Yesterday, my students discussed Anselm’s Proslogion. I began both sections by claiming that they must feel relieved to have a big question like the existence of God so definitively settled, but naturally they were quite skeptical. As usually happens, the leap from the mind to reality proved to be a controversial point, but one student emphasized an aspect of the argument that I had not previously focused on in quite the same way: namely, the fact that Anselm claims that the concept of God exists in the mind once you understand it.
This gives God a kind of “toehold” in reality, in a way that perhaps narrows the gap the argument must leap over — the distinction isn’t between “merely” mental reality and “real” reality, but between a narrowly bounded reality (within the mind) and a more expansive reality (both in the mind and outside it). For this to work, of course, we need to presuppose that mental realities are not qualitatively different from extra-mental realities. This presupposition seems more plausible given that Anselm understands God’s being as intellectual in nature, and more generally insofar as Anselm seems to assume a basic harmony between human reason and spiritual or intellectual realities.
Thus Anselm’s argument cannot be, like Descartes’s, a way to “get out of your head.” Your mind is already participating in a broader “objective” intellectual realm, and that’s what enables the concept “that than which no greater can be thought” to explode out from the narrow confines of an individual mind into its own independent reality.
For Anselm, something like the modern subjective/objective divide just doesn’t exist, though it does in Gaunilo’s reply on behalf of the fool. And all this leads me to ask whether perhaps the fool isn’t so much a fool as a Kantian.