Notes on Bad Faith continued …

September 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

Negatites – negative entities. Whenever anything has a particular determination, lots of other determinations are being denied.
Facticity – the concrete details against the background of which human freedom exists and is limited.
Transcendence – the possibilities of what one can become.

From Multiplicity: A New Reading of Sartrean Bad Faith by Benjamin K. Elwyn (British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 20:3, 601-618, 29/5/2012)

First of all a summary; the story so far…

“In irony a man annihilates what he posits within one and the same act; he leads us to believe in order not to be believed…” (B & N p47)

Bad faith is self-negation and is essential to human reality: to lie to ones-self. Sartre posits this in contrast to psychoanalysis and Freud who suggests that there is a censor/gatekeeper between the unconscious and the conscious mind. Sartre sees this as inconsistent logically. Each side of the double activity (the deceiver and the deceived) imply the other in its being. Bad faith is part of our overall system of transcending and being what we are not. i.e. we are not ourselves in the way an inkwell is an inkwell, for if we were we would be static/unchanging.

Sartre describes Bad Faith through three different and distinct examples:

The Woman on a date

Essentially the woman does not want to realize the urgency with which she must make a decision regarding the man’s intentions. She concerns herself only with what is ‘respectful and discreet in the attitude of her companion’. She does not want to include in her conduct or her transcendences the possibilities of temporal development which his conduct represents. (B & N p96) The possible temporal developments are bracketed. She disarms any sexual advances or overtones by making the implications of such advances immediate and objective. This behavior creates a duel criteria for her to be satisfied. At once she wants a feeling that is addressed wholly to her personality (her full freedom), and a feeling that is wholly desire (her body as object). At this stage of the date it is the feeling addressed wholly toward her personality, her freedom, that is favored. Sartre introduces an action that forces a change. The man takes her hand. This risks calling for an immediate decision. To leave it or to withdraw sends a clear signal either way. The aim is postpone the decision as long as possible. By raising the conversation to a lofty intellectual tone, she negates the hand gesture (essentially ignoring it). She pushes forward her personality, her essential freedom, and divorces “the body from the soul”. (B & N p97)

The bad faith in this example is the postponing of decision making as long as possible. Further to this it is the deliberate bracketing of the decision to be made by the subject. There is a set of maneuvers in place, a kind of conversational game, or game of manners, that allows this bracketing to continue as long as the subjects desire. The effects of these maneuvers is to focus the attention of the interaction on facticity: to reduce the actions of the other to “being only what the are; that is, to existing in the mode of the in-itself.” (B & N p97) At the same time, these maneuvers still allow her to enjoy his desire. This is a transcendence in itself as she is able to contemplate her body as an object of desire, as if from above. This is in contradiction to the maneuvers taken to foreground her personality; her freedom. By objectifying herself in this way she pacifies her body. It is something to which events can happen. Here Sartre has argued that human beings can create an idea, or choose a concept through which they can socialize with the other, and at the same time necessarily be the negation of that idea/concept.

Bad faith does not wish to create a synthesis of this idea and its negation:

“It must affirm facticity, as being transcendence, and transcendence as being facticity, in such a way that at the instant when a person apprehends the one, he can find himself abruptly faced with the other.” (p98)

Somehow these elements need to be in constant contradiction in order that the human being can function socially, practically and transcendently:

” […] they are formed so as to remain in perpetual disintegration […]so that we may slide at any time from naturalistic present to transcendence and vice versa.” (p99)

By being in constant contradiction the human needs of practicality in the present (facticity) and forward prediction (transcendence) are reconciled and operational.

The Waiter

The example of the waiter is concerned with the identification of what a person is.

“But what are we then if we have the constant obligation to make ourselves what we are, if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are?” (p101)

Once again there is a duel identification process with facticity and transcendence. In this example the identification is not with regard to the advances or communications of another, but with regard to ones occupations/activities. Because Sartre’s waiter is too eager and too aware of his movements he appears to us as someone who applies himself consciously and with objective effort to his movements which otherwise should presumedly be internalized, natural or fluent (why else the emphasis on ‘a little too precise’?). The waiter is a man playing at being a waiter. There seem to be two points emerging: 1) that there is a conscious separation between the being in-itself and the occupational ceremony it is engaged in, and the social frameworks and/or constraints in which people relate to and/or utilize each other.

Each human being exists both transcendently and as a representation of their transcendent selves. It could be said that the representation for others is the self that is engaged with facticity: the concrete details against the background of which human freedom exists and is limited. This separation between the transcendent self and the representation-for-others is characterized by nothingness; the two are separated by nothing. Sartre asserts that one can only play at being the representational self. The nothing that separates the two beings assures that:

“I am a waiter in the mode of being what I am not.” (p103)

To continue this logic structure further is to argue that a person is never one of their attitudes nor one of their actions. Sartre finds a problem following on from this point with the concept of sincerity. Because the original structure presented by Sartre of being is ‘not being what one is,’ (p106) (and as above one is not what one is) a movement toward sincerity (being what one is) is impossible.

The example of the waiter boils down to the problem of over-identifying with our roles (facticity) and the illusion of sincerity:

“[…] as soon as we posit ourselves as a certain being (in this case the waiter), by a legitimate judgement, based on inner experience or correctly deduced from a-priori or empirical premises, then by that very positing we surpass this being – and that not toward another being but toward emptiness, toward nothing.” (p106)

So to over-identify with ones role (representational self) and to chase sincerity in this role is to move away from transcendence. In other words, to move away from transcendence is to ignore possible future beings (somethings) and therefore to be embracing nothing (bound up in the present state of facticity).

The Homosexual Sincerity and denial (disclaimer: Sartre’s views on homosexuality are of an outdated mode

This problem of sincerity itself becomes an example of bad faith. Sartre’s homosexual is racked by guilt and this experience determines his existence. He at once recognizes his homosexuality but refuses to identify as a paederast (Sartre does not specify evidence of relationships with underage boys). He acknowledges all the facts which are imputed to him, but refuses to draw from them the conclusion which they impose.

The critic demands that the homosexual declare himself a paederast; that the guilty admit guilt. Who, however, is in bad faith? The critic is representing himself as a champion of sincerity, itself an act of bad faith. The homosexual resists the idea that a specific set of actions determine an identification; a destiny. To accept a guilty verdict is to be objectified and to have possible future transcendences rejected. Considering an act of homosexuality as a ‘mistake’, the homosexual man feels that each mistake is dealt with as soon as he has posited it. His potential future transcendences might not repeat the same mistakes and in this way he is cleansed. This perpetual escape from human reality (habit – one might think of the psychology of an alcoholic or drug addict for a more modern analogy) is necessary to live;

“he must constantly put himself beyond reach in order to avoid the terrible judgement of collectivity.” (p108)

This however is not the same as the separation between ones representational self and ones transcendent self. This version of not being what one is, or being what one is not, is self-denial. He claims to not be paederast not in the sense that he acknowledges his future possible transcendences but in the sense in which “this table is not an inkwell.” (p108) Like the woman on the date, he plays a game that lands him in bad faith, but in this case rather than self-deception, it is self-denial; denial to recognize in full ones habits and pitfalls.

What of the critic?

“The champion of sincerity is in bad faith to the degree that in order to reassure himself, he pretends to judge, to the extent that he demands that freedom as freedom constitute itself as a thing.” (p109)

The critic in turning his attention to the guilt and sincerity of the homosexual ignores or avoids his own relationship to himself. Through confession (Sartre invokes religious imagery into his discussion) the homosexual can objectify his ‘mistakes’ and they come to depend on him for his validation. They are either maintained under his glance, or they collapse in an infinity of particular acts. His freedom is posited in respect to his confession:

“[…] the man who will acknowledge himself as a homosexual will no longer be the same as the homosexual whom he acknowledges being and […] he will escape into the region of freedom and […] goodwill.” (p108)

The critic demands of the homosexual that he admit that all his acts are consequences following strictly from his essence. This surrendering of choice from the homosexual entrusts his freedom to the critic for judgement, in order that judgement can take place. The critic is in bad faith in that his representational self, the judge, demands that freedom is a thing, a facticity and so negates the idea of his own freedom. Sincerity has to take place with regards to ones relationship to oneself. Sincerity takes the same structure as bad faith. A man is sincere in order to objectify himself in order to escape to the condition of objectification. Where bad faith is a function of operating in the world, sincerity is a subset doomed to inevitable disintegration.

These examples are all important in highlighting Sartre’s basic concept that “I am not what I am”. This allows the human being a certain amount of freedom from criticism or pitfalls in the present moment so that they can move forward continuing to make decisions and exercise freedom.

Expanding the playing field: Multiplicity

Elwyn rejects the consensual interpretation of bad faith found in the following authors: Joseph Catalano (1974), Anthony Manser (1987), Gregory McCulloch (1994), Gary Cox (2006) and David Reisman (2007). This consensual interpretation rests on the idea that the segregated existence of human beings is exhaustively constituted by two aspects of being: facticity and transcendence.

Elwyn points out that Sartre explicitly cited other instruments of bad faith:

“We can equally well use another kind of duplicity derived from human reality which we will express roughly by saying that its being-for-itself implies complementarily a being-for-others.” (B & N, 81)

There are further ‘instruments’:

being-in-the-world / being-in-the-midst-of-the-world
being-what-I-have-been / not-being-what-I-have-been

Elwyn finds these instruments written into the famous examples and therefore is able to expand and develop the meaning of bad faith. He is simply expanding it’s context and encompassing of the human experience. This leads to a perspective on Sartre’s wordy claims that one is what they are not and are not what they are:

“”[…] while I am some of my properties, I cannot fully be said to be them because they fall short of being my whole self.” (Elwyn, p608)


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