Sartre, Being and Nothingness

I have never discussed philosophy on a board before. I have been hesitant for varied reasons. But I will give your collective intellects a try.

I was perusing ‘being and nothingness’ and was a disturbed by an aspect. Sartre seems to express that it is our responsibility to avoid bad faith. More than that, he seems to imply that it would be immoral not to do so. This seems highly against his phenomenological roots. I can understand good faith and the resulting transcendence is preferable, but can Sartre defend the assertion that it is one’s imperative?

for those who haven’t read it recently,I’ll describe his apparent argument briefly(from his essay in defense of existentialism and being and nothingness:

  1. Existence precedes essence. We decide what the ‘form’ of human nature is through the acts we commit. Anything we do is what we think is ‘good’ in every action we choose how we feel human nature should be.
  2. Since creating the objective form of human nature is an evolving process; when we do an action, we in part define the universal. So any action we do is an action chosen for all of man.( almost kantean)
  3. Bad faith results in one keeping his facticity static. This is done by the individual deluding themselves into thinking they have no choice but to be something. For example, a coward who convinces himself that he was born a coward so he cannot be anything but one. He deceives himself into believing that he was born this way because it lifts any responsibility from him(otherwise being a coward would be his fault). But this limits his potential transcendence (he can never be a 'hero).
  4. since they are allowing their choices to be dominated by false observations of their facticity, they are limiting their transcendence (their ability to become more than themselves).

From this he draws that holding bad faith is bad considering it limits your transcendence and on top of this threatens to do this for all of mankind. But can he prove that limiting one’s transcendence is objectively bad? When a being does this he is emulating an object. To say that doing so is bad implies that either being an object is bad or the methodology to do so is. The former seems ludicrous, it would be like calling a rock immoral. The latter is juvenile, lying is bad… Great work Sartre, want a cookie?!

Can anyone defend Sartre’s assertion that bad faith is BAD. Or do you think it was simply his preference. That he was being true to his existentialism essay and simply turning his preference into the universal, by the action of writing.

Well, from my perspective, you have several issues to iron out. The first has to do with why you would be concerned with what someone of that era thought about anything. But I’ll let you work that one out on your own.

The second concern is that of the very concept of existentialism. It is very common for a government, for example, to become established, gain authority, and then decide that the people who formed it are of no real value except to serve it. The government declares its own freedom from those who formed it such as to choose its own purpose and goals. Such an act creates an existential paradigm and mindset within which the populous often falls into alignment and sees nothing beyond.

A homosapian does that exact same thing as he becomes educated by 18th century philosophers. He was raised by forces within that he never fully understands but at some point decides that his body and inner emotional urges are there merely to serve his new found authority over them. From that point, he is free to choose his future… up to a point. But was he ever really free? Did he actually have a responsibility (a response-ability) to do something specific rather than merely choose an arbitrary purpose in life? Did the government really have that “right”?

From my perspective (with substantial support), I say “no”. Neither a government of a society, nor a government (cognitive mind) of a single body ever really had the right to arbitrarily choose the purpose of the body/soul or anything within.

So from that stand point, Sartre has already displayed a lack of maturity from which he would have a hard time defending anything concerning morality.

But now to the third issue, “is bad faith really bad?

Well, epistemologically and semantically speaking, obviously it has to be. “Bad” anything is a “bad” something. But of course, what is probably intended is to ask whether there is such a thing as “bad faith”.

Again, this gets back to that choice of purpose. One cannot defend that something is either good or bad if one has no standard from which to measure. Once a goal or purpose is identified, one can then deduce that anything leading toward that goal is good and anything leading away is bad.

But now if you are going to be an existentialist and proclaim that you decide arbitrarily what is or isn’t the purpose, then it can only be in contest with oneself that one can proclaim that anything they did was “bad”. But can that be done? I think it can.

Let’s say for example, that you choose that your purpose in life is to become ultimately healthy. And then with that in mind, you study many reports and decide that in order to meet that standard, you must eat a specific diet everyday. Of course, health doesn’t come instantly, thus one must keep on the diet over time, having faith that they are on the right track. But what happens when they discover that they had been misled, for whatever reason, and the specific diet they had chosen wasn’t making them healthier, but rather less healthy?

Faith had to be held for sake of the effort. But as it turned out, it was a faith in the wrong diet. Doesn’t that fit the definition of a “bad faith”? I don’t know Sartre personally, but I suspect that he would understand that argument enough to defend his concerns about bad faith. Although I imagine he would apply it more toward religious or political faith, moral faith, or personal beliefs concerning one’s abilities. But the concepts would be the same. A person faithfully abides by what they currently think is probably true, but that in fact, might not actually be true, hence a “bad faith”.

Sometimes even the most immature people still have potentially good arguments for their delusions.

I know TheFullBloodedSkeptic has only posted once but I like to defend Sartre when I get the chance. His descriptions in 1-4 our fairly sound, but I don’t know where he got the idea that Sartre was calling bad faith bad. Sartre doesn’t give personal opinions in Being and Nothingness. He simply defines and describes bad faith. Outside of Being and Nothingness I believe Sartre has at least implied how much he dislikes bad faith, and perhaps if asked he would show why he thinks it is harmful, but it is always his opinion and if pressed he would probably admit that, but even if he wouldn’t it doesn’t matter. What he says outside his direct ontology is allowed to sound like a direct objective truth. I believe in the nihilistic perspective he gives, but I still state opinions while sounding like I’m stating facts, I’m not going to qualify everything I say in plain English to reflect my existential views.

I not sure that I think bad faith was the best name for the term and I don’t know why Sartre chose it, maybe it lost something in the English translation. But I suppose the faith in bad faith applies to the fundamental aspect of existentialism, being before essence. You have bad faith if you have faith in essence before being. By the way, of course bad faith isn’t always bad. It’s the same as saying conformity isn’t always bad. It could very well be good for the individual to conform and make it easy for themselves, but it can also be stifling.

The chapter on bad faith is confusing, and in my opinion, over-rated. Sartre taught that there are no innocent victims; everyone chooses to be in a particular situation, and each person is responsible for the situation they are in. This can be extended to include bad faith as well, provided one understands what bad faith is exactly. For my part, I could never quite understand it. It seems a very elusive concept, not the same as hypocrisy or deluding oneself. But to the extent that anyone tries to escape from being responsible for their situation, they are probably in bad faith and they bear responsibility for this. Sartre never really delineated an ethics, so in that sense one could not properly say that being in bad faith is morally wrong. It is simply a choice which one must bear the consequences for.