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Plantinga's Ontological Argument

7. Conclusion

Book cover: The Many-Faced Argument by John Hick and Arthur C. McGill (eds)

Spurred on by recent developments in modal logic, the ontological argument for the existence of God has received renewed interest over the last few decades. In this essay, I considered perhaps the most serious advocate of modal versions of this theistic argument. In critiquing Plantinga's effort, I first laid out a more formal statement of his final version. To help identify the source of possible problems with his argument, I constructed a simpler, yet structurally faithful, rendition of it. After conceding that Plantinga's argument is probably valid, I sought to show that, ultimately, it did not pass the test of soundness. The problem lay in his non-analytic premise (29) stating the possibility of the instantiation of maximal greatness. I attempted to show how this premise is not only false, but necessarily false.

Plantinga's modal version of the argument is highly seductive. I was keen, therefore, to uncover where its powers of persuasion lay. I concluded that two important features of his argument lead to its intuitive appeal. First is its self-referential and recursive definition of 'maximal greatness'. Second is Plantinga's conscription of the incontestable modal axiom of transworld impossibility.

Although Plantinga freely admitted that his modal version of the ontological argument is not proof of the existence of God, he nonetheless advocated that it established the rational acceptability of theism. His plea hinged on the rational acceptability of the non-analytic premise that it's possible that maximal greatness is instantiated. I argued that the three examples from the history of philosophy he mustered in his defence of this controversial premise were not analogous to the theist's epistemic situation. I concluded that even if we grant the possibility of the truth of this premise, it is not rational to accept it as so.

In the final section of my essay, I considered the recent attempt by Pruss to bolster the epistemic probability of the truth of this premise. Here I argued that Pruss shifted the meaning of 'maximally great being' to something substantively different from Plantinga's stipulated meaning. As Plantinga's definition of maximal greatness is crucially central to the success of his modal version of the ontological argument, I concluded that Pruss's essay fails as a defence of Plantinga's argument for the existence of God.

Copyright © 2017

Draft published Jan 28, 2017
Initial release    May 01, 2017

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