and fundamental in our nature such that we seek goodness (which is to say, in effect, that we are moral beings) and also that there is some Author and Source of Goodness, and, further, that it is our destiny as immortal souls to enjoy an eternity of ever greater Beauty and Goodness, then naturally our gratitude to this Supreme Being is spontaneously aroused. Therefore Platos proof of Gods existence as the Form of the Good is not only logically appealing, but effective at the level of emotion and devotion as well. Or we could approach the proof in still another way, i.e., at a psychological level. What we consider good is, almost as a matter of definition, what we authentically crave and desire as human beings. The Form of Goodness would constitute the absolute epitome of all that we seek or want, the summum bonum. If nothing else, then, contemplating the meaning of the Form of the Good would be a way we could know ourselves, inasmuch as understanding what we most want is clearly a way to more deeply understand what we most are. But even if Platos analysis here is something short of completely persuasive at the logical level, it nevertheless seems better overall than the ontological argument. And on that basis it seems peculiar that the latter argument is taught far more than Platos. Key Words: Beauty, Contemplation, philosophy, Platonism, Spiritual Exercises | Tagged: aesthetic experience, aesthetics, anselm of canterbury, Form of the Good, God's existence, logic, ontological argument, philosophy of religion, plato, proof of God's existence, summum bonum

28 November 2013 www.john-uebersax.com