JEAN PAUL SARTRE
Being and Nothingness
(Part One, chs. 1 and 2)
Modes of Negation
||The conceptual pair "Being
and Nothing(ness)" denotes for Sartre the central ontological
relation as discussed in German Philosophy (notably in Hegel and Heidegger).
||A student of existentialism might be surprised
to find that the concept of "being" occupies a much more
prominent position in Being and Nothingness than the concept
of "existence". While this prominence fits the overal emphasis
of phenomenological ontology on "what is" it is not immediately
clear how it could be conducive for the aspired concreteness of existential
analysis. Indeed, the word "being" in the sense of "whatever
is" represents the most general meaning (like "thing")
one can think of. But Sartre uses the term "being" predominantly
in the distinctive sense of "what grounds" something (for
instance, "the being of consciousness"). This is still a
metaphysical usage (it is no coincidence that "being" has
had such a long and rich metaphysical career), but Sartre had several
good reasons to adopt this metaphysical terminology via German philosophy
(Hegel and Heidegger). The most important one is that it was very
helpul in avoiding the traditional Cartesian duality of subject and
object. Once the ghost of dualism was averted it was possible to regard
man as a concrete totality in the sense of "being-in-the-world".
||Sartre begins his exposition in the Introduction
with a general concept of "being", but soon divides it into
two regions: "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself".
This division is Hegelian by its origin (The Logic introduces
this distinction to show how it is instantly mediated). Sartre however
thinks that the chasm is in fact unbridgeable. This finding might
arouse associations with the Cartesian dualism of body and soul (or
extended and thinking substance respectively). A dualism of this kind
is, of course, not what Sartre would like to end up with. Thus he
raises the question Descartes once had to face: How to establish the
connection between the two?
||Descartes' suggestion to go through imagination
is not a viable option (Sartre is not interested in correlation of
the mind and the body and he does not conceive imagination the way
Descartes did). But he values Descartes' methodological advise: "It
is not profitable first to separate the two terms of a relation in
order to try to join them together again later." Since the relation
at stake is one of synthesis the moments of the synthesis cannot be
used to re-connect the results of analysis (this would be a fallacy
If the synthesis of the two regions of being is not possible
in principle it is understandable why Sartre contends that human reality
is "by nature an unhappy consciousness with no possibility of
surpassing its unhappy state". Read skeptically these lines seem
to refer to Hegel's attempt to overcome the abstract opposition of
being and nothing first in "becoming" and then in "being-for-self".
Sartre suspected a kind of circulus in the Logic of Hegel emerging
with the claim that negativity lies in the heart of Being and that
an ideal being is a synthesis of being and nothing.
||An abstraction is made when something not
capable of existing in isolation is thought of as in an isolated state
By definition ab-stractum is something extracted or separated
from its original whole. For instance, red is an abstraction
because it cannot exist without something which bears it as its property
(a red hood).
This is already the old Aristotle, although Sartre refers here to
||The concrete, conversely, is a totality which
can exist by itself alone. For instance, a thing with all its
determinations, located in space and time. (Con-cretum in Latin
denotes the unity of both the material and formal components. This
is also Aristotle - think of his notion of synolon.)
||If we apply this classical criteria of concreteness
on consciousness and the phenomenon then we have to regard them both
as abstract. The former has its ontological source in the realm of
the "in-itself" (consciousness is always consciousness of
some-body), the latter presupposes a consciousness for which it appears
as a phenomenon.
Therefore to begin with "experience" as Kant did who inquired
into the conditions of possibility for something to be given to our
consciousnes is as abstract as the phenomenological reduction of Husserl
who reduces the world to "the state of the noema-correlate of
consciousness". Starting from these abstractions is not possible
to restore the concrete by a reverse summation (adding the moments
that have been previously taken away). Otherwise Spinoza would be
able to reach substance by summing up all its modes and attributes.
||The concrete can be only "the synthetic
totality" of which consciousness and phenomenon are the moments.
So the concrete would be a man within the world (Heidegger's "being-in-the
world"). Hence Sartre decides to focus his attention on the phenomenological
description of the totality that "man-in-the-world" represents.
This description leads from abstract concepts to the concrete which
is rather a result than a simple illustration.
||Sartre defines human consciousness in terms
of nothigness in order to emphasize the rift between the mode of things
and the mode of human existence. To say in a traditional way that
man is an animal endowed with reason blurs, for Sartre, the main point:
that human consciousness is not just a part of the universal order
of being - it constitutes the world and that order itself. This constitution
is rendered possible by virtue of the nothigness of consciousness
which in the form of "a lack of identity" provides the condition
for the possibility of self-deception ("bad faith"). Without
the "lack of identity" it would not be possible to attain
self-awareness and the world would consist only of the being-in-itself
||But without the syntehtic ability of consciousness
that world would be non-existent. Even the principle of identity (A=A),
which traditionally figures as an analytic (logical) principle, represents,
for Sartre, a work of consciousness and is therefore in its nature
IV BAD FAITH AND FALSITY
||Sartre starts this section by claiming two
(1) Man discloses "negativities" (negatites) in the
(2) Man takes negative attitudes with respect to himself.
French negatite should be rendered literaly as "negativity"
but the word has assumed very strong evaluative (and inappropriate)
connotations in English. Hence it is sometimes preferable to resort
to the less ontologically grounded term "negation" althugh
it suggests arouses associations with the realm of judgments whereas
Sartre means both deficiences and existing absences.
||(I) The Inherent Negativity of Consciousness:
Statement (1) refers to human consciousness which introduces the "Not"
(differentiation) in the previously amorphous plenitude of the world.
The "question" from "now that we have examined the
meaning of the 'question'..." refers to questioning as the way
how consciousness reflectively acts and makes negation possible ("no",
"not", "nothingness") .
Furthermore, Sartre hints at the fact that consciousness itself is
never fully identical to itself as it always has to do something else
with its own facticity. Its being always goes beyond something, so
much so that Sartre rather calls it "nothingness". What
makes the being of consciousness special is that it is conscious of
"the nothigness of its being".
||(II) The External Negativity of Consciousness:
(A) Consciousness can envision a negativity with regard to others
and proclaim it as a ban. It is typically manifested in the form of
a prohibition or a veto that denies a future transcendence to others
|| (B) Sartre focuses here rather on the "nihilation"
that consciousness itself represents for others. He maintains that
this negation is not "explicative" as the first one. Consciousness,
simply by being a real human consciousness, could appear as the negation
of possibility which another human reality projects. For instance,
the negation of a slave's freedom is visible in the way how the master
looks upon the slave. In this case it assumes the mode of a "Not"
without being made explicit. This "Not" is embodied in different
social roles or professions (masters, guards, caretakers, overseers,
goalers). Sartre is very sensitive toward the gallery of various oppresive
||The bearers of this "Not" are twofold:
(a) Those who represent certain Not and live as embodied restrictions
(b) Those who develop their subjectivity as "a perpetual negation"
(Scheler's "men of resentment").
More Subtle Negativity of Consciousness:
Apart from these outward negations, directed toward others, Sartre
is particularly interested in the more "subtle" kinds of
behavior that also display the negation of consciousness.
||Sartre here mentions "irony" which
he defines as a kind of anihilation of what is posited in one and
the same act. In saying that irony "affirms to deny and denys
to affirm" he obviously refers to that structural feature of
this "figure" which creates two levels of meaning by mentioning
only one. Thus irony "creates a positive object which has no
being other than its nothigness".
||(IV) Self-denying Forms of Consciousness:
But irony is also directed toward others, unless it assumes the form
of self-irony. Sartre wants to examine precisely the attitudes of
negation toward the self. This requires a different focus. But he
does not want to discuss the attitude of self-negation in its general
form. The manifestations of "self-negation" are so diverse
that any attempt to find out their common form would come out very
abstract and uninformative.
||The only all-embracing aspect of various
"self-negations" is the question:
What is the being of man who has the possibility of denying himself?
This question may suggests that Sartre is going to give a thorough
phenomenological description of such a man. In reality he wants to
define the universal conditions of possibility for self-denying acts
||Instead of trying to spell out general
characteristics of self-negation Sartre chooses to single out one
characteristic form of self-negation which is "essential to human
reality". That form he finds in the mechanism of "bad faith"
which thus becomes the main object of his analysis.
||Sartre starts his study of "bad faith"
(movaise foi) with the assertion that "bad faith"
is frequently identified with "falsehood" (falsite).
This identification is acceptable for Sartre only in a very qualified
sense. "Bad faith" is defined as "lying to oneself"
and lying is assumed to be a kind of falsity.
We use the word "falsity" as the general
term for all deviations from the truth and all forms of lying, while
reserving "falsehood" only for the neutral, harmles lie
committed out of ignorance. Logic and epistemology are after the conditions
of truth, and therefore they deal with falsehood mostly insofar as
it is an unintended fallacy. Hence they study falsehood only cursorily
leaving aside lying and falsity as a kind of "negative attitude".
These criteriological disciplines are very careful to avoid the usage
of the "strong" word "lie", not only because they
want to be politically correct, but first and foremost because they
regard lying as a psychological moment of falsity. In contrast, existential
theory pays attention precisely to the neglected pragmatic, psychological
and social aspects of falsity. It turns out that lying is much more
interesting than telling the truth. It is much more complex and diverse
and also more common (studies show that we lie 10 to 15 times a day).
In a way, man is a being who can lie and who lies on very different
levels (PR specialists, commercials, history books, media). Insofar
Sartre's focus on lying is not misplaced and exaggerated.
Gamut of Lying:
|| Sartre sharply distinguishes "lying
in general" from "lying to oneself". In order to demonstrate
the magnitude of this difference he undertakes a very elaborate phenomenological
analysis of various kinds of lying. Within that spectrum falsehood
is distinguished from "lying in general" as a kind of unintended
||Lying is an example of "negative attitude"
(it negates the truth by producing something else "beyond"
it, something "transcendent" which does not exist). The
lie aims at this transcendence while leaving the consciousness of
the liar untouched. In fact, "the original negation" in
liar's mind rests on a truth. Lying that A is not A presupposes the
truth that A equals A. "The essence of the lie implies in fact
that the liar actually is in complete possession of the truth which
he is hiding."
||Sartre believes that the consciousness of
a liar in this sense is "a cynical consciousness", which
knows the truth inside but still denies it otwardly along with its
denial ("doubly negative attitude"). The negation of truth
is executed "in words" and appears as an external event
in the world. But this negation does not affect the consciousness
which within itself clearly separates the lie from the truth. Therefore
"the inner disposition" of the liar remains positive.
A cynical consciousness knows that things are bad, but surmises that
they cannot be better. It claims that nothing could be done to improve
the conditions although it knows that something needs to be done.
The inner affirmation of the truth for myself is therefore correlative
for the cynical consciousness with the external affirmation of the
lie. Of course, cynical lying and cynicism are not abosultely equivalent
|| A liar is intent to deceive others, but
he is aware of that intention and he does not hide it from himself.
On the contrary, he can always decide to resort to a "secondary
behavior" outside of the original context (or even change the
story and "turn the page" altogether). His public assurances
("I'd never want to deceive you! This is true. I swear it!")
entail an "inner negation", but the liar ascribes it not
to himself but to the character he is playing before the "consumer"
of his lie. This character is not him, for he knows well the truth
and this lie does not put into the play the inner structure of his
One should note that the acted character remains transcendent with
regard to the consciousness of the liar. Strictly speaking he does
not exist, he is a fabrication of consciousness as is the object of
the lie. In no way does it affect the inner structure of liar's consciousness.
Lie in this sense is totally "a behavior of transcendence"
- it affects only others. The liar has open recourse to his consciousness
and he exercises "a regulatory control" over all possible
attitudes including handy explanations in case that the lie does not
"fly" or is exposed.
As J. Catalano explains in his Commentary of Being and Nothingness
(1976), the term transcendence applied to a lie has two meanings:
(1) A lie is "transcendent" because it is "directed
beyond, or outside, one subject to another", and (2) its basis
(its potential truth) is "outside the nature of consciousness"
||In contrast to the conscious intention to
distort something Sartre points out that "a man does not lie
about what he is ignorant of; he does not lie when he spreads an error
of which he himself is the dupe; he does not lie when he is mistaken."
This is a strong indication that there is a difference between a lie
and a mistake. Although Sartre does not make explicitly all necessary
terminological distinctions it seems that we are not permitted to
identify the lie as he describes it with falsity in the sense of mistake
or error. Therefore it advisable to reserve the more neutral term
"falsehood" for unintended false statements and to move
to other forms of lying.
||It seems that "the ideal lie" needs
to be distinguished from "common" (or "popular")
lie as well. The major difference pertains to the condition of liar's
consciousness. According to Sartre, "common lie" partially
affects the liar who falls prey to it. We should certainly give Sartre
credit for an undogmatic psychological observation when he allows
that a liar could himself start believing in his lie. Reasons for
this state of half-persuadeness could vary, but the fact is that a
clear cut separation between the consciousness and the lie does not
always exist. Sartre admits this but he contends that these forms
of lie are "degenerate aspects" of "ideal lying".
He places them as "intermediaries" between "falsehood"
(mistake) and "bad faith".
||Lie in its ideal form is possible only within
certain social context. It requires the Other. In this sense Sartre
says: "The lie is also a normal phenomenon of what Heidegger
calls the 'Mitsein'." = Being-with-others. Lie both requires
the existence of others and commonly occurs between me and others.
||Being-with-others as a precondition for lying
includes at least four aspects of social space:
(1) My existence
(2) The existence of the Other
(3) My existence for the Other
(4) The existence of the Other for me
||More specific conditions for lying are stated
(A) An over-all opacity must hide my intentions from the Other (otherwise
everybody could read my thoughts as an open book and lying would fail);
(B) The Other must be able to take the lie for truth (if nobody is
ready to buy the lie it will not sell).
J. Catalano breaks down the first condition into two: I must believe
into something and I must say to another the opposite of what I believe.
If we interpret the "over-all opacity" in this way, then
Sartre is right in claiming "it is sufficient" that these
two conditions are met to have a lie; otherwise A and B will be only
||(x) By means of a lie consciousness makes
itself "hidden from the Other". Consciousness affirms its
concealed existence by producing the lie.
(y) Consciousness takes advantage of the "ontological duality"
that exists between myself (1) and "myself in the eyes of the
Other" (3). I treat (perceive) the other as an object (in itself)
while the other takes me fro what I am not. The phrase "myself
in the eyes of the Other" refers to an "acted myself"
that a liar creates for others.
||The social space makes lying possible and
accounts for circumstance that lying is a conscious project. There
is no difficulty in claiming that a liar must do both: (i) pursue
the project of the lie "in entire clarity", and (ii) possess
"a complete comprehension of the lie and of the truth which he
is altering". (See the first colum in the chart below!)
||(A) Based on the foregoing analysis of lying
Sartre now tries to explain more closely the device of "bad
faith". He immediately notices some similarities with "the
structure of falsehood" (lying) in general: The person who "practices
bad faith" is hiding something as does any liar. The concealment
of "bad faith" is twofold: either a "displeasing truth"
is supressed or a "pleasing untruth" endorsed. The subject
of "bad faith" also needs the shield of opacity over
his consciousness. As in the case of lying to others, "there
must be an original intention" of performing "bad faith".
(B) But Sartre also quickly notes significant differences between
ideal lying and "bad faith". The most important one is that
"in bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth".
Consequently, there is no "duality of the deceiver and the deceived"
in the form of myself being opposed to the Other. In "bad faith"
I do not deceive others nor do they deceive me. The being-with-others
plays only a secondary role, as a reservoir of situations that I may
choose to handle by means of "bad faith". Because of that
the above stated presuppositions and conditions of lying do not apply
mechanically to "bad faith". This necessitates a more specific
description of bad faith:
of Bad Faith:
|Is a negation (denial of oneself).
|Is a falsity (self-deception).
Falsity of Bad Faith:
Is not a lie and it is a lie.
|Is not a lie for the other who would take it for truth.
|It is a lie for oneself.
||In general, "bad faith" is not
induced from without, one cannot contract "bad faith" as
a desease nor can one enter into it as if it were "a state"
of mind. Based on this circumstance Sartre advances the thesis that
"there must be an original intention and a project of bad faith".
|| If "bad faith" is a project, as
Sartre now contends, then the bearer of that project must know what
he is doing all along (in other words, he must have "a comprehension
of bad faith as such"). We can also easily glean a preson's reasons
for resorting to "bad faith" if it is really the case that
"bad faith" hides "a displeasing truth" or presents
as truth "a pleasing untruth". But the most important trait
of the person who performs "bad faith" is that his knowledge
must also include "a pre-reflective apprehension of consciousness
as affecting itself with bad faith". For the person who lies
and the person to whom the lie is told are one and the same. Amazingly,
the deception of "bad faith" occurs in "the unity of
a single consciousness" (or "in the unitary structure of
a single project") which both produces the deception and succumbs
to it while possessing the awareness of the truth. Sartre formulates
the unitarian character of the "bad faith project" as follows:
"I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden
from me in my capacity as the one deceived."
Due to this duality the Sartrean concept of "bad faith"
excludes both a trivial distribution of truth and lie in different
life stages (different points of time) and a pathological cohabitation
of two separate personalities within the self (a la dr. Jackil and
|| The foregoing description of "bad faith"
presents two major problems. The first is that it requires one and
the same person to appear in the opposing roles of a deceiver and
and the decieved. Thus the person in bad faith has to perform two
contradictory actions. I must know the truth since I am lying and
at the same time I must not know it since I am being deceived. More
precisely, "I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal
it more carefully". In other words, to be successful in lying
to myself, I have to perform these opposing actions as both the condition
of possibility for "bad faith" and its inner impossibility.
Hence, after explaining the absence of the "lying" duality
(= ontological duality) in "bad faith" Sartre raises the question: "How
then can the lie subsist if the duality which conditions it is supressed?"
The lie requires the duality of the deceiver and the deceiver but
bad faith denies precisely this duality.
From the foregoing description it clearly follows that the person
who affects himself with "bad faith" must be aware of his "bad faith".
To support this conclusion Sartre refers to his dictum that "the
being of consciousness is consciousness of being". Consciousness
is always consciousness of something and at the same time "non-positional
consciousness of itself". In other words, as consciousness
is self-referential and pre-reflective it is not possible to do
something that involves your consciousness without being conscious
of it. Since Sartre believes that consciousness must be totally
transparent to itself the aforementioned difficulty now turns into
a real paradox and this no matter whether the self-awareness of
"bad faith" takes the form of cynical lie or "good faith". In both cases
"bad faith" is rendered impossible.
(A) Bad Faith cannot be Cynical Lie: Briefly put, bad faith
is a lie to myself although I cannot lie to myself deliberately.
If I try to lie to me cynically the attempt fails immediately for
the very simple reason that I cannot but unveil the falsity of the
content that I am trying to forge: "the lie falls back and
collapses beneath my look; it is ruined from behind by the
very consciousness of lying to myself which pitilessly constitutes
itself well within my project as its very condition".
(B) Bad Faith cannot be Good Faith: By its very name
bad faith must be different from good faith. The problem is that
it presupposes and requires good faith if it is conscious of itself.
"It appears that I must be in good faith, at least to the extent
that I am conscious of my bad faith." But then my bad faith
is overcome by good faith, or good faith supervenes on bad faith,
which is absurd and excludes the very reality of bad faith. If I
must possess good faith in order to be able to fall into bad faith
then my state of mind is contradictory in itself and my consciousness
is rendered impossible ("this whole psychic system is anihilated").
||In view of these difficulties, the question
arises how such a psychic system could exist in the first place. If
lying to oneself occurs within one and the same consciosness which
unites the deciver and the decieved and this consciousness is prereflectively
aware of the deceit which it is trying to "sell" to itself,
then it becomes very difficult to maintain such a consciousness. How
then is bad faith possible? Maybe it is just a Sartre's fiction?
||Sartre has not discovered a new phenomenon - he has only named and thoroughly analyzed a longstanding experience of self-deception. However, the possibility of self-deception has been always taken as self evident. Demosthenes , for instance, claimed that "the easiest thing pf all is to deceive one's self". Sartre sees here a problem: How can I buy the lie that I disclose as a lie? Or conversely, how can I be deceived if I am not in ignorance? But how can I deceive myself while knowing that I deceiving myself?
||No, it is very real, though as real as the
difficulty to understand it. "We can neither reject nor comprehend
bad faith". We cannot dismiss something that possesses evident
reality but we cannot comprehend something which is in itself contradictory.
What is the solution? How bad faith could be understood? Could it
be understood at all?
||In order to avoid the problem of having to
posit in one and the same person two opposing roles, psychoanalysis
entirely avoids the notion of bad faith. To be able to explain how
one can believe his own lies psychoanalysis introduces the duality
of the Id and Ego and takes recourse to the unconscious which allegedly
functions as "a lie without a liar". The Id burries the
truth in itself which remains hidden from the Ego. But Sartre retorts
that whichever instance performs the lie (Id, Ego or something in
between) it must be aware of its deception. "How could the censor
discern the impulses needing to be repressed without being conscious
of discerning them?" If so this awareness must be present in
our consciousness. Psychoanalysis only circumvents the problem by
establishing another consciousness in bad faith without naming it
explicitely (Sartre calls it the "censor"). Moreover, by
separating the Id from our consciousness psychoanalysis treats the
Self as the Other and cannot regain the "conscious unity of the
||Sartre rejects the idea that I approach my
consciuosness as the Other. My consciousness, if it is mine, must
be "intimate" to me. Despite its transcendet character it
is translucent to me. And it is unitary although not
a priori. This does not mean that I could not be wrong in interpreting
Note 1: In this vein Sartre interprets the case of "a frigid
woman" as reported by Steckel: she is in bad faith because she
rejects to be present when she really experiences sexual pleasure.
Thus she hides the true nature of her disorder both from herself and
the therapist. But how a patient can develop strategies to avoid self-insight
if she is not aware of the truth?
Note 2: The thesis of "translucency" is formulated
both against Descartes' claim that we perceive ideas as objects and
Freud's idea of unconscious censorship. If there is no mediation (distinction)
between knowing and what is known on the prereflective level, then
nothing could be hidden from my consciousness.
|| If the unconscious conciousness is not possible
due to the translucent character of consciousness how can we deceive
ourselves? To be sure, the failure of psychoanalysis by itself does
not solve the problem It only reaffirms its persistence and highlights
its complexity. In pointing to its intricacies Sartre has not invented
a non-existing phenomenon. On the contrary, he has alerted everyone
both to its reality and contradictory character. If the mechanism
of bad faith is contradictory in itself a good analysis should not
do away with its inner tensions. Perhaps these tensiions are the very
essence of "bad faith". They both constitute and implode
the psychic structure of bad faith. Bad faith is definitely a very
"precarious" phenomenon. How can we comprehend a paradox?
It is not possible. But we can live a paradox. It is no accident that
Sartre is much more convincing in describing the reality of bad faith
than in explaining its possibility.
||The fact that something is contradictory
in itself does not make it less real. By the same token the fact that
bad faith is not stable does not render it non-existent. Sartre acknowledges
that bad faith is both a "paradoxical" and "evanescent"
phenomenon but he insists that it is very real and common. It is particularly
characteristic for the so called "metastable" psychic structures
(the structures that are subject to sudden changes or transitions).
Although very common and frequent, "bad faith" could not
be fixated because it "vacillates continually between good faith
and cynicims". Bad faith is "in between" and it exists
only by differentiating itself from good faith and a straight lie.
A person can live in bad faith (bad faith is even "the normal
aspect of life for a great number of people") but he can have
outbursts of cynicism or good faith as well. This could immensely
confuse the observer, but is not surprising given the fundamental
free character of our projects.
|Based on the analysis from section 4, which
locates the phenomenon of bad faith in the context of different forms
of lying (falsity), we can produce the following chart:
Spectrum of Falsity
||Ideal Lie Cynicism
||Bad faith Dishonesty
||Popular Common Lie
||Falsehood Mistake Error
|Position of Deceit
|Direction of Lie
||Both oneself (less) and
||Both oneself (more) and
||Paradox of Lying
||Paradox of Sincerety
|* In the case of popular lying the liar's
consciousness becomes affected at least partially because he himself
becomes the victim of his own lie he (starts to believe it in order
not to perceive himself as a hypocrat). Conversely, a person who spreads
an unintentional lie (mistake) is affected himself more intensively
with his own falsehood while the others are affected by it only secondarily
insofar as they believe it.
|**At first glance one could be surprised
that the above chart of various forms of falsity includes striving
for truth and sincerety as well. The justification for this strange
taxonomy is not just formal (truth as the zero degree of lie) but
substantial. As Sartre shows by the end of the next section, the project
of "good faith" and sincerety implies a striving to be ultimately
self-identical with itself, that is to become "something"
and so to escape from our own nothingness. This striving is nothing
else but a form of "bad faith".
PATTERNS OF BAD FAITH
||In section 5 Sartre suggests to handle the
difficulty involved in positing two contradictory actions in one and
the same person by examining "more closely" the patterns
of bad faith. In contrast to psychoanalysis he does not promise an
instant solution for the difficulty, but intimates that a "full
flesh and blood" phenomenological description could "perhaps"
reveal the "conditions of possibility of bad faith" and
so explain how something that resists understanding can still exist.
The answer to this "transcendental" question would illuminate
the initial question: "What must be the being of man if he is
to be capable of bad faith?"
||In order to be able to illustrate the dynamic
of bad faith in its internal tensions Sartre brilliantly analyses
the conduct of a woman who has accepted a date without wanting to
engage herself in a relationship. She wants to go out and enjoy the
attention of his companion including his sexual advances, but she
cannot admit to herself that she just want to have a good time and
that she will be "advanced" to sexuality. Instead she engages
herself in a whole series of signifying transformations that either
cover the reality of her situation or lend it an entirely idealistic
Note: Even those who do
not feel any affinity for Sartre's philosophical style and his ontology
admit that his phenomenological analysis of "bad faith"
is very interesting and penetrating.
||The woman recognizes only the immediate,
the present and the literal (explicit) meaning of the situation, while
rejecting or supressing all ideal, figurative and transcendent connotations.
She does not want to recognize that this date is "the
first approach" in the looming relationship. She reduces the
date to a hang out in a restaurant and does not recognize any implicit
signals and messages that could point to something in the future (no
"temporal development", only "nows" disconnected
from "possibilities"). She restricts everything in the situation
to what is immediately present and just physically visible. She translates
the compliments she recieves ("you are so attractive") into
neutral mention of objective features. She transforms the interlocutor
into a regular, decent guy who states certain qualities of her physique
as he would describe the colors of surrounding objects.
||The woman rejects all real and present attributes
of the growing desire and recognizes instead only the transcendent,
lofty and respectable motives and implications of her consent.
The woman knows very well why the man invited her out and
she knows very well that his intentions include his sexual desires.
But she disregards his visible desire and focuses solely on what is
respecful and discreet in his behavior. She chooses to interpret the
attention as referring only to her personality, which is tantamount
to a recognition of her freedom. "She refuses to apprehend the
desire for what it is; she does not even give it a name; she recognizes
it only to the extent that it transcends itself toward admiratiom,
esteem, respect and that is wholy absorbed in the more refined forms
which it produces, to the extent of no longer figuring anymore as
a sort of warmth and density".
||Not only that she knows both the intentions
and the desires she inspires. She needs them and paradoxically wants
them despite her refusal to take them into account. An unmediated,
directly expressed desire would probabaly "horrify" and
"humiliate" her, but she would be equally disappointed and
humiliated if the man would not desire her sexually. In that case
she would be reduced to an object of abstract appreciation and her
"attractive body" would have been ignored. She both wants
and does not want the naked desire. In that sense Sartre says that
"she does not quite know what she wants".
||The woman knows that every "going out"
with a man who does not hide his intentions will require from her
to make a decision sooner or later. But she does not want to recognize
the urgency of that decision. She wants to postpone it as long as
possible to be able to extend the moment (insofar as it is not binding)
into "a permanence".
But what to do when the plot becomes so thick that no delay seems
to be possible any longer (her partner takes her hand)? If she leaves
her hand under his this would mean only one thing, the acceptance
of the flirt. On the other hand, if she withdraws her hand, the charm
of the moment will be gone. She finds the solution that prolongs the
moment: she chooses not to notice that her hand is resting on the
table embraced by her companion's hand.
||The outcome is that her own hand becomes
estranged to her, separated from her and left as an inert mass on
the table. It has become a thing, deprived of any meaning. On the
opposite side of this divorce (self-separation) she turns into a pure
spirit: "she draws her companion up to the most lofty regions
of sentimental speculation; she speaks of Life (a platonic Form),
of her life, she shows herself in her essential aspect - a personality,
||The woman is in bad faith and uses both operations
to "maintain herself in bad faith". (1) She "disarms"
the actions of her companion by reducing them to the mode of "the
in-itself" (objectivity). (2) And she enjoys his desire in the
mode of what it is not (ideality). By the same token, (1) she reduces
her own body to a mere inanimate object and (2) she separates herself
from it as if she were a pure intellect.
||Despite the complexity of "bad faith",
its evanescent character and the immense variety of its manifestations,
Sartre belives that it could be analyzed (not only phenomenologically
described) as a structured phenomenon. This is the reason why he asks
the following question: "What unity do we find in these various
aspects of bad faith?" His answer is that bad faith is "a
certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves
both an idea and the negation of that idea". These concepts are
not abstract and arbitrary ideas, but concepts that articulate the
self-understanding of man.
||Thus the above question turns again to the
starting question: "What must be the being of man if he is to
be capable of 'bad faith'?" In order to answer this question
in the light of the ability to produce inherently contradictory concepts
we need to realize that for Sartre (as well as for all existentialists)
man is a duality of different aspects and forces. As he puts it, man
is "at once a facticity and a transcendence".
This "at once" was understood by Hegel as a "unity"
and "synthesis" of polarities. Kierkegaard rejected the
idea that we can ever reconcile the tension between the eternal and
the temporal or the one between infinity and finitude. Sartre is also
skeptical about the possibility of attaining a final and ultimate
synthesis of human existence, but he believes that man is at least
capable of validly "coordinating" the opposing tensions
and poles of his reality. Conversely, bad faith consists precisely
in the refusal to unite and coordinate the opposing aspects of human
reality. The outcome is a separation of different human dimensions
and a disintegration of human totality into opposing forces.
||Bad faith not only separates and keeps apart
these polarities; it also confounds them and gives them out for what
they are not. It conveniently slides from one opposite to another
(for instance, from "naturalistic present" to "lofty
transcendence") and vice versa. In the sense of "sliding
back and forth" from transcendence to facticity it is really
a kind of "double-dealing". Thus, instead of coordinating
the inevitably different aspects of human existence it exchanges them
freely under false stamps: it affirms "facticity as being
transcendence and transcendence as being facticity". The
ultimate stage in the ideological operation performed by bad faith
is the public (external) affirmation of their identity which only
preserves their separation and misleads the person about the real
character of the events.
||Sartre illustrates how a false unification
of an idea along with its negation works in certain adages and catchy
titles. He demonstrates effectively that these maximlike phrases reveal
a duplicity of facticity and transcendence which they either arrest
in the mode of facticity or elevate into non-existing transcendence.
In this sense they can serve as the prototype of formulae of bad faith.
Love is much more than Love.
||It is nice to point that love should not
be reduced to its prosaic forms, but pointing to its more sublime
aspects lacks any coordination with the real love. Thus, by saying
something seemingly profound and "nice" we in fact perform
a typical bad faith operation in order to replace and redeem the factual
love as struggle for a metaphysical love that is an illusionary love.
I am too great for myself.
||This statement promisses to a person that
he is more than what he is. This is true, but if this "more"
("too great") is based only on sheer possibilities, then
it functions as bad faith because it replaces reality with an imagined
He has become what he was.
Eternity at last changes each man into
||Statement 3a could be viewed as a continuation
or fullfilment of the promise expressed in statement 2. The transcendence
has become facticity and so rendered non-existent. As compensation
the person is expected to regard this reduction as an accomplishment
that brings all potentials to their final realization. But the statement
does not reveal the decisive point that from now on the person does
not have any future: he has become mere actuality. Saying 3b extends
the same idea beyond time and sugests that if not now, in real life,
then at the end of time or beyond time everything comes to its own.
Sartre does not claim that these sayings really express bad faith
of their authors. The intention of those who have conceived them was
probably to perplex readers the way Zen koans typically do: by throwing
out a paradoxical formulation you may shock and embarass people but
also entice them to think afresh. But they are formulated in a way
that indicates a possible internal rift or even disintegration of
opposing aspects ("they are formed so as to remain in perpetual
disintegration") and insofar they could be adduced to illustrate
the mechanism of bad faith.
||The above quoted formulations are suitable
to be used as self-deceptive devices of bad faith precisely because
they negate the idea which they at the same time posit. They all indicate
that something is not what it is, which might be true in a qualified
sense. But when they simply suggest without any restrictions that
a man is not what he is, they open a window that could be easily used
to flee away from reality and responsibility. Once I remove myself
from what I am and what I do, I exempt myself entirely from any criticism
and self-criticism. The outcome is that I leave my reality behind
me and assume my transcendence (that is to say, what I am not) as
my real self. What is left belongs to the realm of explanations that
account for the reality of what I am not. Therefore, so reads the
deceptive message, these explanations could not be regarded as mere
excuses for alleged failures.
||This move, illusionary as it is, could be
very instrumental in avoiding responsibility and fleeing from yourself.
But it solves problems by creating new weak points. I claim that I
am not there where I am in order to place myself beyond all reproaches,
external or my own. But I claim that I am pure transcendence and contemplation
in "the mode of being a thing". The transcendence that I
now claim as my real self consists of selected components of the present,
it is an extrapolation of one frozen moment and segment of reality
and thus possible only as an object and objectifying image ("arrested
transcendence"). In other words, in allowing separation (= excuses)
it anihilates that for the sake of which it was invented: my free,
living and undefined personality. Therefore all these "transcending"
sayings are not different from a reductionist formula: "He has
attained the end for the sake of which he was born." As Aristotle
remarks in the Physics, this is an absurd statement about a
man, because the end for man could be only what is best (meaning,
orientation toward improvement), not just a physical death.
|| Now we understand what is the condition
of possibility of bad faith: self-referential nature of human consciousness
which makes human reality a being "which is what it is not"
and "not what it is". Precisely because human reality is
both "what it is" and "what it is not" it is possible
to affirm facticity as transcendence and transcendence as facticity.
Note: This does not explain how bad faith works
as lying to oneself. In the next section entitled "The 'Faith'
of Bad Faith" Sartre offers some hins that are supposed to answer
the question how it is possible to hide the lie of bad faith from
consciousness (Cf. R. Santoni, "Bad Faith and 'Lying to Oneself'").
||The meta-stable interplay of "transcendence"
and "facticity" is just one mechanism of bad faith. It uses
many other forms of duplicity (duality) of human reality. Sartre mentions
several: transcendence - facticity, self-perception - perception by
others, being-for-itself - being-for-others, inert presence - being-in-the
world, being what I have been - not being what I have been.
||Perception by others
|Being what you are not
||Being what you are
||These aspects of human reality do not stand
in the relation of "being" and "appearance", as
if one represented essence and the other mere surface. They are both
true, but only conjointly because of the dual character of human existence.
This is what Sartre means with his expression "the equal dignity
of being possessed by my being-for-others and by my being-for-myself".
These concepts have only "a transitive role" in self-explication,
but bad faith perpetually performs either a "disintegrating synthesis"
of their opposing aspects or a "reversible escape" from
one to another pole of the opposition.
||Sartre pays special attention to the breaks
and halts within the totality of an individual's growth, no matter
where do they exactly occur on the continuum between an obssessive
appropriation of the past and feverish escapism into the future. There
are people who want to be only what they have been (youngsters or
lovers) and those who perpetually re-create themselves by claiming
that they are not what they have been (engaging themselves in constant
search of their new self, new profession, outlook, place, partner).
||If we want to deal with human reality in
its entirety we have to treat it both "as a being which is what
it is not and which is not what it is." This does not mean that
nothing can be said about human existence, only that it cannot be
arrested at any point and still truly represent what somebody is.
From this one can legitimately reach the conclusion that the phenomena
of bad faith are transitory and transitional despite Sartre's claim
that there is an initial project of bad faith. Does this mean that
we go from one form of bad faith to another without ever being able
to really break up the continuum of self-deception? Sartre answers
this question indirectly by showing that it is never possible to truly
attain the opposite of bad faith as a permanent condition of consciousness.
GOOD FAITH AND SINCERETY
||The remaining part of
the fourth section is dedicated to a dialectical analysis of the
ideal of good faith. Sartre shows that the acceptance of the ideal
of sincerety inevitably leads to bad faith and that consequently
it is not possible to attain good faith as a separated condition
of consciousness, something entirely exempt from the effects of
||Let us clarify the dialectic
of good faith by asking what is its position and function in human
reality? Admittedly, good faith is the "good" antithesis
of bad faith. It manifests itself as sincerety which is regarded
as a kind of human ideal. From all sides we hear calls to be honest
and candid with ourselves and others. We also have the same expectation
from others and in general we regard sincerety as a praiseworthy
virtue. The more so as it seems to be always in short supply.
||The fact that sincerety
is something desirable (or required) reveals that it is more a demand
than a state of affairs. Despite so many evidence to the contrary
we still assume that it is an attainable ideal. Both in dealing
with others and in dealing with ourselves. But is it? Let's see.
|| What does the ideal
of sincerety amount to? It amounts to the demand that "a man
be for himself only what he is", that is to say that candor
ceases to be just an ideal and becomes our being. Thus the demand
for sincerety posits not merely "an ideal of knowledge but
an ideal of being": to be what one is.
|| This sounds nice and
commendable, but Sartre points out that this demand, if realized,
would be tantamount to the application of the "principle of
identity" on humans. The problem is that the principle of identity
is an appropriate standard for "the-in-itself" only (i.e.
things), but not for men. To apply it to a man would be equal to
the declaration that this man does not any longer possess human
reality, for human reality cannot be objectified and reduced to
the self-identity of things. Man refutes the principle of identity
by existing as "consciousness of being", that is to say
by surpassing every second what he is including his temporary moments
of candor and admissions of bad faith. My consciousness is constantly
in the making of my being. Due to its intentionality and transcendent
orientation it is never what it is. My being is my consciousness
whose being is what I am not.
||In order to attain the
lucidity of good faith we must adopt the ideal of sincerety which
in turn requires that we are only what we are. However, if we accept
this ideal and realize the principle of identity accordingly, we
inevitably fall into bad faith for two reasons. First, we reduce
the duality of human reality to its objectified aspect, and second,
we proclaim one "regional" measure (of things) as universal
(embracing man as well). In this sense the ideal of good faith,
insofar as it is based on the demand to be what we are, suffers
from two serious defects: it is never fully realizable (possible)
and it always presupposes bad faith. We ask you to be what you are
because you are not what you are. Hence the opposite conclusion:
in order to be able to escape bad faith at least for a moment, "the
principle of identity must not represent a constitutive principle
of human reality and human reality must not be necessarily what
it is but must be able to be what it is not". In other words:
"I am what I am not" and "I am not what I am."
But this goes against the concept of sincerety and candor as constitutive
for good faith. "Not being what one is" renders impossible
"being what one is".
can never recognize ourselves as being what
we are. We can never define our being as something. Whenever I determine
my identity (exactly what I am) I constitute myself as a thing.
But if to be like a thing is the only way to be what I am I can
never be what I am. This includes my potentials as well.
Note: The Army commercial "Be what you can be" conceals
a simple demand to accept one very specific role by using a nice
ambiguity: realize your true potentials and become something else,
something that you could truly be - join the troops and become one
(of the many).
||How can we then respond
to the social and internalized obligation "to make ourselves
what we are" in our eyes and in the eyes of others? This is
a big problem. Sartre shows that the obligation to be what we are
leads to the uncritical acceptance of role playing and ultimately
to bad faith. Again the failure consists in the disintegration of
two aspects of human reality: the inevitability of social roles
and our freedom of choosing. Whenever role playing consumes our
personality to the extent of serving as a cover or reservoir of
excuses for the lack of our own responsibility the relation between
our role and ourselves becomes derranged and spurious.
||In this way Sartre interprets
the way how certain people accept and perform their roles. What
at first sight might appear as a strange game of impersonification
is in fact an effort to realize a certain type of being: "the
person who I have to be". Thus a man who is a waiter in the
cafe almost necessarily has to act like a waiter (the alternative
is to show ostensibly that you are not fit for the job, that you
do not like it and so to arouse suspicion and dissatisfaction among
customers). But the waiter does not have to be more of a waiter
than he is in his human reality. If he pushes too far the ideal
of sincerety enclosed within this role (to be a true waiter) he
will end up imitating a kind of caricatural image which becomes
unconvincing precisely because it aspires to be overly convincing.
||Thus the ideal of sincerety
accomplishes the same result as bad faith in the reality of role
playing: to be and to act in the mode of things and mechanisms.
Because of the internalized expectation "to be just a waiter"
the gestures of the person in question appear necessarily unnatural,
too quick, too eager, too solicitious. This could be a self-protective
reaction as well - conveying the message "I am just a waiter!"
- but in both cases it becomes a form of bad faith. In the former,
as a result of sincerety which accepts the existing structures as
the true framework of my personality, in the latter as an outright
consequence of self-deception (or excuse) for personal choices and
||Sartre finds the same
game of impersonification performed in other ocupations. A tradesman,
a grocer, a tailor, an auctioneer are all under public pressure
(expectation) to internalize their roles as their being. The public
expects these people to be just their role even if that compomises
their human attitude (the well known and sometimes embarassing kindness
of a waiter, dental assistant or seller is what Sartre calls "the
dance"). Society functions so as to develop effective mechanisms
to "imprison a man in what he is" (the most notorious
example would be a soldier who fixes the sight "at ten paces").
||The bearers of various
roles often perform this social game volontarily, out of convenience
or for some other reasons. Sartre concedes that the game of impersonification
has partly the character of exploration (what do you find in this
role? how do you feel under a different skin?) but the conditions
are so ceremonial that the person eventually becomes ceremonial
herself. ideally this should lead to the objectification of my "sincere"
effort to be what I am (as a player). But the internal rift persists.
No matter how deep we might be immersed in the role we shall always
recognize ourselves both as actor and spectator (we act ourselves).
It is this duality of being and not-being that characterizes the
human reality as the "negative" capacity of consciousness.
||A "common measure"
between the being of the role and our own being produces very unique
and individual results. Unconventional role playing, for instance,
could be disturbing and therefore unsuccessful in its function (a
grocer who dreams). Therefore the implicit demand is to envision
the representation as the transcendent (including abstract possibilities)
and to become this representation for others and myself. But, as
Sartre points out, if I have to represent myself as him (a waiter)
I am not he, I am separated from him as the object from the subject
(dualism of consciousness).
||There is a huge gap between
me and my representation and that yawning "nothing" could
be conditionally brigded only by playing the role. I can be my representation
only in the way actors are their characters, that is to say by impersonating
that person, which is a euphemism for trying to realize "a
being-in-itself" of that person. "I am a waiter in the
mode of being what I am not." Therefore I cannot
eradicate my potential to reexamine my participation in this
particular role, the evaluation of my position and the way how I
constitute myself. In any of the roles one can "form reflective
judgements or concepts concerning his condition". Consciousness
always allows taking a negative distance.
||According to Sartre,
man can never be reduced to his social positions, actions or attitudes.
Because of that we always play at doing this or that in the context
of social roles. I am always absent from my acts, at least partly
(Sartre calls this Valery's "divine absence"). By the
same token, I am here and I am not here while lecturing or listening.
If by trying sincerely to be this or that I hide my responsibility
for this choice as well as the possibility of taking a different
course, I fall in bad faith.
||Psychological and emotional
attitudes are for Sartre types of conduct not just states of mind
caused by our metabolism or mental reactions. Sadness, for instance,
is something that can absorb me to the extent of becoming the being
of what I am. Nonetheless it is the "intenional unity"
stemming from my conscious decision to make myself sad. That it
is so proves the fact that I cannot hold on to it indefinitely,
that I can switch to a different mood and then "recreate"
it again. Therefore it is not a kind of substance ("inert body")
that enters my consciousness and afterwards leaves it ("the
being-sad is not a ready-made being"). It is not possible to
distinguish between "my consciousness (of) being sad from sadness".
Being-sad is not constitutive modality of my existence although
I can make myself sad. Nevertheless I can make myself sad because
I am not sad, but only in search of attaining "the being-in-itself
||My reactions in the world
are not meant just for me but are presentations for the Other. Their
meaning is not a fact in the world, but something that is being
constituted by an "apprehension" performed by other people.
This "apprehension" is its own mediator with what is transcendent
and significant. Therefore, the objective being-in-itself of the
consciousness of the Other, as I see it, is at the same time posited
and negated as not-being. As Sartre says, "it is at not-being".
I am both "being-in-the world" ("idiosyncratic
totality") and "being-in-the midst of the world"
(this refers to the objectivity of my body). My consciousness
is rather an absence to the other than something which could be
simply objectified (even when I am exposed to the looks of the
Other). The consciousness that other people possess is "what
they are not". I cannot objectify it entirely. Even less
my own consciousness. The being of my consciousness is not equal
to the consciousness of the Other. It is the consciousness of
being. But consciousness sustains being, not the other way round.
Consciousness exists by making itself "in the heart of subjectivity".
Therefore it is not being and in conformity with its not-being
it "is not what it is".
Sartre is a heir of Descartes in focusing on consciousness and
the phenomena of awareness rather than on concepts. But he rejects
Cartesian monolithic and a thing-like view of consciousness. For
him, consciousness is an ever changing and self-transcending state.
And it is never self-identical. Its nature is "elsewhereness".
||The original structure
of consciousness as not being what it is turns into our inability
to recognize ourselves as "a certain being", or to constitute
ourselves as being what we are. This in turn renders impossible
the ideal of sincerety which posits as a duty to be what one is.
But this duty reverses the relation between "ought" and
"can" (instead of saying "if you can, you ought"
it says "you ought, therefore you can and must") although
it itself presupposes that I am not originally "what I am"
(otherwise the duty would be superfluous). Anyway, as soon as we
posit ourselves as certain being we surpass that being toward nothingness
(we negate that being, we are more than it or we are something else).
||If sincerety is a contradictory
demand then some of our typical attitudes about it become very questionable.
First of all, how can we seriously try to be sincere when we know
upfront that our attempt will fail anyway? And, how can we sincerely
rejoice our own sincerety if we know that it turns that very moment
into its opposite by the very nature of consciousness? Finally,
how can we blame somebody for not being sincere if sincerety is
||If I am determined to
be sincere I need to determine what I am and to become my true self.
But this would mean that I am determining myself as a thing. Even
if I include my purposes and motivations this will not change the
mode of my objectification, for the overall picture I will get will
be one of "causal determinism" ("the flow of my states
of consciousness as a succession of physical states"). The
more so if I resort to my drives, for they will be represented as
that what has pushed me so far. Besides, they acquire their force
only with my own consent, that is to say, by a perpetually renewed
decision concerning their value.
A recourse to the character or nature in trying to explain a
person would only serve one purpose - to conceal that my present
is not the subject of my past (i.e. that it does not follow by
necessity from the past). People forget this, although they typically
justify their acts in this way.
(1) The same person who claims that he is what he is - does not
readily assume responsibility and blame for the past invoking
instead that "he can no longer be what he was". If I
am what I was why I do not identify with my own past mistakes
and why I do not accept reproaches for my failures?
(2) We require the accused to recognize himself as being guilty
in court and we are astonished that penalties affect him in his
new freedom although he is no longer the guilty person he was
(he is not the same once he admits the guilt). Why do we require
that the convicted person accepts to be the guilty one if it is
possible to change into a different person?
In doing 1 or 2 we suggest that sincerety is a phenomenon of bad
faith: "have we not shown indeed that in bad faith human
reality is constituted as a being which is what it is not and
which is not what it is?"
||Sartre illustrates how
this discrepancy plays out when somebody is asked to come "out
of closet" despite the pressure of the environment and an internalized
feeling of guilt that urge quite the opposite.
The example given by Sartre sounds a bit outdated today, but in
the fourties and under German ocupation the demand to be sincere
with a non-straight sexual orientation would really put a homosexual
in harms ways. The prejudices against gay people were much stronger
than today, especially if they were seen as "paederasts"
(in Greek, "lovers of young boys", i.e. pedophile). Sartre
himself falls victim to the language of his time when using evaluative
terms like "mistakes", "faults", "misdeed",
"guilt" in describing the considerations of the homosexual.
||At first glance the homosexual
who does not want to recognize himself as a homosexual, although
he must be aware of his sexual orientation, is in bad faith. Why
does he then hide the truth from himself? Because that truth would
be an untruth. A confession of being "a homosexual" would
be for him tantamount to a reduction of his personality to his sexual
orientation. He is prone to regard his case as a unique combination
of factors that include as different moments as chance, "bad
luck", curiosity, playfulness, etc. His sexual preferences
stem from "a certain conception of the beautiful which women
cannot satisfy", not from an underlying tendency or a project
of being a homosexual.
||The champion of sincerety
asks from the homosexual to acknowledge his homosexuality either
shamefully or defiantly. In the name of sincerety he asks the man
in the closet to be honest and earn his indulgence by embracing
the saying: "A sin confessed is half pardoned." By insisting
"that the guilty one recognizes himself as guilty" the
"champion of sincerety" wants in fact to hear an assertion
that is no different from the assertion that a table is a table.
Thus he wants to reduce the homosexual to the being of things. Therefore
in ascribing a thinglike character to the required
admission he also ends up in bad faith.
||A homosexual rightly
feels that he is immensely much more than just a homosexual, in
fact, that he has escaped his determination of being a homosexual
at the very moment he admits it. In truth, he is not a paederast
because he, as human existence, is not what he is ("human transcendence").
The principle of identity again fails to render the truth of the
human reality. But the same dialectic defeats the denial as well.
The claim that someone is not a "paederast" falls back
into bad faith because it denies "being a paederast" in
the sense in which "this table is not an inkwell". Thus
he escapes bad faith by falling into it.
||Sartre suggests the following
distinctive formula as an attempt to overcome this see-saw of "bad"
and elusive "good" faith: "To the extent that a pattern
of conduct is defined as the comduct of a paederast and to the extent
that I have adopted this conduct, I am a paederast. But to the extent
that human reality cannot be finally defined by patterns of conduct,
I am not one."
||The champion of sincerety
does not necessarily deny "the transcendence of human reality".
On the contrary, he might be demanding a confession because he wants
to liberate the homosexual and transfer him into the realm of freedom.
But in wanting this he wants the homosexual not to be "the
same as the homosexual whom he acknowledges being". Thus he
himself creates a paradox: He asks the man to be what he is in order
no longer to be what he is. "The critic demands of the guilty
one that he constitute himself as a thing, precisely in order no
longer to treat him as a thing." This contradiction is the
hallmark of any demand to be sincere.
||A statement like "He's
just a paederast" establishes paederasty as the essence of
the man so that all his acts could be thereafter derived as its
consequences. If a person's freedom is constituted as a thing that
person is deprived of his/her freedom. The champion of sincerety
wants to get that freedom as a gain so that he can make sure that
his friend is finally what he is. But he does not notice that he
is in bad faith precisely by transforming the freedom of his friend
into a thing. Such a freedom is worthless even if returned. To be
sure, the champion of sincerety intends to give back this freedom
upon confession, but he does not realize that it cannot be returned
to the same person he is now pressuring. In that sense Sartre compares
this episode with the battle of consciousness described as the dialectic
of mastery and slavery. The consciousness of the master seeks the
recognition from the slave but what it gets is not satisfactory
because it comes from an unfree consciousness (although indipendent).
By demanding that the slave destroys himself as consciousness he
arouses "a hope for a rebirth beyond this destruction".
||The paradox of sincerety
does not emerge only between two persons, one who demands it and
another who resists (or is reluctant to heed) the demand. Sartre
claims that the same structure appears in "the relations of
a person with himself". Thus there is no real difference between
objective sincerety based on the interplay of two sides and the
subjective or "pure" sincerety. in the acse of the latter
"the sincere man constitutes himselfd as a thing in order to
escape the condition of a thing by the same act of sincerety".
For instance, the man who confesses that he is evil suggests that
he does not any longer possess the disturbing "freedom-for-evil"
since he is now all evil, that is to say, "he is what he is".
But he reaffirms his freedom by contemplating his being-evil and
he transcends his evilness by focusing on it or even deserving merit
by acknowledging it. Thus he is what he is not.
||If "the sincere
man constitutes himself as what he is in order not to be it",
then sincerety displays the same structure as bad faith. Bad faith
was essentially an effort to escape from oneself. Now sincerety
trades the paradox of lying to oneself while being conscious of
lying for the paradox of adhering to oneself to the extent of dissociating
oneself from oneself. this is the outcome of every objectifying
effort no matter how exhaustive it could be in describing of what
one is. Thus it is possible to end up in bad faith by pursuing sincerety.
||Sartre demonstrates that
the ideal of sincerety shares several crucial commonalities with
bad faith: the goal, the temporal ekstasis and the mechanism of
operation. If we distinguish between the ideal sincerety (i) and
the sincerety "which bears on the past" (p) we cna represent
these points in the following way:
|| The Present
||Game of Mirrors
||Game of Mirrors
of the Past:
||A sincerety which bears
on the past does not present much difficulties. It is entirely possible
because it reports about what one has been (or "having had").
Since this reduction to the being-in-itself pertains to the past
it does not create an existential contradiction with what one is
in any of the modes (not being what one is and being what one is
||The problematic (although
most relevant) sincerety is the one which bears on my present existence.
It brings me "to confess to myself what I am in order that
I may finally coincide with my being". But this goal is self-defeating
because it forces me "to be, in the mode of in-itself, what
I am in the mode of 'not being what I am'". Moreover, the intention
of sincerety requires that I must at the same time "be and
not be what I am".
Game of Mirrors:
||This contradiction necessitates
"a continual game of mirror and reflection" which in its
turn results in "a perpetual passage from the being which is
not what it is to the being which is what it is". But this
is exactly the goal of bad faith: "to be what I am, in the
mode of 'not being what one is', or not to be what I am in the mode
of "being what one is''. For both ideal sincerety and bad faith
it is characteristic that they imply "such a nature that within
my being I escape from my being". And they both encounter problems
of feasibility and sustainability because human being is what it
is not, or in other words, it is not just "in-itself"
(the being of an inkwell).
As J. Catalano notes, sincerety could work as bad faith if it uses
honesty as an excuse (a cheap way of avoiding responsibility). To
be sure, there is always a danger that we become honest simply by
admitting dishonesty and thus pretend to be in good faith without
really changing much.
||If in my striving to
attain the being of sincerety I have inevitably "a vague prejudicative
comprehension that I shall not attain it" I am in bad faith.
This means that bad faith "is possible only because sincerety
is conscious of missing its goal inevitably". It is possible
because the difference between being and non-being vanishes as soon
as we separate human existence from what it is in the mode of not
being what it is, or as Sartre puts it, if one is cut off from his
||Man is "by nature"
prevented from attaining the ideal of sincerety if it denotes a
stable mode of being. This means that it is not strictly speaking
feasible. If we compare all kinds of falsity in regard to three
levels of possibility (logical, existential and pragmatic) we can
represent the outcome in the following way:
||No problems. I lie to
||No. No admission.
||Some. Paradox of self-reference
||No. I think it is true.
||Yes. Divided, Cynical Self.
||Yes. Divided yet united.
||Weak. Bad conscience.
||Yes. Leads to the "in-itself".
||Yes. Paradox of Universalization.
||Some. Mixed Messages.
||Some. No Maxim.
|| Communication Problems.
||"If I were sad or
cowardly in the way in which this inkwell is an inkwell, the possibility
of bad faith could not even be conceived." But I am not cowardly
in this way even if I am cowardly. I have to be cowardly in some
way in order for me to stop be cowardly and cease to be cowardly
anymore. But I can be cowardly in my mind only on the condition
that I take distance toward "being cowardly" and put it
under question mark. Therefore the fundamental assumption of ideal
sincerety, that there is a simple being of what I am and what I
need to confess, becomes shaky. For, it is not possible to confess
to "being cowardly" without questioning my cowardness
in the very moment I admit it. Because of this "being cowardly"
escapes when I want to apprehend it. Thus, despite my bad faith
or sincerety, one can claim that "I am not this coward which
I do not wish to be." The outcome: "this inapprehensible
coward is evanescent."
||Good faith seems to arise
only as a momentary glimpse into one form of bad faith without ever
being able to remove the veil of self-deception permanently. It
is itself an evanescent phenomenon, a fleeting glimpse into ever
changing reality, although it is not worthless and indistinguishable
from bad faith.
As bad faith vaccilates between good faith and cynicism so sincerety
vaccilates between bad faith and hypocrisy. At its best, it recognizes
the ambiguous character of both reality and self-reflection and
consequently rejects both the convenience of excuses and the self-complacency
of its current situation.
|| Both in terms of sincerety
and bad faith "I must at once both be and not be totally and
in all respects a coward." This means that I must be cowardly
when I am not (at least in questioning my cowardness), and not cowardly
when I am (in admitting cowardness). The difference is very slight,
if there is any. What appeared as a sheer contradiction now turns
into an imponderable difference. The point is that it applies to
my "usual being" as well. For ontologically there is no
big difference between "the being of 'being cowardly'",
"which I am in the mode of not being what I am" and "the
'non-being' of not-being-courageous which I wish to hide from myself".
||Bad faith requires that
I should not be what I am. On the other hand, it attempts to constitute
my being as "being what I am not" (courageous). Thus there
is a chasm between being and non-being in human reality. But the
very negation of being should be always questioned in human reality.
||Both bad faith and sincerety
are rendered possible by virtue of impossibility for anybody to
fully coincide with his "not-being-courageous" or with
his "being-courageous". "Thus in order for bad faith
to be possible, sincerety itself must be in bad faith." This
is just another way of saying that human reality in its"infrastructure"
"must be what it is not and not be what it is".
VI THE 'FAITH' OF BAD FAITH
||Bad faith is a "two-faced
concept". Insofar it can be used by a liar. But still it is
different from a simple lie. This difference is indicated by the
fact that it is a form of faith. It is necessarily faith
because it does not rest either on an "intuitive possession
of being" or an outright lie.
||Bad faith is consequently
a kind of belief = "the adherence of being to its object
when the object is not given or is given indistinctly". We
do not possess certainty about objects because they are not given
directly and distinctly. In view of the ambiguous and uncertain
character of reality (or at least of our knowledge of it) we cannot
but live with probabilities. They are reflected in the mode of our
convictions which are basically only beliefs. Sartre says that "the
essential problem of bad faith is a problem of belief".
||The aforementioned problem
could be now formulated as the question: "How can we believe
by bad faith in the concepts which we forge expressly to persuade
ourselves?" The answer is that the project of bad faith must
be carried out by a more original project of bad faith. I could
be persuaded by bad faith because I have been already persuaded
so. I was already in bad faith at the moment when I wanted to put
myself in bad faith.
|| Still bad faith does
not recognize itself as bad faith. It hides itself, it lives incognito,
it does not speak its name. It does not recognize itself just as
a belief. To recognize itself as a belief would mean to recognize
that it cannot believe itself fully. It uses the uncertainty of
our knowledge to justify its reluctance to ask for more evidence
despite the fact that it is not itself persuaded. Thus it conceals
its (non) self-persuasion, the truth that to believe is always not
to believe, at least to a certain extent. "One never wholly
believes what one believes."
of Bad Faith:
||The decision to be in
bad faith "believes itself and doesnot believe itself in bad
faith; it believes itself and does not believe itself in good faith".
While good faith tries to believe wholly what it believes, bad faith
seeks to find ways how not-to-believe what it believes. Sartre says
that "it is precisely as the acceptance of not believing what
it believes that is bad faith". In this sense one can not believe
while believing and believe while not believing. Only in this sense
it is possible to lie to oneself. The problem how bad faith is possible
now turns into the question how one can believe (= have faith) in
what is barely believable. In other words, how one can accept nonpersuasive
Not even the consciousness in bad faith can flee away from an
awareness of its believing so as not to believe. It simply structures
itself to accept nonpersuasive evidence and to reconcile with
it despite its defects. For that purpose it abuses the nature
of belief as by definition defective knowledge and makes an unwarranted
generalization that such is the nature of all convictions.
R. Santoni suggests that bad faith in this sense becomes "a
lie of 'half persuasion'", and so identical with a common
lie. Insofar as it involves a resolve to accept as persuasive
what is not fully persuasive, and to "believe" according
to criteria which one "knows" do not warrant a full
persuasion, it comes close to the cynical lie. Obviously, as Sartre
himself, admits, bad faith vaccilates between the two.
||Persons in bad faith
are in bad faith both by what and how they believe. The original
project of bad faith is a decision in bad faith on the nature of
faith. Bad faith falsifies the character of evidence and conceals
the participation of the individual in the outcome. It can go so
far to acknowledge that there is no transcendent justification pertaining
to deliberations within our social role. But it draws relativistic
conclusions from this and reduces our freedom to deliberations within
a role. It accepts our roles as given and fixed and thus suggests
that there is no room for change and critical self-reflection. Bad
faith is successful in producing convenient or pleasing deception,
but it is ultimately unsuccessful in terms of misrepresenting freedom
in regard to acceptance or refusal of social roles.
||However common, bad faith
is not an unavoidable and necessary condition of human existence.
It is possible to have beliefs and faith and still preserve critical
self-reflective ability of questioning our roles and thus keeping
alive our responsibilty for continuing in them.