A question on "bad faith"

An example of bad faith:

Sartre cites a café waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too “waiter-esque”. His voice oozes with an eagerness to please; he carries food rigidly and ostentatiously. His exaggerated behaviour illustrates that he is play acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself.

I (think), I am pretty clear on what bad faith is. But I don’t understand this example of it. Why is the waiter guilty of bad faith, by being aware that he is not one? Surely he would be guilty if he were not believed he is a waiter…?

Because he is merely acting a part in life. It is not who he is, but a part of his existence that even then has turned to an act.
If he believed then there would be not need to act.

The question of ‘bad faith’ is about self-deception. It means you’re lying to yourself about who you are, what you’re becoming, how you’re living your life.

In the worst case, it’s outrageous hypocrisy. Think of the State: the government tells us we are all citizens with equal rights. Yet they trample on any sort of class (and more broadly, perspective) which doesn’t align with a very particular lifestyle. So on the one hand, they’re talking about good, progressive stuff. But on the other, they’re maniacally destroying anything which they feel remotely threatened by.

It’s this sort of ‘unconscious’ stupidity which Sartre illuminates for us. The example of the cafe waiter should be surprising because we don’t tend to think of waiting tables as performance art. But certainly it could be: doubtless there is considerable strain, a compromise between creativity with necessity, etc. The waiter-as-waiter could be conceived as some sort of ‘pure’ entity, a completely abstract machine designed to provide a service.

But really, the waiter’s a flesh and blood human being, not a complex mimicry. Sure: he laughs, he walks, he serves – he even goes a little further than the mechanical actions: he plays the part. Perhaps for our tip, but also perhaps–for himself. To convince himself that he is a waiter, and not just impersonating one.

What would the difference be? Faith. But in order to properly answer your question regarding bad faith, we’d first have to find an account of what ‘good’ faith is!

I fully agree with your political stance there. We are all working for ‘the man’

I used to work as a salesman in a golf shop. Perhaps not a very good salesman because I hated it. While I went through the motions, because I need the job to pay rent and buy food, etc. I have never considered myself a salesman. I know Sartre says, “A waiter can never be a waiter, like a rock is a rock” so in that way I can never actually ‘be a salesman’, but I am I in bad faith for doing said job?

If so is it possible for our society to exist the way it does, without most people being in bad faith? Or are we all guilty for not doing exactly as we would like?

Still pondering the idea of ‘good faith’ a little… :confused:

He is acting in bad faith only from Sartre’s definition. Sartre never imagined multi-tasking, all tasks of which could be characteristic of the person doing them. His ideal, authenticity, negates all one has to do in order to survive while attempting to reach his/her goals. It is not an isolated absolute.

Bad Faith, phenomenologically speaking (and Sartre is phenomenologist first and foremost, at least in Being and Nothingness, which is the text we’re talking about) is where being-for-itself becomes being-in-itself. Being-in-itself is simply being, something that is. Being-for-itself is transient existence, something that is, and is aware that it is, and chooses to be.

The waiter example is simple - the waiter is simply being a waiter, not being it for some self-defined purpose. This is to the exclusion of Marxism, which Sartre bring into the game in his later works, where alienation (in the Marxist sense) becomes the mechanism by which Sartre argues that capitalism generates bad faith among the majority of the population.

Ah. Ok, that makes much more sense…

Thanks :smiley:

Ernest Brown has written a fairly good reading of this question available online at Wisdom’s Children (pops)

Specifically on the examples we were discussing, he writes:

'Bad faith is more than simple self-deception. It also cannot mean that we genuinely believe in “bad faith”, since that would make it good faith. Having faith in “bad faith” requires that we accept non-persuasive evidence about the object of our willed self-delusion. The woman on the date takes the hand-holding to signify a chaste amour, when she knows that in reality it is a prelude to sex. The waiter performs his duties while seething inwardly at the injustices in his life. “Bad faith” seeks to jeopardize all beliefs in the service of perpetuating itself. ’