The Ontological Argument first proposed by St. Anselm goes like this:
If the Greatest Possible Being exists, then that Being also has the trait of existence. A being which does not have the trait of existence it is a lesser being (and therefore couldn’t be the “Greatest”).
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One of the greatest responses to this is Immanuel Kant’s objection that “being’ is obviously not a real predicate.” If you have an imaginary stack of coins, it will have the same value as an actual stack of the coins.
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The answer to this is actually quite tricky because it is built into the Kant’s assumption of value. He talks about value as if there was only monetary value. Yet we know that there are many different values, depending on what you are talking about. This means he is committing the logical fallacy of “equivocation”.
The value of coins (and money in general) is really what two (or more) people agree that value of coins to be. What those coins can do is only relative to what those exchanging the coins agree it’s worth. That is why there is such a thing as bartering.
When one holds coins and is ready to trade, he (in reality) is ready to trade a physical medium of influence or power. Therefore Kant was talking about the value of power. He did not distinguish that power and existence are separate values.
The only difference between existence and other values (such as power, order, and light) is that most other values have gradients to see greater or lesser. One this closer to a whole of a being than the other. For power you can have $100 which is greater than $10; for order you can have the Mona Lisa which is more symmetrical than broken scribbles; for light you can have a gamma wave that is “brighter” than a micro wave.
Each thing has a point of reference in which you can gauge whether it is closer-to or farther-from the whole version of its being. The whole version of power would be omnipotence. The whole version of order would be perfect symmetry. The whole version of light would be some sort of omniphoteinos. With existence, there is no gradient. Something either exists or it doesn’t.
That is not to say that there aren’t degrees of being. We are not necessarily a whole being simply because we exist. As the Bible says, we are flawed, imperfect, with a sin nature. God upholds us by His mercy. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) When I said “something either exists or it doesn’t” I was telling a half-truth to make it more simple to understand. There are really 3 levels of being: non-existence, contingent existence, and necessary existence. The Contingency argument holds that anything that exists is either contingent on something else that necessarily exists. Suffice it to say that everything but God (including us) is contingent on God’s necessary existence.
Kant, Immanuel and Norman Kemp Smith. Critique of Pure Reason. London: Macmillan. 2nd ed. 1958. 620–631. Print.
Zimmerman, Dean, and Alvin Plantinga. “Ontological Argument.” YouTube. N.p., 28 June 2009. Web. 09 July 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCXvVcWFrGQ>.
Related Article: “We were talking about St. Peter.”