While this set of sentences has the surface structure of a formalargument, its persuasive force lies at a different level. A meditatorwho is having trouble perceiving that necessary existence is containedin the idea of a supreme perfect being can attain this perceptionindirectly by first recognizing that this idea includes everyperfection. Indeed, the idea of a supremely perfect being just is theidea of a being having all perfections. To attempt to exclude any orall perfections from the idea of a supremely being, Descartes observes,involves one in a contradiction and is akin to conceiving a mountainwithout a valley (or, better, an up-slope without a down-slope). Havingformed this perception, one need only intuit that necessary existenceis itself a perfection. It will then be clear that necessary existenceis one of the attributes included in the idea of a supremely perfectbeing.
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It is widely believed that Descartes did not have a response to thisobjection, indeed that he blithely assumed that existence is aproperty without ever considering the matter carefully. But this isnot the case. The seventeenth-century empiricist Pierre Gassendiconfronted Descartes with this criticism in the Fifth Set ofObjections (and deserves credit for being the first to enunciate it):“existence is not a perfection either in God or in anythingelse; it is that without which no perfections can be present”(AT 7:323; CSM 2:224). As with most of his replies to Gassendi (whomhe regarded as a loathsome materialist and quibbler), Descartesresponded somewhat curtly. But it is clear from the discussion insection 2 that he had the resources for addressing this objection in asystematic manner.
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