Anselm’s unum argumentu
and its Development in St. Bonaventure
this article, I show the actual essence of the Anselmian unum argumentum,
which has been abundantly misunderstood by modern Philosophers as an
“ontological proof”. In particular I detect its original source in
Parmenides’ intuition of the reciprocal belonging of Thought and Being,
the fundamental principle developed through time by Platonic Tradition.
The research implies a reconsideration and redefinition of words, such
which gave rise in modern times (Descartes, Kant, Hegel: I establish a
comparison with these authors), since they were not correctly
interpreted, to important hermeneutical mistakes. After understanding
what Anselm actually meant with his id quo maius cogitari nequit,
by means of an analysis of both Monologion
I explain how Bonaventure improves it, by increasing its qualitative
meaning (in different ways, but, in short, particularly substituting maius
problems kept philosophers’ minds busy more than the so-called
“ontological proof”. Since it was formulated, almost all of them, more
or less directly, more or less explicitly, felt the urge to have a
confrontation with it.
such a consistency? Because in the epochal Anselmian saying is saved
and transfigured the core of western philosophy: Parmenides’ intuition about the relationship
between Being and Thought.
begins his Poem with the description of a real raptus:
goddesses lead me on the very much celebrated way / that through every
region guides the man who knows.
revelation of the Truth has, since the very beginning, the tone of
something different, compared to what ordinary experience usually
offers. The chariot, dragged by horses, is pushed by the daughters of
the Sun toward the light, that is, as Sextus Empiricus comments, the condicio sine qua non
of the sight.
poet-philosopher arrives in the presence of Justice (Dike)
“that punishes a lot” and who “has the keys that open and close”.
She tells Parmenides about the existence of two ways of research:
one <which says> that it is and that it is not possible
that it is not […] The other one <which says> that it is
not and that it is not possible that it is.
is the most important fragment:
one [the second way] I declare to you that is an absolutely
undetectable path: / because you can neither think (it is in fact
impossible), / nor express the not-being.
add a fragment that, probably, has to be juxtaposed to the previous
fact thinking implies being.
these two verses, there is, in nuce,
the whole western philosophy. These other fragments allow us to draw
is necessary that saying and thinking are being: the being is in fact
given, while the nothing is not.
is the same thing to think and to think that it is.
the Thought, when it rises, knows itself as belonging to Being. To
think is to think the Being. Thought is not given, but starting from
the preliminary positivity of the Being, that funds it and constitutes
it qua talis.
The Being qualifies as the wider horizon, within which the nothing
appears as internal determination. The Being is the original + that
funds the possibility of the polarity +/-. There is a primary + that
establishes the possibility of opposition.
brief introduction reveals already the necessity to recover the essence
of unum argumentum
in its own pureness.
that purpose, it is indispensable to leave the misleading expression
“ontological proof”. Anselm talks neither about proof, nor, a fortiori,
of ontology, which is a neologism coined in XVII century.
understand the matter, it is not fruitful to neglect the Monologion,
and to concentrate only on the three brief paragraphs of the Proslogion,
where the argument is enunciated and exposed, ignoring the twenty-six
ones that form the whole book and where those three ones are solidly
set. The heart of the Monologion
with its own power.
What can we know sola ratione,
within the limits of mere reason?
Anselm let us know, that his mates pressed him in order to obtain a
meditation that could satisfy this requirement:
auctoritate scripturae penitus nihil in ea persuaderetur, sed quidquid
per singulas investigationes finis assereret, id ita esse plano
stilo et vulgaribus argumentis simplicique disputatione et rationis
necessitas breviter cogeret et veritatis claritas patenter ostenderet.
purely rational enquiry is really a theoretical and moral duty, for a
means dialogue of the reason with itself, without any extraneous,
further or previous condition. With that, the author does not intend to
present himself as subversive toward the tradition, since he states he
is a faithful commenter of it. Rather, the point is that authentic
Tradition cannot say anything that is in a real contrast with what the
soul, in an act of pure interiority, can find inside itself. There is
non need of a doctrine of the double truth. The rationes necessariae
manifest a necessity that is somehow temporary, inasmuch as it needs to
be confirmed by a greater authority. Coherently with these premises,
the word “God” appears only in the last paragraph, the eightieth.
the first part of his work, Anselm only shows that
igitur unum aliquid summe bonum et summe magnum, id est summum omnium quae sunt.
is an attempt to eliminate, where possible, all the presuppositions
that cannot be accepted by an “even mediocre” reason. It is true that,
in the prologue of the Proslogion,
Anselm says he tried its composition, because he was unsatisfied by Monologion’s
proofs; but such a dissatisfaction attains to the multiplicity
of the proofs, not to their value; shortly, the argumentum
is better because it is unum,
not because it replaces the previous ones. Moreover, we can anticipate,
that, since the four proofs in the Monologion
are obtained sola ratione,
it is not acceptable to individuate the difference between the two
booklets in the hendiadys a priori/a posteriori;
it is better attested by the couple ratio/intellectus.
the other hand, there is a certain unity in the Monologion
too, insofar as the proofs there brought are pooled by one principle:
the complex implies the simple, the different implies the identical,
the relative implies the absolute, the plural implies the one; in just
one expression: what subsists per
aliud implies what subsists per
first proof (§ 1) points out the necessity of a unique and identical
good, since goodness is attributed in the same way to different and
many things. The goods are goods not per se
but by virtue of the
second proof (§ 2), similarly, shows that the existence of an unum aliquid in diversis
is necessary in reference to measure,
as it was before to goodness.
third proof (§ 3) considers the pure being: there is an ens
that is one, identical, by itself, criterion of the unity and of
identity of different and various events.
fourth proof (§ 4) starts from the axiological diversity of the many,
that need to be referred to a maximum
must be implied as internal determinations.
as we said, the proofs agree in establishing, as a decisive character
of the qualitatively highest Being , the esse per se,
as the condition of possibility of the many and different beings:
tale est, maximum et optimum est omnium quae sunt.
§ 6, Anselm observes that, in the highest nature, essence
and being (ens)
are in the same relationship than light
and what shines
distinction between per se
and per aliud
is also the key to understand the considerations about creation,
developed in the second part of his work: he rejects the opinion of
Fredegiso of Tours, who, in De nihilo et tenebris,
posed the nothing on the same plane of being, and sustain the
possibility to think the nothing only as no-thing, not-being, that is
only as determined negation of the preliminary positive notion of Being.
Anselm is worn out, by his incapacity of finding an
argumentum, quod nullo alio ad se probandum quam se solo indigeret.
more intense is the effort, the more the solution seems to slip away.
At last, just as he, exhausted, is about to give up, all of a sudden
his mind gets illuminated: the origin manifests itself only when the
pretension of catching and conceiving it is abandoned.
are already beyond Descartes, because it is not all about finding a God
that corresponds to the representation we have of it, but it is about
God, who lets the humble and faithful man find Him.
exhorts to leave behind the occupations, the tumultuous thoughts, the
grave preoccupations, the tiring distractions, all things that hamper
contemplation and the quietness in God: the mind must be empty, in
order to be able to make itself ready for the careful listening of the
was a meditation about rationality of faith, a dialogue of the reason
with itself; Proslogion
is a work of the intellect that, dialoguing with God, aspires to gain
His contemplation. The first one is developed on the dimension of meditatio;
the second one raises itself to the plane of oratio
and, at least in perspective, to the one of contemplatio.
The still “too human” desire–if there was any–to “prove God”, becomes
here wish to find and love Him. Proslogion
starts where Monologion
ended: here we reach God after a dialectical and rational procedure;
there, what earlier was the searched becomes the re-searched, though ab origine
Anselm, and in medieval theology in general, the relationship between
intellect and reason is opposite, compared to the one we give for
granted from Descartes on.
Kant, there is nothing beyond the reason, in order to elaborate the
intuition’s matter and to submit it to the supreme unity of thought:
the intellect is a faculty to give unity to appearances through rules,
the reason is then the faculty to give unity to intellect’s rules, on
the basis of principles.
Hegel, the intellect (Verstand)
is the power that has aptitude to analysis,
while reason (Vernunft)
is the power that concerns synthesis and gains the universal,
recomposing the elements elaborated by the intellect.
In the Middle Ages
the word ‘intellect’ was meant man’s possibility to turn intuitively
and, somehow, participatively to Being as the fontal light, to the
principle of each sight and possibility to see; and it was called
‘reason’ the discursive ability to elaborate conceptual systems inside
the interior light.
the intellect is higher than the reason: it is the faculty that tries
to reach the One, the complexio oppositorum,
while reason only works by opposition and never reaches a further
result. The dimension, in which the Proslogion
moves, is that of intus-legere.
From this viewpoint, fides quaerens intellectum
does not mean that faith demands the reassuring conclusions of
demonstrative reason, but that a faith, already steady because of the
evidence of its own object, wants to be completed by the vision, which
is, at the highest grade, charity’s adhesion.
Prayer, in medieval perspective, is not a fall in the irrational, but
the landing to the necessary meta-rational dimension.
is not the calculating and ratiocinative mind, but the soul disposed to
the intellectual intuition–as long as we consider the right meaning of
“intellect”–of the Being that constitutes it. There isn’t any gnosis:
man can only aliquatenus intelligere
the divine nature.
§ 2, finally Anselm delivers his intuition:
quidem credimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit. An
ergo non est aliqua talis natura, quia ‘dixit insipiens in corde suo:
non est deus’? Sed certe ipse idem insipiens, cum audit hoc ipsum quod
dico […] intelligit quod audit; et quod intelligit in intellectu eius
est, etiam si non intelligat illud esse. […] Et certe id quo maius
cogitari nequit, non potest esse in solo intellectu. Si enim vel in
solo intellectu est, potest cogitari esse et in re, quod maius est.
that holds the first sentence, is faith in what is massime
evident. This is testified by the use of the first plural person: it is
not an opinion of mine–seems to say Anselm–but such a clear fact, that
can be shared by anybody. Only the ignorant (insipiens),
who does not use necessary reasons, can affirm the contrary: he can
affirm it, not actually think of it, because the not-being of every
being’s fundament cannot be thought.
§ 3, Anselm, after having showed God’s real existence, states also its
noetic necessity: inasmuch as it is thought, it must be thought as
existent–it cannot be thought as not-existent.
is not a second proof, since the strength of the argument is in its
It is rather a necessary consequence drawn by the argument, an
explication of something implicit there: the id quo maius cogitari nequit
not only actually exists–because otherwise it would be possible to
think of it as existent, that is greater as it is, which is
contradictory–but it is moreover thinkable only
as existent–because not being able to be thought of as not-existent is
greater than being able to be thought of as not-existent.
sentence “non est Deus” is nonsense; it can be pronounced, said, not
thought. In ignorance’s assertion, there is a gap between vox
starting point is not apologetic, but rigorously philosophical: I
recognize myself as thinking and, qua talis,
funded in and by a light that makes possible my being and knowing
myself as thinking; as a thinker, I know myself as belonging to a
source that precedes and funds my essence as a thinker. We call this
fundament God. If there were not such a Principium
as an event in my conscience, there would not be any conscience. But
there is the conscience; ergo, the possibility of God’s existence is
real and precedes it.
inherits Anselmian arguments from Descartes’ re-elaboration of it,
as he declares when he talks about the “famous ontological
without ever nominating explicitly Anselm.
treats the problem–already considered in relation to the fourth
antinomy–diffusely in the Transcendental Dialectic.
According to Kant, a merely verbal definition of the concept of the
absolutely necessary being is very easy: it is something, the not-being
of which is impossible. But this does not let us know anything about
the conditions, that make necessary to consider the not-being of
something as not thinkable. The unconditioned necessity of sentences
does not determine an absolute necessity of things.
critique is close to the one St.
etiam quod quilibet intelligat hoc nomine Deus significari hoc quod
dicitur, scilicet illud quo maius cogitari non potest; non tamen
propter hoc sequitur quod intelligat id quo significatur per nomen,
esse in rerum natura; sed in apprehensione intellectus tantum. Nec
potest argui quod sit in re, nisi paretur quod sit in re aliquid quo
maius cogitari non potest: quod non est datum a ponentibus Deum non esse.
identical sentence is contradictory if I deny the predicate and I save
the subject. But if they are both denied, there is no contradiction,
because there isn’t anymore something that can be contradicted. Saying
“God is not”, all predicates are denied together with the subject, so
that the sentence is not contradictory, and the related thought is not,
say that there is yet a concept–and precisely just one–the not-being of
which, or the negation of its object, is in itself contradictory: and
this is the realest concept among beings. This being–you say–has each
reality, and you are authorized to admit such a being as possible […]
Within the global reality, moreover, is included also the existence […]
I answer: you already fell into contradiction, when you introduced in
the concept of something […] the concept of its own existence.
illusion, therefore, came from an illegitimate metàbasis,
“from the exchange of a logical predicate with a real one”, of an
analytical predicate with a synthetic one.
Kant already established in The one possible argument for a demonstration of
existence is not a real predicate that adds something to the concept
expressed by the subject (it is not, in short, a “perfection”. “Being”
is simply the position of something or of certain determinations in
themselves. From the logical point of view, it is just the copula that
binds two concepts, not a further predicate. If I say: “God is”, I do
not add anything new to God’s concept, but I just pose the subject,
with all its real predicates. Object and subject must have the same
content, so that to the concept–which expresses the simple
possibility–nothing is added, by the fact that its object is thought as
absolutely given: the real does not contain anything else but the
simply possible. If it were not like that, it would not exist the thing
I thought of in my concept, but something more, so that I could not say
that the exact object of my concept exists: the one hundred coins I
have in mind correspond to the ones I find in reality; nothing is added
to them, by the fact that they actually exist. Through the concept, we
do not do anything but thinking of the object in accordance with the
universal conditions of the possible experience: our thought receives a
possible perception more.
way, the effort of the “famous ontological demonstration” did not lead
to any result, as regards the certification of the existence of a
man, starting from simple ideas, could become rich of knowledge so
little as much as a merchant could increase his own patrimony by adding
a few zeros to his account.
Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, moved by noble intents, replied to Anselm with
the famous example of the lost island. Here are his conclusions:
inquam per haec ille mihi velit astruere de insula illa quod vere sit
ambigendum ultra non esse: aut iocari illud credam, aut nescio quem
stultiorem debeam reputare, utrum me si ei concedam, an illum si se
putet aliqua certitudine insulae illius essentiam astruxisse, nisi
prius ipsam praestantiam eius solummodo sicut rem vere atque indubie
existentem nec ullatenus sicut falsum aut incertum aliquid in
intellectu meo esse docuerit.
careful: the lost island, like every other particular being, real or
fictitious, is not the only id quo maius cogitari nequit;
God is not in the mind like all other ideas or representations, but He
is there as the principle that structurally and ab origine
constitutes the intellect itself.
Anselm had already answered ante litteram:
igitur verissime omnium, et ideo maxime omnius habes esse: quia
quidquid aliud est non sic vere, et idcirco minus habet esse.
for what attains to the passage from the logical plane to the
ontological one, it can be considered arbitrary only if Parmenides’
intuition is forgotten: Thought and Being are co-funded in one another,
without any division: the Thought expresses the Being that funds it and
that in it announces itself.
welcomes with enthusiasm Anselm’s conclusions; he intends just to
perfect and deepen them. The means to do that are already contained at
the end of Anselm’s De veritate,
where he puts in evidence the ontological difference between the
eternal Truth and the single true affirmations:
the Truth is not generated by true sentences, but, vice versa, the
sentence is true inasmuch as it is adequate to the Truth.
references to the Anselmian theme are, in Bonaventure, very frequent;
but he develops it for the very first time in his Comment to the I Book of Sentences:
est veritas divini esse, ut non possit cum assensu cogitari non esse
nisi propter defectum ex parte intelligentis, qui ignorat, quid sit
Deus; ex parte vero intelligibilis non potest esse defectus nec
praesentiae nec evidentiae, sive in se, sive in probando.
thing is to conceive a word; another one is to think with consent,
assuming the responsibility of total involvement in what we are
is possible to think that something is not in two ways:
in ratione falsi,
sicut cogito de hac: homo est asinus; et hoc cogitare
nihil aliud est quam quid est, quod dicitur, intelligere. Hoc
modo potest cogitari non esse veritas divini esse. Alio modo
est cogitare cum assensu,
sicut cogito aliquid non esse, et credo non esse.
thought that something is not can depend on a defect of the intelligent
one (ex defectu intelligentis)
or on a defect of the intelligible one (ex defectu intelligibilis).
The first one is blindness or ignorance (caecitas vel ignorantia):
the mind thinks as real, something that has the same nature of what it
already acquired; so that, when it ignores something (= it did not
previously get it as a datum), it thinks that it is not:
autem dupliciter esse cogitationem de aliquo ente, videlicet si est
et quid est.
autem noster deficit in cogitatione divinae veritatis quantum ad
cognitionem, quid est,
tamen non deficit quantum ad cognitionem, si est.
that God, the Truth, is not, we deny what we should affirm. God, as the
principle of thinking, is condition of possibility of affirmation and
negation, so He cannot be denied together with His own predicates, as
Kant says. What I deny is my representation of God, not God
is true, that the intellect is lacking, as regards the quid est
of the divine truth, but it is equally true that it is not deficient as
regards the si est:
it cannot understand what
is Truth, but, at the same time, it cannot ignore or doubt
it is, because God temperavit
the notion in the mind, which means that He put it there in a form
compatible with man’s mental capacitas.
Intellect, therefore, cannot be unsuitable to cognitio si est Deus:
the quaestio utrum Deus sit an non
is already decided since the beginning:
ergo intellectus noster nunquam deficit in cognitione Dei, si est,
ideo nec potest ignorare, ipsum esse simpliciter, nec cogitari non esse.
intellect that denies God, in reality, does not think of the God of
Scriptures, the highest Truth, the supreme Unity, the sweetest
Goodness. It owns a false idea, which can, indeed, be denied, but this
would not have any relevance inside a coherent theological enquiry.
is lacking of the cognitio quid est,
thinks that God is what actually He is not (Deus esse quod non est),
an idol, for instance, or he believes that God is not what actually He
is (vel non esse quod est),
just, for instance (sicut Deum iustum).
Then, since who thinks that God is not what He is, consequently thinks
that God is not (ipsum non esse),
so, because of this deficiency of intellect, he concludes that God is
not summa Veritas,
not simply but generally, as who denies that beatitude is in God,
denies God Himself.
about intelligent one’s lacking. In another way, it is possible to
believe that something is not, because of a defect of the thing itself,
or, better, propter defectum a parte intelligibilis;
and this defect, can be twofold: of presence or of evidence (aut defectus praesentiae aut defectus evidentiae).
We have the first one, when the intelligible one is not present always,
everywhere and totally. But this is not the case of God, because
autem est semper et ubique et totus semper et ubique :
ideo non potest cogitari non esse. Hanc
rationem assignat Anselmus in libro contra insipientem.
intelligible one that is not evident can be so in se
or in probando.
But divini esse veritas est evidens et in se et in
it is evident because, as the cause of the predicate is included in the
sive summa veritas est ipsum esse, quo nihil melius cogitari potest:
ergo non potest non esse nec cogitari non esse. Praedicatum enim
claudutur in subiecto.
the other hand, God is evident ex probatione,
divinam veritatem esse probat et concludit omnis veritas et natura
creata, quia si est ens per partecipationem et ab alio, est ens per
essentiam et non ab alio. Probat etiam ipsam et concludit omnis
intelligentia recta, quia omni animae eius cognitio est impressa, et
omnis cognitio est per ipsam. Probat iterum ipsam et concludit omnis
propositio affirmativa; omnis enim talis aliquid ponit; et aliquo
posito ponitur verum; et vero posito ponitur veritas, quae est causa
divine Truth is therefore fount and condition of possibility of every
knowledge, of every truth and of every being, as essence of the
necessary Being that constitutes and lets subsist each creature. Our
thought turns toward the Being, because from Being it comes: God is not
a being among the other ones, but He is the one who donates the being,
so that He is originally and authentically. Only God properly is; we
just have the feature of being; everything comes to existence, called
by God who gives it. If we think truly to what we say, we cannot think
that He is not: the existence of created truth, testifies the presence
of the Truth that lets them be.
the Truth, as essence of Being, were not, then nothing would be. But if
I say: “There is not any truth”, I admit at least this truth, which,
again, refers to his transcendental condition:
est igitur, quod tanta
est veritas divini esse, quod cum assensu non potest cogitari non esse
nisi propter ignorantiam cogitantis, qui ignorat, quid
est quod per nomen Dei dicitur.
ends our text. Since this thought cannot be deduced from experience,
and since, on the other hand, nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in
we must conclude that it is inside us ab origine:
it is the one innate idea that forms the mind and guides it. There is
nothing truer than it: it is the truest principle of everything in man.
We could not know anything true, if there were not a fundament of
truth, a criterion that allows us to recognize
Bonaventure concludes, the meta-transcendental condition of our thought
cannot be but Anselm’s id quo maius cogitari nequit.
Anselm already passim
instead of maius;
at any rate, he had clarified in the Monologion
meaning of his idea of measure.
removes every possible residue equivoque, as he talks about melius
instead of maius:
non potest cogitari non esse verius est quam quod potest cogitari non
instead of cogitari:
esse est simpliciter perfectum esse: ergo est quo nihil intelligitur
the end, the true core of the argument is Parmenides’ intuition:
nothing can be denied, unless we start from a preliminary positive
element, that funds the possibility of every thought.