The so-called Anselmian thesis says that God is that than which no greater can be thought. This thesis has been widely accepted among traditional theists and it has for several hundred years been a central notion whenever philosophers debate the existence and nature of God. Proponents of the thesis are often silent, however, about exactly what it means to say that God is that than which no greater can be thought. The aim of this paper is to offer an answer to this question by providing rigorous, systematic models of the Anselmian thesis. The most straightforward model, which I call the “Linear Model,” says that God is that than which no greater can be thought by virtue of occupying the top link in the “great chain of being,” a universal linear ranking of all possible beings. Most contemporary philosophers believe, however, that the Linear Model does not succeed because the notion of the great chain of being is untenable. I therefore explore alternatives to the Linear Model. I argue that what I call the “Extended Radial Model” characterizes the Anselmian thesis correctly, even though the model faces a powerful objection. I argue further that the Linear Model should be taken seriously as a backup option for Anselmian theists because (i) it is not vulnerable to the objection that the Extended Radial Model faces and (ii) what is widely regarded as a knock-down objection to the Linear Model is not as compelling as some have claimed.
|Journal||Faith and Philosophy|
|Publication status||Published - Jan 2013|