Russell and the Ontological Argument


  • Gregory Landini University of Iowa



It is well known that in Principia Mathematica Russell offers a theory of definite descriptions and holds that ‘existence’ is not a property. It is less well known that in “On Denoting” he discusses the version of Anselm’s ontological argument for God formulated by Descartes, accepting the premiss “Existence is a perfection” and assessing the argument as valid but question-begging. This is different from his later comments in A History of Western Philosophy which find the argument invalid. Indeed, given the sanctions of Principia, one might have thought he would find the argument logically ungrammatical. This paper shows how Russell might formulate and evaluate Anselm’s ontological argument and the version offered by Descartes in a way that avoids the conflict.