Volume 55, Issue 4, 2018
Alexey Yu. Rakhmanin
Norman Malcolm on the Ontological Argument
Ordinary Language, Common Sense, and Philosophical Analysis
The paper discusses Norman Malcolm’s interpretation of Anselm’s ontological argument. Since Malcolm had shown no interest in religious or theological issues prior to publishing his article on that subject in 1960, the analysis takes clue from Malcolm’s earlier writings. By doing so, I revisit the assessment of the ontological argument as fallacious and the tendency to assess Anselm from the traditional framework initiated by Kant. As I demonstrate, Malcolm interpreted Anselm based on the method elaborated during the 1950s. That method involved a synthesis between ordinary language philosophy and common sense philosophy, associated with the late Wittgenstein and Moore respectively. As I further argue, the usual objections to Malcolm’s approach ignore the main line of his reasoning: that Anselm’s ontological argument does not violate ordinary language. Indeed, the two concepts of God as “the greatest of all beings” and of the necessity of God’s existence both perfectly fit in how language works. The “God-talk” is therefore logical only in accordance with Malcoms definition of logical: an explication of the rules of ordinary language, whereas each and every argument against Anselm’s ontological proof violates ordinary language drastically. In his late works on the subject, Malcolm suggested that multiple proofs of God’s existence should be viewed as expressions of a specific philosophic pathology whose underlying drive is a justification of various forms of life. Instead of regarding this idea as “fideistic” (e.g., in K. Nielsen’s work), I propose that the very concept of ordinary language, as Malcolm developed it, makes a treatment of language games along the lines of dependence or independence obsolete. Rather, a crucial issue that Malcolm pushes to investigate is how religious statements correlate with ordinary language.