OCR support material – ontological argument


Suggested teaching time 8 hours Topic The ontological argument
Topic outline Suggested teaching and homework activities Suggested resources Points to note

The ontological argument from Anselm

Anselm’s understanding of God as a being than which nothing greater can be conceived

  • Review or explain the difference between a priori and a posteriori by issuing a set of statements. Which are proved by logic? Which by experience? Why the ontological argument is unusual.
  • Introduce Anselm’s first ontological argument step by step. Is there anything odd about this argument?
  • Philosophy of Religion: Access to Philosophy (Peter Cole)
  • Have each step on PowerPoint or OHT.
  • Original texts available in The Question of God (Palmer) as well as various internet sites.
  • Some students may be able to access the original sources.
Challenge from Gaunilo

Gaunilo’s analogy of the island in On Behalf of the Fool

  • Students draw their perfect holiday island. Explain to them that it has to exist! Students may then be able to predict Gaunilo’s reasoning.
  • Explain Gaunilo’s attack in your own word.
  • The Question of God (Palmer)
The ontological argument from Anselm

His understanding of the differences between contingent and necessary existence

  • Anselm’s second ontological argument is explored step by step. Review the words necessary and contingent.
  • Consider strengths and weaknesses of this argument. Does it counter Gaunilo?
  • Philosophy of Religion: Access to Philosophy (Peter Cole)
  • Have each step on PowerPoint or OHT.
The ontological argument from Descartes

Descartes’                  understanding of existence as a perfection which God cannot lack

  • Explore the properties of triangles. What has to be true of them?
  • Explain how Descartes uses this idea of necessity in relation to God. Formulate argument step by step.
  • Descartes’ Meditation 5 available on internet and in Question of God (Palmer)
  • Introducing Descartes (Robinson & Garrett), a cartoon guide!
  • Descartes: a beginner’s guide (Kevin O’Donnell)
Challenge from Kant

Kant’s argument that existence is not a predicate

  • Explain the difference between analytic and synthetic statements. Students practise making analytic and synthetic statements about triangles, bachelors etc. Explain that Kant argues that “God has necessary existence”. Is an analytic statement.
  • Draw up a list of attributes of a good RS teacher. What is added by having existence as a criterion? What if a candidate was to have all attributes except this one? Explain the link to Kant’s view that existence is not a predicate.
  • Layered OHTs showing two teachers/bicycles or other objects surrounded by list of properties. (Take one away and illustrate what happens to the properties if something does not have existence.)
  • Questions about God (Patrick Clarke)
  • Source material for Kant available in The Question of God (Palmer)
Consolidation or extension
  • Consolidation: students to produce a revision booklet giving key points of each thinker and strengths and weaknesses.
  • Extension: consider whether there is any place for the ontological argument today by researching modern versions, such as those of Malcolm and Plantinga.
  • Philosophy of Religion: Access to Philosophy (Peter Cole)
  • Philosophy of Religion for A Level (Jordan, Lockyer & Tate)
  • The Question of God (Palmer)
  • Differentiation by student choice: Depending on group and time students could do both activities or may choose to do one or the other depending on how confident they feel on the ontological argument.
Exam practice
  • Students attempt a past question on this topic.
  • Past examination papers.








Past Questions

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