Monday, March 29, 2010

Axiology and Anselm's Cosmological Argument

St. Anselm is usually known for his ontological argument, but he also supported various other arguments for God's existence. One of these is a version of the cosmological argument, which seeks to establish that, "there is . . . some one being which is supremely good, and supremely great, that is, the highest of all existing beings." [1]

1. Something good exists.

The axiological realist will grant this premise. However, it will not be accepted by moral nihilists. The audience of this proof, then, will be restricted to those who acknowledge that there really are, objectively-speaking, good things.

2. That which is good is either good through itself or through another.

Premise (2) will be accepted by those who adhere to even a minimal Principle of Sufficient Reason. Only if some attribute of a thing is inexplicable would (2) be false, or possibly false.

3. Different things are good by virtue of a single principle.

Anselm anticipates an objection, here. A horse is said to be good because he is both strong and swift. Yet, a robber can also be strong and swift, but surely the robber is not good. It's at this point that Anselm appeals to teleology: the horse's strength and swiftness is good due to its usefulness, whereas the robber's strength and swiftness is bad because his actions are harmful. It is the end, goal or purpose, then, that Anselm appeals to.

Further, two things are said to be just because they both participate in the single quality of justness. Likewise, then, two (or more) things are said to be good because they participate in the single quality of goodness. Now, this quality of goodness is itself a great good, Anselm says. Therefore, there is a single principle of goodness, the Supreme Being (God), which is the cause of all goodness in good things.

4. Therefore, a single principle of goodness exists.


Works Cited

[1] St. Anselm, "Monologium," Ch. 1, from Basic Writings, translated by S.N. Deane, Open Court Publishing Company, 1962, p. 86.


  1. Your conclusion, 4, seems intended to follow from a disjunctive syllogism from 2 and 3. However, the language of 4 is different than any disjunct in 3. Further: 4 talks about a principle and not "some one being which is supremely good, and supremely great, that is, the highest of all existing beings."

  2. Hi Mickey,

    Thanks for your thoughts. The truth is, I was hesitant to even submit a post dealing with this particular Anselmian argument. I think he was brilliant, but that he didn't always write in an easily accessible manner (just look at how many different interpretations of the ontological argument there are!).

    (4), I think, does follow from (2) and (3) - (3) specifically mentions a "principle." However, you're essentially correct that there's an important step to be made between "principle of goodness" and "being . . . that is . . . the highest of all existing beings." Only if one already interprets "principle" as something more than an abstract object do we get anything like the conclusion Anselm is ultimately focused on. Otherwise, more argumentation is needed.