Praesidium

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Perfect Boyfriend and the Ontological Argument

This got started off in a conversation about imaginary ‘perfect boyfriends’. I know someone whose flatmates invented a perfect boyfriend, called Frederico, for her.

However, because “not everyone’s perfect” (by which I think they mean no one’s perfect – actually a completely different thing) they decided he had a ginger mullet. Someone else remarked something like “surely "not being real" is enough of a disadvantage to make him not perfect to start with, without him even needing the ginger mullet?”

This reminded me of the ‘ontological argument’ employed by the likes of St. Anselm and Descartes in an attempt to prove the existence of God. The gist of the argument is that God is by definition all perfect. If existence is a perfection (the controversial bit implied above) then God by definition exists - because whatever you could imagine with properties x, y, z would be more perfect if it had x, y, z + existence.

The problem with this is that the argument is supposed to run:
'God is all perfect'
'all perfection includes existence'
therefore 'God exists'.

The first premise, however, is slightly ambiguous, but effectively presupposes God's existence - that is, it's taken as 'there is a God who is all perfect'. If the argument is made explicitly hypothetical, it doesn't reach the conclusion. It should be:
'if there's a God, He is all perfect'
'all perfection includes existence'
therefore 'if there's a God, he exists', which is obviously less interesting...

Similarly if there is a perfect boyfriend, then he exists (because an imaginary one is obviously less than ideal), but one can’t suppose from the outset that a perfect boyfriend does exist and argue from there. The same would hold, of course, for girlfriends.

Actually, it reminds me of a joke about the perfect (husband-material) man:

Recently a "Husband Store" opened where women could go to choose a husband from among many men. It was laid out in five floors. The only rule was, once you opened the door to any floor, you HAD to choose a man from that floor; if you went up a floor, you couldn't go back down except to leave the place, never to return.

A couple of girls went to the shopping center to find some husbands...

First floor The door had a sign saying, "These men have jobs and love kids." The women read the sign and said, "Well, that's better than not having a job or not loving kids, but I wonder what's further up?" So up they went.

Second floor The sign read, "These men have high paying jobs, love kids, and are extremely good looking." "Hmmm," said the ladies, "But, I wonder what's further up?"

Third floor This sign read, "These men have high paying jobs, are extremely good looking, love kids and help with the housework." "Wow," said the women, "very tempting." But there was another floor, so further up they went.

Fourth floor This door had a sign saying "These men have high paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking, help with the housework and have a strong romantic streak." "Oh, mercy me," they cried, "just think what must be awaiting us further on!

So up to the fifth floor they went. Fifth floor The sign on that door said, "This floor is empty and exists only to prove that women are impossible to please. The exit is to your left."

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