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Argument that proceeds from the idea of God to the reality of God. It was first clearly formulated by St. Anselm in his Proslogion (1077–78); a later famous version is given by René Descartes. Anselm began with the concept of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived. To think of such a being as existing only in thought and not also in reality involves a contradiction, since a being that lacks real existence is not a being than which none greater can be conceived. A yet greater being would be one with the further attribute of existence. Thus the unsurpassably perfect being must exist; otherwise it would not be unsurpassably perfect. This is among the most discussed and contested arguments in the history of thought.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ontological argument, visit Britannica.com.