Of Gods and Unicorns: there must be a mistake with the ontological argument

Argument A: The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

(1) God is a being greater than which none can be conceived (or the Greatest Conceivable Being).

(2) The Greatest Conceivable Being does exist in the mind.

(3) If the Greatest Conceivable Being were to exist in only the mind, we could conceive of a greater being: a Being that exists in reality as well.

(4) Therefore, to be the Greatest Conceivable Being it must exist not only in the mind, but also in reality.

(5) Therefore, the Greatest Conceivable Being exists in reality.

(6) Therefore, God exists in reality (from 1 and 5)

Argument U: The Ontological Argument for the Existence of Unicorns

(1u) A unicorn is a creature, of which nothing more unicornlike can be conceived (which is to say that a unicorn is perfectly a unicorn).

(2u) The perfect unicorn does exist in the mind.

(3u) If the perfect unicorn were to exist only in the mind, we could conceive of a more perfect unicorn: a unicorn that exists in reality as well.

(4u) Therefore, to be the perfect unicorn it must exist not just in the mind but also in reality.

(5u) Therefore, the perfect unicorn exists in reality.

(6u) Therefore a unicorn exists in reality.

What is wrong with Argument U that is not wrong with Argument A? (I really do want answers to this; be cynical, be snide, be witty; share this with friends, share it with enemies, reblog it; ask a philosopher, ask a priest)


8 thoughts on “Of Gods and Unicorns: there must be a mistake with the ontological argument”

  1. Premises … the problem is always with the premises. Consider “(1) God is a being greater than which none can be conceived.” This is clearly a false premise. Think of a “being greater than which none can be conceived” then think of “her Mom,” then think of “her Mom’s Mom,” There is always a greater being than any you can conceive as everybody has a mother.

    Easy peasy.

  2. Well, on the surface, for one thing, there is a serious disconnect between the way 1u relates to the rest to 2-5u that is nowhere present in 1-5. What I mean is that “creature” vanishes (becomes implicit?) into the rest of 2-5u. But “creature” is not all a a mode of predicate that argument 1 undergoes; or that is to say, it has no correspondent component there. (From now on I’ll just go ahead and refer to them as predicates i.e. “creature,” “being greater than which none can be conceived,” etc.–do correct me if “predicate” isn’t the right term; thought it was.) Furthermore, not only does “creature” strike me as a foreign predicate, but it is further attached to “of which nothing more unicornlike“…unicornlike, of course, describes absolutely nothing which isn’t viciously circular and self-referential. From this then is drawn the implicit inference (which is by no means at all proven) that “a creature of which nothing more unicornlike can be conceived”=”a unicorn that is perfectly a unicorn.” One may find this criteria of “perfection” troubling; is the argument defining “perfect” here as “it is only what it is?” Or “it is merely what it is.” This is not descriptive but circular.

    I can conceive, perhaps, two contradictions. (1) a Clydesdale getting hot and heavy with a unicorn to arrive a creature that is less than unicorn by being half-unicorn and half-Clydesdale. A serious objection perhaps can be raised to (1) in that this is no commentary on the first ever original undiluted and unpolluted unicorn(s). Very well, this leads me to: (2) I can conceive, for instance, (though dwelling in la-la land) of the first ever original unicorn being the evolutionary result of, for instance, Arabian stallion(s) getting it on with antelope(s). In which case, there is no evolutionary such thing as a perfect unicorn. Perfect unicornhood is parts Arabian stallion and parts antelope. Who’s to say this supposition is wrong? Certainly not 1-5u above. Well, it seems to me the tree of the theory of evolution certainly says unicorns don’t exist or were a mythological mistake.

    I guess what troubles me as criterion is that 1-5 is not (it is beyond dispute) identical to 1-5u. This may be a superficial problem (arguments need not be identical) but I can’t help but notice that God, in the feature of logic the OA displays needs two less (circular, discreet, implicit, unproven inferential) predicates than unicorns do to arrive at the predicate their perfection. Could this be perhaps because God is not a contingent being like unicorns are and, importantly, weren’t? Rather God is a necessary; it has been argued the only necessary being.

    Therefore, it’s pretty much beyond dispute (for me) that the logic of 1-5 is more valid than that of 1-5u. Fun thought experiment, though.

    1. I’m glad you like the thought experiment. Your answers definitely are thought provoking (I’ve been talking about argument u in comments for s couple of years and received no proper criticism; just “that’s silly” style dismissals).
      I disagree that ‘unicorns are perfectly unicornlike’ is any more circular than ‘God is the greatest conceivable being’. This is the asserted definition.
      If I were to change “a creature” in 1u to “that”, does that get rid of your first concern? I think it does.
      The implicit inference you doubt is a statement about identity. If I am imagining something so unicorn like that nothing more unicorn like could be conceived, then I am imagining a unicorn. The issue, I think, is one of subjectivity: children and Gods have greater imagination than metre adults; how could I confirm I am thinking of the greatest being our the perfect unicorn. The issue effects both arguments: what are greatness and perfection? It is unproven that if we got the whole human race in a seminar room and tried to find who has the greatest conception of the greatest conceivable being that this would actually reflect the greatest conceivable being.
      My conception of a unicorn has no evolutionary lineage: it can’t; a unicorn must exist at every point in time (of this argument holds true).

      1. God as the greatest conceivable being strikes me nowhere near as circular as the greatest conceivability of a unicorn as perfectly unicornlike, mostly because God’s being in 1-5, specifically, needs no self-referential step such as from “unicorn” to “unicornlike” God’s ontology is simply a premise of the argument in a way that I feel U is not in 1-5u. The ontology of unicorns is still (quite apart from their existence perhaps) quite dubious to me. Furthermore, I notice (and perhaps it’s just a grammatical issue or a mere trifle, in which case not) that the predicate of “conceivability” present in 2 and the first half of 3 are interestingly absent from 2u and 1st 1/2 of 3u.

        Another possible criticism: 1-5u isn’t even ontological. 1u, for instance, might not be making any such statement of ontology (or it is dubious) and this follows it throughout 2-5u. Kind of a face palm, perhaps. Or perhaps mere straw-splitting on my part; a bare desire to see the word “being” emblazoned in an argument may simply not be enough. I’m not sure, but I think so. In one sense, on the other hand, I guess: being=existence=ontology; they are somewhat omni-equal, so this objection could be an irrelevant waste of time.

        I want to turn and come clean now, though. I think Kant’s analytical judgement vs. synthetic judgement and especially “existence is not a predicate” may be persuasive enough to cause any sensible person to slap a cursory faceplam Anselm’s way. However, embarrassingly I’m perhaps of two minds in regards to “being is not a real predicate.” I simultaneously find it persuasive but am not quite sure of its relevance.

        Also, I’m tempted to float one last potential objection: Does 1-5u suffer at all from being, in fact, derivative a posteriori of 1-5? This may or may not be a real concern; I’ll not judge.

  3. The premises of unicorn. If unicorn is exist, it belong under kingdom animalia, probably a mammals.

    Many assumption can be used,
    (1) an extinct beauty shy mammal,
    (2) a horse with 1 horn,
    (3) Or it just an imagination.
    By using:
    (5u) Therefore, the perfect unicorn exists in reality.

    You are can not use :
    (2u) The perfect unicorn does exist in the mind.
    (1u) A unicorn is a creature, of which nothing more unicornlike can be conceived (which is to say that a unicorn is perfectly a unicorn).

    A premise of “perfect”.
    A word “perfect” are being to describe a comparison between 2 thing.
    Example : I got 100% in physics. It perfect. Therefore my perfection based on certain scheme or comparison between other pupils.

    It also being describe as “the greatest”.
    The universe is perfect. Nothing can compare to it.

      1. Allallt,

        Sorry for late reply, I am away for a week,

        Replying your question,

        In 112:4, “Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”

        Therefore, “conceivable” is by default are not necessary.

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