Jul 19, 2013

Talk Radio Interview: Saint Anselm's Argument

Last night, I appeared as a guest on an internet radio talk show -- Theology Matters with the Pellews.  Devin Pellew turned out to be an engaging host, quite interested in the topic I had proposed to focus upon:  the "single argument" Saint Anselm elaborates in his early work, the Proslogion.

The first hour or so of the show was simply Devin and I, doing some back-and-forth discussion, starting with the more general, and then zeroing in on several key themes having to do with Anselm -- I'll say what those were shortly.  Then, we had the call-in segment, and I participated in some very enjoyable conversations with several different callers.

If you'd like to hear the show -- or to download the mp3 of it -- you can access it here.  For me, it was an opportunity to explore, in a different medium, some themes I've been thinking about for a long time, and to communicate my own interest in these themes to a broader, less academic audience -- the sorts of people actually, that Anselm himself spent much of his time working with, counseling, and even teaching.

So, what did we range over?  A number of topics that I think would make good starting points for future blog posts.  To start with, Anselm's "argument" turns out not to be the "ontological argument" (a name he wouldn't recognize, since it appears only from the time of Kant onward), but rather a much broader, deeper, yet more interesting structure that runs through nearly the whole of the Proslogion. This shouldn't be surprising, really, if we look at what Anselm himself tells us the argument is suppose to attempt and attain -- or if we actually read the Monologion, for whose multiple arguments this "single argument" is supposed to substitute.

We also talked about Anselm's own purposes in providing this argument in a written form -- he's not doing Christian apologetics as we often conceive of it, not trying to produce arguments to convince the unbelievers primarily.  Rather, he tells us that he felt joy in discovering and exploring the argument, and wanted to share that experience -- or at least its apparatus -- with others.  Interestingly, this wasn't how he felt about it at the start or in the middle of his enquiry.  Another key theme, which I'll doubtless blog about later this Fall, is how Anselm could think, for a while. . .  that the argument might actually be a trick of the Devil.