[FOM] The characteristic S5 axiom and the ontological argument

Allen Hazen allenph at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Apr 10 02:05:19 EDT 2009

My feeling is that Gödel, in developing his ontological argument, was
attempting to reconstruct Leibniz'z argument rather than presenting a new
argument "in propria persona".  (The legend has it that he was reluctant to
publish it "for fear that people would think he believed in God"-- since he
DID believe in God, this makes no sense.  My guess is that he actually told
Morgenstern that he was reluctant to publish for fear that people would
think he was advancing THIS argument for God's existence, and that
Morgenstern misunderstood or misremembered.  ... Since Morgenstern seems to
be the main source for the story about Gödel's citizenship exam and supposed
discovery of a logical flaw in the U.S. Constitution, I'm left wondering
abut the accuracy of that story too!)

The short formal argument is easily seen to be valid, and it's clear that
Gödel thought establishing its premisses was the hard part.  The excerpts
from his notebooks published in the appendix to Vol. III of "Collected
Works" suggest that he tried for some time to find an interpretation of the
notion of a "positive property" on which the whole argument would be
convincing, but didn't find anything that satisfied him.  (I discussed this
more longwindedly in a paper in the "Australasian Journal of Philosophy,"
vol. 76 (1998), pp. 361-377.)

Leibniz, of course, was developing Descartes's version, which he thought was
all right as far as it went but needed to be supplemented by a proof that a
being with all perfections was at least possible.  Gödel seems to have
thought that Leibniz was right about what was easy and what difficult!


Allen Hazen
Philosophy (PASI) 
University of Melbourne

On 7/4/09 12:18 AM, "Alex Blum" <blumal at mail.biu.ac.il> wrote:

> I wonder if Godel noticed that ...

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