Anslem’s Ontological Argument Revisited

Anselm’s argument:

(1) On the assumption that that than which nothing greater can be conceived is only in a mind, something greater can be conceived, because
(2) Something greater can be thought to exist in reality as well.
(3) The assumption is therefore contradictory: either there is no such thing even in the intellect, or it exists also in reality;
(4) But it does exist in the mind of the fool, or doubter;
(5) Therefore that than which nothing greater can be conceived exists in reality as well as in the mind.

Why anyone is his or her right mind would think this establishes the existence of a god is really beyond me. When people are asked they can try to conceive of a maximally great superhuman being of some kind, a god or God. Never-mind that most if not all conceptions of such a being, are probably internally inconsistent ones. And never-mind that many people’s conceptions are mutually inconsistent with each other. We won’t let these inconvenient and devastating problems trouble our little minds though, as we must proceed.

Anselm’s argument is little more than an equivocation of words. The informal fallacy of equivocation is when someone gives a key word or phrase with two different meanings. Sometimes they are difficult to spot, other times they are easy. One example I found online is this:

The sign said "Fine for parking here."
Since it was fine, I parked there.
Anselm depends on there being two conceptions of a maximally great being (or God for our purposes). On the one hand, we have a god who exists only as a conception in the mind; while on the other hand, we have a conception of a god who exists in reality, which is a greater conception. But both conceptions of God are still nothing more than conceptions. Anselm just substitutes a different higher greater conception for the original conception. That’s his equivocation.

So Anselm falsely derives the conclusion that 1) the initial god conception we had truly exists in reality, from 2) the initial god conception we had. For the god conception we originally had can be known to exist only if we can subsequently conceive of a greater god than our original conception. If we can know that God exists because of a conception in our mind, then this only means we can conceive of a god greater than the original conception in our mind. Or to see this more clearly, if our original conception of God does not include the additional conception that this God exists in reality, then Anselm argues this God exists in reality after all. There are two different god conceptions involved, so there is no contradiction!

If the same conception of god were employed throughout his argument, we would see the fallacious nature of it. To see this just ask what would become of Anselm’s argument if we simply started out conceiving of an existing maximally great being, or a god? How can Anselm proceed at that point? Well, he can’t. For our original conception of a god already included that it existed in reality. Anselm needs both steps, both conceptions, for his argument to have the appearance of working. He cannot get to the second step that leads to the false conclusion that that maximally great being actually exists unless we first had a conception of God that didn’t exist. 1

The ontological argument simply does not work for this reason and many others. Philosopher of religion Graham Oppy notes:
What seems right to me is this: that no ontological argument that has been thus far produced evades a three-pronged criticism. either it has plainly question-begging premises; or it is invalid; or it establishes the existence of something uncontroversial (that can reasonably be taken to have no religious significance, e.g., the physical universe).2

[1] This is my argument but I also found that Skeptico made the same type of argument in a post titled, “The Ontological Argument for God”

[2] Graham Oppy Arguing About Gods, p. 57