Ramifications of the Existence of God in Philosophy

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If it were successfully demonstrated, should the existence of the God defined in Ch. II of Anselm’s Proslogion have important moral consequences? Why or why not? Anselm’s ontological argument and the points he makes to support his argument proving the existence of God and defining God carry significant moral consequences. In Chapter II of Proslogion, Anselm states that God is a being that is greater than any other being that could possibly be conceived of, and that even individuals who do not believe in the existence of God know that this is what God would be. Anselm makes an important distinction that something that exists in thought is different from something that exists in reality, even though it can exist in both thought and reality. He also argues that existing in reality is greater than only existing in thought. He supports this argument with the example of a painter, because when the painter conceives of his painting it only exists in his thoughts; however, it exists both in thought and reality after he has painted it. These points are the crux of Anselm’s ontological argument proving the existence of God (Cahn 432).

In Chapter II, the ontological argument states that God, even to non-believers, definitely exists in thought because everyone can think of a being that is greater than any other being that could be imagined. However, existing in reality is greater than existing only in thought; therefore, God has to exist in thought and reality to be the greatest being imaginable. It would be a contradiction for God, a being that is greater than any other, to only exist in thought because then a greater being, one that exists in reality, could be thought of (Cahn 432). Additionally, since God is all powerful, at the end of Chapter V he is described as the supreme good, just, truthful, and happy (Cahn 433). In Chapters IX through XI, Anselm discusses how God rewards those who are good and might punish or spare those who are evil. He also discusses in these chapters that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent which is derived from God existing as the most perfect being (Cahn 434-436). The arguments Anselm developed to prove the definition and existence of God would have to be true to successfully demonstrate the existence of God. These points have significant moral consequences because by being true they will impact where morality comes from, the moral worth of actions in accordance with duty, and ultimately influence how individuals decide if an action is morally good or not.

The existence of God heavily influences where morality comes from and can be utilized to address the Euthyphro Dilemma. This dilemma arose from Plato’s Euthyphro, where Aristotle asked Euthyphro for a general definition to identify what is morally good or not. This resulted in the Euthyphro Dilemma that asks, do the gods approve of a morally good action because it is already good or do they make the action good by approving it (Cahn 20-21). The dilemma is asking if actions are inherently morally good or bad, or if the morality of actions are derived from the approval of the gods. The existence of God, as defined by Anselm, impacts this dilemma because God is a perfect being, so he is the epitome of justice (Cahn 433). Since he is the most just being, this makes actions morally good with the approval of God because God would be the standard for morality. Actions cannot be inherently good or bad because this would make morality objective, and if morality was objective then even God would be subject to them and he wouldn’t be the most perfect being. This means that God’s choices on morality are arbitrary, but because he is the most perfect being the decisions he makes are immediately the most morally good. By being the epitome of justice and the ultimate being, morality is derived from God and actions are morally good or bad based on his approval.

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Aristotle’s argument against actions being morally good due to the approval of the gods would not stand with the existence of God because there would only be a singular god; instead of multiple gods who could have differing opinions on an action which would make it both right and wrong (Cahn 20-21). Additionally, because God is omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent his intentions cannot be questioned because God is the most just and good being (Cahn 434-436). This has important moral consequences because when deliberating the morality of an action an individual would ask if God would approve it instead of asking if it is inherently good or not. This could lead to many problems; for instance, when European missionaries were dispersed throughout Africa, they justified their atrocities by stating that their actions were approved by God because they were saving the indigenous people by spreading Christianity. Instead of considering if their atrocious actions were morally right, they misinterpreted the will of God and justified their actions by claiming God approved of it.

The existence of God has moral ramifications with Kant’s perspective of morality because it provides an inclination to make morally good decisions in accordance with duty. In the Preface of Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, he claims that individuals should act out of duty which means they should act with respect for the moral law, and this is determined by using an objective “supreme principle of morality” (Cahn 1111-1112). This is known as the categorical imperative that states that actions are only good if they can be applied universally, unconditionally, and are good regardless of any other factors (Cahn 1124). This idea already clashes with the God because the existence of a perfect being means morality cannot be objective. Kant elaborates on his argument with four cases of inclination versus duty, which is heavily influenced if the existence of God, as defined by Anselm was successfully demonstrated. The first case was actions contrary to duty and the second case was actions in accord with duty in which the actor has no immediate inclination. According to Kant, these cases have no moral worth because an individual is either doing the wrong thing or is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The third case states actions in accord with duty for which there is an immediate inclination has no clear moral worth, while the fourth case which includes actions in accord with duty contrary to immediate inclination, has clear moral worth (Cahn 1115). An example of the third case would be an individual who volunteers to feed the homeless and enjoys it. This has no clear moral worth because the person has an inclination to complete their duty, they gain enjoyment, which means they could be completing their duty for that enjoyment or for the sake of duty. This same example could describe the fourth case if the individual volunteering to feed the homeless did not enjoy it because it causes them pain, due to some illness. This is morally good and has clear moral worth because the person gains nothing and actually suffers but still volunteers because it is their duty; the only reason they are completing their duty is for the sake of duty.

These cases are heavily influenced by the existence of God because God would always be an inclination. The fourth case has clear moral worth because these actions are completed contrary to any immediate inclination. Even though the individual gains nothing from doing so, they are performing their duty for the sake of duty. However, there will always be an inclination or a benefit to completing one’s duty, with the existence of God. For the ontological argument to hold, God must be the greatest being, and by being the greatest being he is the most just which means he rewards those who are morally good and complete their duty and he might punish those who are not morally good (Cahn 434-436). This means that the existence of God will always provide an inclination for an individual to fulfill their duty.

With the existence of God, the previous example of an individual volunteering, even though they are in pain, would no longer fall under the fourth case. Instead, it would be considered with the third case and have no clear moral worth because the individual is now inclined to complete their duty. Even though, the individual is in pain by completing their duty they are inclined to perform their duty because God would reward them for it. This provides the possibility that the individual is volunteering to be rewarded by God and not completing their duty for the sake of duty alone, making this action have no clear moral worth. This is significant because there would no longer be any morally good action with clear moral worth because there is always the inclination of being rewarded by God. Additionally, actions in accord with duty that are only completed to be rewarded by God would fall under the second case and have no moral worth. The existence of God has significant ramifications to Kant’s understanding of morality because the nature of God, being the greatest being and therefore being supremely just, would result in a universal inclination to complete one’s duty and completing ones duty only for the sake of duty would no longer be possible.

All in all, the existence of God has significant ramifications because it fundamentally changes how individuals decide between what is morally right or wrong. By being the most perfect being, God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent; however, humanity is not any one of those things (Cahn 434-436). While God is the most perfect being, humanity is not, and in the end, it is humans who have to interpret the will of God and what God considers to be morally right or wrong. Many great acts of benevolence have been completed by claiming it was God’s will, but there have also been many tragedies that were justified by claiming it was God’s will. The existence of God is morally significant because in the end, his will and intentions have to be interpreted by human beings, beings who are not perfect and have many flaws. The interpretation of the intentions of God would ultimately allow individuals to decide what is morally right or wrong. This is significant because instead of asking ourselves if something is morally right, we end up asking and attempting to interpret what God would think, even though God’s true will and intentions will never be clear. The arguments Anselm makes to define and successfully demonstrate the existence of God are morally substantial because by being true morality becomes derived from God, under Kant’s moral reasoning there are no longer actions with clear moral worth, and because humans will have to interpret God’s will to decide what is morally right or wrong.

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