The Ontological Argument in Philosophy and Meditational Techniques
SRI SWAMI KRISHNANANDA
Click here for a critique to the argument, and replies:
It is a well-known fact that the process of meditation in the field of spiritual life is centralised in the attempt of consciousness to concentrate itself on Ultimate Reality. Here, in this connection, philosophical circles have been conducting deep researches into the possibility of Thought contacting Reality, and whether it is a possibility at all on account of the limitations to which psychological processes are naturally subject.
The seed of the controversy arose from the affirmation of the Greek philosopher, Plato, that Ideas are the Archetypes of things; that is, the forms of the objects visualised in sense perception and the objects which are the field of phenomena, are like shadows or copies of the Ideas which Plato affirmed as being universals. It was the insistence of Plato that the universal is prior to the particular, more real than the multiplicity of things, and that the Ideas are eternal while the objects of sense are perishable. Aristotle, his disciple, erroneously thought that Plato made a mistake in creating a division between eternity and time-process since the two realms fall apart from each other and eternity cannot invade the realm of phenomena. If this is the case, thought cannot contact reality, or as a consequence thereof, we may say that there is nothing in the world which can touch God by any means whatsoever. However, here Aristotle should be considered as gone wrong in the appreciation of Plato’s foundational doctrine, because nowhere do we find Plato asserting that there is no connection between the eternal Ideas and the phenomenal objects of sense. The very fact of the objects being considered as shadows of the Ideas should give us a clue to the relationship between the Ideas and objects. There cannot be a shadow unless there is an original and the relationship between the two is obvious. This means to say that the faculties which are otherwise considered as phenomenal are not entirely distinct from the characteristic of the eternity of the Ideas, and are not organically dissociated from Reality, and the very aspiration for God arising from the heart of the human being should be proof enough to demonstrate that there is a vital relation between the phenomenal and the noumenal, the world and God.
In the medieval ages, Saint Anselm propounded the argument known as the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, making out thereby that the thought of God cannot arise in the mind of a human being unless the potentiality for God’s Presence is already embedded in the human mind. Else, how does such an idea arise at all? As another great thinker has humorously said, the wonder is not whether God exists or God does not exist, but the wonder is that the tiny mind of the human being can conceive such a tremendous comprehensiveness called the Infinite. Saint Anselm’s argument is that the concept of God is itself proof for the existence of God; otherwise there should be no reason why such an idea should arise at all in the mind of the human being. It is well-known that nothing can arise from nothing and hence the thought of God cannot arise from a vacuum or a totally dissimilar cause.
Rene Descartes, the famous French Philosopher, modified this argument of St. Anselm and followed a mathematically deductive process of reasoning in proving the existence of God. Descartes concluded that a finite mind cannot be expected to generate within itself an Infinite Thought. The Infinite cannot arise either from a finite source or from vacuum. The Infinite can arise from the Infinite only. Descartes concludes that God Himself must have planted the idea of the Infinite in the mind of the human being; else, there is no explanation as to how such a profound thought can arise in a mortal brain, limited to sensory perceptions. His well-argued confirmation of the existence of an eternal Self is something well-known in the history of philosophy. He carried on a process of doubting everything that the mind can think and could doubt even the existence of his own self, but the fact that there is doubting, cannot itself be doubted. Unless the doubter exists, the doubt by itself will have no meaning. We may doubt everything, God, world, individual and everything, but cannot doubt the validity of there being such a thing as doubt. The doubter cannot be doubted. Further it follows from this argument that the doubter must be a conscious being, since there is no such thing as unconscious doubting. The doubter is conscious existence, one feature inseparable from the other. The Self is Existence-Consciousness. It is from this potential certitude of Self and the mind that thinks on the basis of this Self, that we can deduce further on the concept of the Infinite. The eternal is in the heart of man. God exists, because the thought of God exists.
However, the most formidable refutation of the Ontological Argument comes from the German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who analyses this Argument threadbare and concludes that the Ontological Argument has no philosophical value. Kant’s proposition is that the human mind can work only within phenomena and it cannot think noumena which transcend the boundaries of its capacity of knowledge. Hence, there is no such thing as Thinking God. Kant’s contention is that the ideas of God, world and soul are just regulative features, which suffice to give a synthetic unity of apperception to the perceptual process through space and time and the conceptual process through the categories of understanding, namely, the obligation on the part of the mind of the human being to think only in terms of quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Since God is not a quantity, quality, relation or modality, the mind cannot think God. The Ontological Argument is hereby refuted. But, here, one can observe, Kant deeply errs in his conclusion.
The error of Kant consists in this: That the noumenon cannot be known, cannot be asserted by anything which is within phenomena. It is futile therefore to say that the noumenon cannot be known. If that were so, even such a statement cannot be made. The argument that noumenon cannot be known is self-defeating. The idea of the noumenon cannot arise if it has no connection with the idea at all, which, according to Kant, is within phenomena.
Hegel tries to rectify the deficiency in the argument of Kant that thought cannot contact reality. We have already noticed that Kant makes a mistake in confining all thought to phenomena and simultaneously asserting that the phenomenal thought cannot contact noumena. How does the idea of noumena arise in the phenomenal mind if the phenomenal mind cannot have even the idea of there being such a thing as the noumenon. Hegel turns the tables round by asserting that Kant’s insistence on making a distinction between phenomenon and noumenon defeats his own philosophy. There cannot be a knowledge that two things are separated from each other unless there is a third thing which knows that they are different from each other. The categories, which Kant feels are restrictive, are not actually the categories of the human mind as Kant seems to think. On the one hand Kant says that understanding creates nature, on the other hand he says that understanding cannot contact the real. Now, whose understanding creates nature. Can any human being’s mind achieve this feat? Is there anyone who with his mind can project a whole universe outside? Hegel argues that the understanding that Kant speaks of should be interpreted as cosmic understanding, the TOTAL MIND. This Total Mind is virtually the Mind of God. Thus, God alone can create nature. When the Ontological Argument asserts that thought is reality, it only means that Infinite Thought can contact Infinite Being. Hegel has brought God into the centrality of the thinking process. The Thought of God cannot be separated from God Himself. Universal Thought is the same as Universal Being. Indian philosophers explained this with the nomenclature that Sat is Chit, that is to say, Existence is Consciousness and Consciousness is Existence. Thus the ontological argument is reinstated by Hegel in the West and Acharya Shankara in the East.
Here is the highest technique of the greatest meditation which merges God, world and the individual in one breathless moment of ecstasy.