Archives For existentialism

And sketches for themes concerning upcoming video projects…

From ‘Chris Marker: La Jetee’ by Janet Harbord (Afterfall Books)

” […] ‘I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering,’ says the narrator in another of Marker’s landmark films, Sans Soleil (Sunless, 1983), ‘which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining’. The comment recalls Nietzsche writing that there could be no hope, ‘no present, without forgetfulness’, as well as Kafka’s statement: ‘One photographs things in order to get them out of one’s mind. My stories are a kind of closing one’s eyes’. We close our eyes, like the cinema’s blink to blackness, and we dream of what has been and might be. Forgetting is not an abandonment of the past, but permission to elaborate, to reconstruct differently, to mix up the syntax. Both memory and cinema work with an unstable set of associations, contingent on the circumstances in which they appear. If the potency of a memory is the opening enigma of La Jetee, the rest of the film is an exploration of the ways in which recording devices, such as film and photography, perform a choreography with memory’s work.” (p4)

Harbord pulls together the exact thoughts I encountered upon studying Nietzsche and recognising the close connection between Nietzsche and the central thesis of the narration embedded in Sans Soleil. This thesis, or theme, attracts me because it provides a solid foundation, or rather inquest, in which to uncover, using the mediums of video and audio, what lies beneath, or next to, or perhaps above everyday reality. That is, the perceived experience of the everyday. For Nietzsche total memory was a prison, and the ability to forget was tied to human happiness.

“Metaphysics calls the permanent Now ‘eternity’. Nietzsche, too, conceives the three phases of time from the standpoint of eternity as a permanent Now. But, for Nietzsche, the permanence does not consist in something static, but in a recurrence of the same.” (p418 – Who Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra? {Heidegger})

Briefly, Nietzsche’s conception of the superman, or perhaps to coin a phrase less laden with contemporary connotations – an evolved modern person free from the pitfalls of historical ‘man’ – is someone free from the past and therefore free from the spirit of vengefulness and free from the degradation of the present as caused by the attachment to universal ideals. This second point pertains to the Will to Power and the eternal recurrence of the same – a statement on the Being of beings – see Nietzsche blog posts for more info.

Talking about ‘the everyday’ has some implications that need to be set apart. The everyday refers to the perceived everyday experienced by an individual subject. The implication of the activities of the subjects own memories in this everyday experience is that the past is always present and always fighting for attention in the present. The seduction of the past lives with us. It beckons us to grasp what has been and remake it differently. This is the central theme of La Jetee, of Vertigo (Hitchcock), of the Greek myth Oedipus and perhaps even an inversion of the stories of Kafka – that is; to wake up in the present without the desire to reshape it according to an ideal found in both an individual past and collective past. To no longer reshape the present is to break a fundamental contract with the past and with memory itself. In another sense this could be construed as an argument founded in solipsism; that is, the quest to set aside individual subjectivity in order to come upon a form of true objectivity (to prove the existence of others – the brain in a jar, evil demon deception problems) In short, memory construes an idealised past and invades our experience of the present tempting us to not see what is set out directly before us but rather to reshape what is before us to suit an ideal; a fantasy. We want to re-make things that have been in order to repeat them and to change them. Dangerous ground for tragic heroes.


Memories exist in the unconscious. The unconscious is our storage unit. Drawing on Freud we can construe the unconscious as a land without time or temporality. Moments from the distant past may be buried deep but have no interest in real temporal orientation and so might erupt into the present creating fractures and disturbances. If the activity of memory constitutes our shaping (re-shaping) of the present then we are destined to madness, or a recurring nightmare; the past is simply an unknowable landscape which cannot be mined for truth. Truth being construed here as an objective viewing of the present, real and unfolding world. The scientists in Marker’s La Jetee attempt to mine and use the memories of their test subjects to reshape the future/past. To achieve their goal they need one of Nietzsche’s evolved human beings – a Nietzshean Superman.


A great lecture by Keith Sanborn –

The Worldhood of the World

Being-in-the-World has structure. The world is made up of ‘entities’ within the world. We want to see what shows itself in these entities. The first port-of-call is to catalogue things that ‘are’ in the world: houses, trees, people, mountains, stars. This is pre-phenomenological (as everydayness is pre-ontological for Heidegger: ontological is to think about being). So how do we move from a pre-phenomenological state to a phenomenological investigation? We are seeking the Being of those entities which are present at hand within the world. Entities within the world are things. Things can be things of nature and can be things invested with value (the hammer). Being which belongs to Things is substantiality. Asking ontologically about substantiality cannot lead to the phenomenon that is the world:

“Nature is itself an entity which is encountered within the world and which can be discovered in various ways and at various stages.” (p92)

The second port-of-call is to attach ourselves to those entities with which Dasein for the most part dwells. Objects which are invested with value. Thus far we have: ontical depiction of entities within the world and ontological interpretation of their Being. Neither activity propels us further toward the phenomenon of the world. In both these the world has been presupposed.

Worldhood (a structure of one of the constitutive items of Being-in-the-world) is a characteristic of Dasein itself. Dasein is not separate from Worldhood. Failing to see Being-in-the-world as a state of Dasein means that the phenomenon of worldhood gets passed over. Heidegger proposes then that we interpret the world in terms of the Being of those entities which are present at hand within the world but which are not discovered in terms of nature.

Why this rejection of present-at-hand objects proximal to nature?

Three stages of analysis:

1) the analysis of environmentality and worldhood in general
2) an illustrative contrast between our analysis of worldhood and Descartes ontology of the world
3) the aroundness of the environment, and the spatiality of Dasein.

1) the analysis of environmentality and worldhood in general

We have dealings in the world with entities within the world. Rather than a bare perceptual cognition these dealings are the kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use.

Conclusion points:

The present at hand view can’t allow the world to show itself.

There is a network of practical relations.

The background of the world is unobtrusive/non-obstinate which is practical and important as we try to do things in the world.

How does the world show itself as phenomenon?

When things go wrong (breakdown cases) the context of equipment (things) is lit up and the world reveals itself.

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)

The Problem – the relation of my being to the being of the Other

human reality is:

1) negating conduct – we are not what we are, we are what we are not.

2) the cogito – we are subjects looking outwards from ourselves (suggests solipsism – a standard problem of philosophy; Sartre describes people as being shipwrecked on this reef). For Heidegger we are in a world of practical activity – Dasein is social. Being-with-others. For Sartre Heidegger has not offered an explanation. He does not deal with the presence of other beings and how they might impact on the subject.

3) is-for-itself

“It is in relation to myself as subject that I am concerned about myself, and yet this concern reveals to me a being which is my being without being-for-me.” (p221 B & N)

Shame as an example:

” […] the Other is the indispensable mediator between myself and me. I am ashamed of myself as I appear to the Other.” (p222)

This comment suggests that the only experience I can have is of me. I can never meet with anything except the consciousness which is mine. But it is the other that is somehow a catalyst for my relation to myself.

“By the mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other […] But at the same time I need the Other in order to realize fully all the structures of my being.” (p222)

Sartre is respecting the individuality of the subject. He is sticking with the cogito as the starting point. He acknowledges that our own being is genuinely modified by the presence of others.

“The For-itself refers to the For-others.” (p222)

The Look (pp252 – 261)

Others to me are objects. At least one mode of the Other in relation to the subject is object-ness. To bring the Other out of conjecture (Descartes evil demon) Sartre asserts that “object-ness must of necessity refer not to an original solitude beyond my reach, but to a fundamental connection in which the Other is manifested in some way other than through the knowledge I have of him.” (p253) The presence of others differs from the presence of objects. We might initially experience others as objects (Husserl and Descartes have this view – bodies as objects) but, objects always essentially present the same kind of experience. People on the other hand present different kinds of experience. The situation changes for us when we encounter another. Sartre doesn’t want to dwell on the problem of proving the existence of others. He asserts the unique experience of encountering the Other and keeps moving forward.

However, because these beings are referred to doesn’t guarantee their probability. The face which is seen does not refer to a consciousness which exists in a separate state. Sartre calls this; ‘Being-in-a-pair-with-the-Other’.

The man in the park:

The Other, the man across the lawn, is apprehended first as an object and at the same time a man. If he were apprehended only as an object (a ‘puppet’ Sartre suggests) the subject would apply to him the categories with which he ordinarily groups temporal-spatial ‘things’. He would be ‘beside’ the benches. I take this to mean that as one looks at a tree and slots it into the 3-dimensions of the landscape, the look towards the man requires more categorisation. Perhaps movement temporally and spatially plays into this?

“We are dealing with a relation which is without parts, given at one stroke, inside of which there unfolds a spatiality which is not my spatiality; for instead of a grouping toward me of the objects, there is now an orientation which flees from me.” (p254)

Because the relation is reaching toward the man-as-object, it escapes me and I am not at the centre of it. So if I look at Pierre looking out the window, I cannot be at the centre of this exchange as it is the relationship of Pierre to the window and his look out of it that moves away from me. This is a negation of the spatial awareness I have established. It disrupts my experience as centre of things in the world.

“The distance appears as a pure disintegration of the relations which I apprehend between the objects of my universe.” (p255)

“The Other is first the permanent flight of things toward a goal which I apprehend as an object at a certain distance from me but which escapes me inasmuch as it unfolds about itself its own distances.” (p255)

When Sartre talks about the man being a plughole into which the world drains, this is what he is talking about. All spatial relations are changed from the perspective of the subject, in favour of a trend towards and relation to the Other.

The keyhole example relates to shame:

You are spying through a keyhole, and from the subjective point of view the world is being structured around that experience. Someone creeps up behind you and discovers you spying and you experience shame. The structuring of your view of the world is being affected by the Other. An ordinary pre-reflective experience of life.

We now have to define ourselves partly through the negating of the other. This situation is reciprocal. A battle of ego – a dialectic.

On the origin of Bad Faith:

“Moreover I can not truly define myself as being in a situation: first because I am not a positional consciousness of myself; second because I am my own nothingness. In this sense – and since I am what I am not and since I am not what I am – I can not even define myself as truly being in the process of listening at doors. I escape this provisional definition of myself by means of all my transcendence. There as we have seen is the origin of bad faith. Thus not only am I unable to know myself, but my very being escapes – although I am that very escape from my being – and I am absolutely nothing. There is nothing there but a pure nothingness encircling a certain objective ensemble and throwing it into relief outlined upon the world, but this ensemble is a real system, a disposition of means in view of an end.” (p260)

More on Bad Faith…

September 20, 2013 — 1 Comment

Notes from Sartre on Bad Faith Leslie Stevenson

Stevenson starts by arguing that most interpretations of Sartre (including D. Z. Phillips whom I have discussed and responded to in the post below) are misguided due to reading out of context. Sartre’s real life examples are not meant as direct analogies of (in this case) bad faith but perform some other contextual function. Think of them as setting parameters or providing a set of logic formulas. Stevenson sets out to give an account of bad faith with more thought given to Being and Nothingness’ introduction. In the introduction and in part one of Being and Nothingness Sartre sets down necessary truths about consciousness. These necessary truths make bad faith possible and so it’s here that we begin:

“The distinction between reflective (positional, thetic) consciousness and pre-reflective (non-positional, non-thetic) consciousness plays a fundamental and recurring role in Sartre’s argument. In Section III of the Introduction he says that all consciousness is consciousness of something and is thus ‘positional’ consciousness of some object taken to be distinct from the conscious subject. But he adds that ‘the necessary and sufficient condition for a knowing consciousness to be knowledge of its objects, is that it be consciousness of itself as being that knowledge’. He then asks how we should understand this latter principle, and rejects the suggestion that it means ‘To know is to know that one knows’, which would imply that all consciousness would involve reflective consciousness of itself. Sartre suggests that what is true instead is that ‘every positional consciousness of an object is at the same time a non-positional consciousness of itself.’ ” (Stevenson)

So the take home message here is that ‘to know is to know that one knows’ is entirely not the point, but rather that at any given moment of consciousness, consciousness is at once reflective/positional (conscious of an object) and pre-reflective/non-positional conscious of itself not of having knowledge but as being knowledge. One could invoke epistemological frameworks such as coherentism or particularism as a way of illustrating this mode of being. Particularism especially is helpful in that it argues that we know a thing before we know how we know it. Invoking the logic of particularism allows us to say to know is to know, which comes before knowing that or how one knows. Better: To know that or how one knows if and only if one knows.

a previous post on particularism (Chisholm)


(1) For all conscious predicates F, and all people x, x is F if and only if x is pre-reflectively aware that he is F.

(2) For all conscious predicates F, and all people x, x’s being F allows the possibility of, but does not entail, x’s being reflectively aware that he is F.

Stevenson goes on to further extrapolate how this foundation relates to Sartre’s stress on freedom and his claim that ‘human reality must not be necessarily what it is but must be able to be what it is not.’

(3) For all first-order conscious predicates F, and all people x, if x is F he can try to become not F (and if he is not F he can try to become F).

The following paragraph shed’s the most coherent light on Sartre’s example of the waiter that I have come across so far:

“The point that Sartre wants to make by the perhaps by now shop-soiled example of the cafe waiter is surely made plain in the sentences which follow and precede the paragraph which Phillips so misinterprets. ‘The waiter in the cafe cannot be immediately a cafe waiter in the sense that this inkwell is an inkwell’; ‘it is necessary that we make ourselves what we are’. Anything we do, any role we play, even (Sartre wants to say) any emotion we feel or any value we respect, is sustained in being only by our own constantly remade decision. The little Parisian scene of the waiter who is ‘over-acting’ his role is chosen simply as a specially vivid, conspicuous example of what is in Sartre’s view a completely general and necessary truth. There is no suggestion that the waiter need be in bad faith, any more than any player of any human role. He is (for the moment) a waiter, but he does not have to remain one any longer than he wants to; he would presumably be in bad faith if he denied the latter truth, but he may be well aware of the possibility of disputes with the management, angry stormings out, and job resignations even at the cost of unemployment and poverty.” (p256)

On a side note, Stevenson seems to be a person who understands that to have a job is not to be degraded, but rather empowering in its own right, unlike Phillips for whom ‘job’ seems to be a dirty word.

With regards to bad faith Stevenson now moves to the example of the woman on a date to further extrapolate the condition. In the moment in which the woman leaves her hand in the hand of the man, though does not notice as she is all intellect, it is clear that the implication is that she is actively allowing his advances whilst at once unaware. She does not realise that she is encouraging his sexual advances. Bad Faith cannot simply be the mere absence of reflective, introspective awareness of what one is doing. Such an absence is far to common a condition for it to be as much a concern as Sartre is inferring in bad faith. Bad faith must be the denial of what she is doing in encouraging or allowing his sexual advances. After-all self denial/self-deception seems to be the characteristic of bad faith that Sartre is driving at.

What to make of this passage:

“What unity do we find in these various aspects of bad faith? It is a certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea. The basic concept which is thus engendered, utilises the double property of the human being, who is at once a facticity and a transcendence. These two aspects of human reality are and ought to be capable of a valid co-ordination. But bad faith does not wish either to co-ordinate them nor to surmount them in a synthesis. Bad faith seeks to affirm their identity while preserving their differences.” (Sartre, p98)

We can try to contrast this with sincerity. Sincerity would require someone to be what he is. Sartre asserts this as impossible and does so through the example of the homosexual. Briefly and simplistically, the homosexual man resists the description of himself as a homosexual man, as he is not a homosexual man in the way that a table is a table. If upon reflection he admits that he is a homosexual man but by that he admits that he cannot cease his homosexual activities (Sartre was writing in the 1940’s and so is antiquated on the issue of homosexuality) he would be in bad faith.

“To the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct 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.” (p 108)

Although the example in reality is a bit confused, Sartre is driving at the point: here we have an example of bad faith which consists in denying one’s freedom to be otherwise than one is.

Stevenson has provided a clear logic interpretation of Sartre’s bad faith examples. The next step is to further understand them as such and then try to ascertain whether they apply universally or exist only for the Sartre convert and as to whether they form a plausible and holistic view of consciousness and the human experience of dissonance.

From Chapter 2 of Being and Nothingness: “Bad Faith”

Sartre’s example of the waiter to demonstrate bad faith (lying to oneself) starts with an odd caricature:

“Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automation while carrying his tray with a recklessness of a tight-rope walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand.” (p 101 B & N)

We could assume that this waiter, whose movements are too precise is being contrasted with another waiter whose movements are precise in the sense required by the profession (not too precise). Further to this, Sartre goes on to describe the waiter as playing a game in which he marks out the territory of what it is to be a waiter, and what gives that territory its defining characteristics. The waiter is not merely emulating other waiters, but is realizing his condition along with theirs. This seems to be a contradiction built into Sartre’s example. On the one hand, the waiter objectively strives to be like a waiter (his step is a little too quick). On the other hand, the waiter realizes through role playing his condition as a waiter (in which case his step would be just quick enough).

What of this contradiction? Does Sartre mean to say that people are imposed upon from without (expectations to behave as a waiter) and also persuade themselves from within (realizes his condition as a waiter as similar to other waiters) and so have bad faith in identifying themselves as such?

An important missing element from Sartre’s argument is the motivation to play such a game and the extent to which this identity defines the person. Perhaps the bad faith is of such a degree that the financial rewards of the job as a waiter outweigh the so-called self-deception. An ethical dimension could be added; the waiter has a child to support and so enters the bad-faith with a clear motivation advantageous outcome. Bad Faith is trade off with interactions in society.

These thoughts so far are taking Sartre’s example as a present tense example: “I am a waiter in a cafe now. What is the nature of the role that I am playing.” Sartre however shifts his argument to consider the projected self; what one sets out to be; a future tense:

“… it is precisely this person who I have to be (if I am the waiter in question) and who I am not. It is not that I do not wish to be this person or that I want this person to be different. But rather there is no common measure between his being and mine. It is a ‘representation’ for others and for myself, which means that I can be he only in representation.” (p 102, B & N my italics)

This seems natural. The self that I imagine myself to be in the future, even the future of a few seconds, is not myself. It is a representation of myself that my imagination has conjured. Sartre then shifts back to present tense:

“I can only play at being him.” (p 103)

Is there not a point however when being a waiter becomes non-imaginary and factual? Sartre might say: “I aim at being a philosopher”. Once he has written Being and Nothingness surely he can be a philosopher, good or bad, as well as anything his being might envelope? Though I understand and agree with the sentiment that people are not what they are and are what they are not, this example underplays the value and humility of also being simply what you are.


Phillips, D. Z; Bad Faith and Sartre’s Waiter Philosophy, Vol 56, No. 215 (Jan 1981) Cambridge University Press

The overall structure of Being and Nothingness:

Introduction [discussion of Being in-itself (brute matter) and Being for-itself (consciousness)]

1. The Problem of Nothingness
2. Being-for-itself
3. Being-for-others (infamous discussion of ‘the look’ – how different consciousness’ relate to each other)
4. Having, Doing and Being

Conclusion [recognises an ethical dimension of his discussion – the discussion of ‘freedom’. Sartre promises a sequel that will deal with ethics]

First off, the title: Being and Nothingness. These are apparently a duality, or a binary. Sartre uses the term “being” predominantly in the distinctive sense of “what grounds” something (for instance, “the being of consciousness”). So Being means more than ‘what is’ or existence. It is related to the ontology of Heidegger: that is, ontology as the world as we understand it only once we start observing it. He sets this up in his own terms as: Being in-itself (brute matter) and Being for-itself (consciousness).

The spectrum Sartre is steering himself through (the two extremes):

Realism: we can look at objects and determine what’s going on in the phenomena – objective viewing
Idealism: to assimilate all experiences to the consciousness – to ask what is it for something to appear, what is the phenomena of appearing – when something appears it appears to an agent.

We are avoiding the Cartesian duality of subject and object; a continuation of the phenomenological project. Key influences and context:


Bad Faith (Chpt 2 Being and Nothingness) – The Problem of Nothingness

A formula for consciousness: “Consciousness is a being, the nature of which is to be conscious of the nothingness of its being.” At first this is a tongue and mind twister but the implication emerges that we are aware of the things that we are not. We imagine possibilities and through choices veto future transcendences. We view other subjects (or things) as negations, as a prisoner views a jailor, or a slave the master. Other subjects are in the way of future transcendences.

Sartre is contradicting/disagreeing with Husserl here who asserted that to study consciousness and phenomena one has to bracket the presumed existence of the world. Sartre is arguing that consciousness itself implies the existence of the world. To be conscious is to be conscious of something… The task is to make explicit the phenomena of this being-for-itself.

The negatites: approx translation would be negative entities. Whenever anything has a particular determination, lots of other determinations are being denied.

Sartre talks about irony:

“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…” (p47)

So what of negation towards the self? Is it possible to deny oneself? Bad Faith is the attitude in which we find an example of this self-negation and which is essential to human reality. Bad Faith here means to lie to oneself, as distinguished from lying in general.

“But consciousness affects itself with bad faith. There must be an original intention and a project of bad faith; this project implies a comprehension of bad faith as such and a pre-reflective apprehension of consciousness as affecting itself with bad faith. It follows first that the one to whom the lie is told and the one who lies are one and the same person, which means that I must know in my capacity as deceiver the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully.” (p49)

The tendency might be to reestablish dualism; to use psychoanalysis and suggest part of our conscious conceals truth from the other part, that there is a line of demarcation. There is a deceiver and deceived. Sartre wants to avoid this. In psychoanalysis Freud marks out the id and the ego. Sartre provides a complex deconstruction of this account of ones relation to oneself. Ultimately Sartre is pressing the implication of the unity of one and the same psychic mechanism and the double activity at its core. Each side of the double activity is complementary; it implies the other in its being.

Patterns of Bad Faith

Bad faith is best described by Sartre as a ‘game of mirrors’. Essentially the subject ( I ) is constituted by what it is not and Bad Faith is the mechanism by which this relationship to what is not is in a constantly active state.

“To cause me 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.” ” (p66)

This is related to the idea that a subject can transcend what they are Being at any given time i.e. you are never fully yourself, and there are potential/possible other ‘you’s’ which are similarly constituted by what they are not. If you were yourself in the way an ink-well is an ink-well (to use Sartre’s example) you could only ever be ‘yourself’ as inanimate and unchanging. Sartre is inferring that we are always rising to an ideal and always in a state of change. Sartre uses two key examples to extrapolate this: the woman who consents to go on a date with a man, and the waiter in a cafe.

The woman who consents to go on a date with a man for the first time is fully aware of his sexual intensions. She also knows that sooner or later she will confirm or deny his intensions. However, social relations deem that she does not need to nor want to realise an urgency to this situation; she need only concern herself with what is respectful and discreet and un-pressured. She disarms the man’s subtext or comments by taking him as restricted to what his behaviour reflects at the present moment. The temporal development of his conduct is kept out of focus. Being aware of the desire which she inspires and at the same time being embroiled in ‘Bad Faith’ creates a dualism:

“In order to satisfy her, there must be a feeling which is addressed wholly to her personality – i.e., to her full freedom – and which would be a recognition of her freedom. But at the same time this feeling must be wholly desire; that is, it must address itself to her body as object.” (p55)

Though it is being argued that she is in bad faith, the point is that she is employing certain procedures to maintain that bad faith. Bad Faith is in constant play and not a singularity to be presently reflected upon by the subject. In the case of the waiter, the waiter performs his duties as if acting out a rehearsed play. He is investigating what it is to move around the cafe and wait on tables. His condition is wholly one of ceremony. The waiter limits himself to the performative actions of waiting tables in the cafe and so denies all other possible states of consciousness at that particular moment; thereby acting out bad faith. The idea here is not that he cannot reflect on this particular act of bad faith but that he allows his condition oand knows the rights which it allows him. Being the waiter is a representation for others and for the waiter himself.

“I am a waiter in the mode of being what I am not.” (p60)