Sartre And Bad Faith In Essay

Length: 9 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Mythology - Religion Type: Essay Paper: #39491441 Related Topics: Lie, Personal Responsibility, Anxiety, Free Will
Excerpt from Essay :

The individual believes the lies imposed by society, and sees them for truth. It provides a convenient vehicle for relinquishing the responsibility of freedom. Categories and definitions limit freedom, choice, and the capacity to transcend categorization.

According to Brown, it should also be kept in mind that the bad faith concept is somewhat beyond simple self-deception. It is the perpetuation of a "truth" that the individual knows to be in fact false. However, this perpetuation feeds upon itself by the individual's needs for whatever is the result of the deception. For the unhappy worker, for example, bad faith persists as a result of the paycheck, while the unhappy mother would continue in bad faith for the sake of being called a "good" mother, and so on. In Sartre's view then, it appears that there is little that the individual within such a society can do to escape bad faith. Even in the attempt to escape bad faith, the individual perpetuates it by his or her belief that this is in fact the case. Whatever an individual tells him- or herself regarding the state of bad faith, it is likely to be a lie for the sake of escaping the responsibility and the burden of true freedom.

In this way, society imposes bad faith by imposing artificial categories upon life and living. Individuals are groups according to things such as their income, type of work, religion, marital status, sexual preference, and so on. All these categories are imposed in order to maintain artificial order in society. Individuals tend to submit to these willingly in order to escape the responsibility that would result from complete freedom and choice. Individuals cannot face the burden of making their own choices, and hence happily relinquishes this responsibility to society as a collective whole.

According to Sartre then, there are both individual and collective reasons for bad faith. On the individual level, a person engages in self-deceit mostly as a result of anguish. Such anguish generally relates to the nothingness that the individual fears at the end of being. The individual then looks towards society to assuage this fear. Society supplies comfort in the form of categories and institutions. Institutions such as religion relieves the individual of the fear relating to non-being. Categories such as income level and class relieves the individual of the responsibility of choice. For this relief, the individual pays the price of true sincerity and freedom, and does so happily.

Sartre (48) notes that self-deception is commonly seen as identical to lying in general, but emphasizes that, as seen above, it should be distinguished from lying in general. Lying to the self takes on many more complex notions, because the liar and the victim are the same person, which implies that the victim must to some degree be aware of the lie. The point reiterated here is that the self being lied to allows the deception. He or she is willing and even eager to be deceived for the sake of the comfort level that this entails.

In this regard, Sartre notes that self-deception does not only entail the external world, but also the internal world. Deceiving the self means alienation from the self as well as from the external. According to Sartre (57), this culminates in the statement that "I am not what I am." This means that the individual is influenced not only by the perfectly free and perfectly independent self. Instead, there are many external influences that both adds and detracts from the individual's original self. Hence, what remains is no longer the untouched identity of the free individual. Being bound by the requirements of society, making a living, providing for a family, and the like, fundamentally alters a person.

An individual may for example enjoy playing the piano. However, the same person may have a demanding family life, which keeps him or her away from this favorite pastime. Eventually, piano playing is all but forgotten under the deluge of family obligations and demands such as school work and grocery buying. In this way, the fundamental essence of the individual is changed, and he or she can say that "I am not what I am." This does not however mean that the original person is gone, but rather that the "new" individual overrides the old. The person that is artificially created by his or her


Bad faith means not only that the self is attempting to extinguish individual anguish. It also means that the environment is conducive towards this bad faith. The family demands that the person engages in family duties most of the time, despite the fact that he or she enjoys being alone and playing the piano. In order to extinguish the anguish arising from this, the individual subscribes to the belief that he or she loves the obligatory daily family duties above all else. This is knowing self-deception and hence bad faith.

The same occurs in other areas of life, such as the already-mentioned aspects of religion and work. According to Brown, the working individual sees him- or herself not as an individual performing a certain function, but rather as synonymous with the work being done. A waiter for example does not see himself as a person waiting tables, but instead refers to himself as "a waiter." The same is true for other professions, such as lawyer, doctor, writer, etc. The functions define the person rather than the other way around. This is the semantic aspect of bad faith. People engage in duties and functions that define them in different and diverse ways. Each individual's personal and public life is then filled with enjoyable and less enjoyable elements. The tension between these create anxiety and anguish. This tension is then mitigated by bad faith.

This is why bad faith is so difficult to escape. It is part and parcel of what it means to be human within a certain society. Social rules and obligations influence an individual and combine with the original self in order to create an "I" that is not the original; hence, I am not what I am. This is what Sartre calls "transcendence." Sartre (57) says: "...thanks to transcendence, I am not subject to all that I am." The transcendence beyond the self causes bad faith. This transcendence is inevitable in any person functioning within society.

Sherman (136) also notes that, even with great effort, bad faith can never be completely overcome. He also emphasizes the social nature of bad faith. It may begin within the individual, but is ultimately caused and perpetuated by society. The individual fear of non-existence is exacerbated by the anxiety produced by the existence of multiple selves. There is the self as employee, the self as family man, the self as piano player, writer, or reader. These different selves consolidate within the individual in an uncomfortable and anxious truce. This anxiety then causes the need for a unifying "truth." Many find this in religion, while others engage in hobbies or creative efforts to help mitigate the anxiety of the multiple non-self. Some even find it in simple social activities such as dinners or even shopping.

The self-deception that occurs in these activities is that the individual's freedom of choice is removed. There is no responsibility to make choices. Or at least the choices are limited to the fashion of the time, the likes or dislikes of the dinner partner, or the rules of the religion. The element of choice becomes beyond the domain of the activity, and the individual can relax in an environment where responsibility is removed. When the rules are followed and the boundaries of the activities honored, the individual believes that rewards will result: friendship, satisfaction, or eternal life are all elements of the same self-deception. It mitigates anxiety and moves to the background the anguish of the original self.

Additionally, Sherman (136) states that the social situation and setup extends not only to its influence on the individual, but also to the collective bad faith of the population as a whole. Elements such as culture and the social situation involved will dictate the amount and type of bad faith involved. This can for example be seen in religious or political experiences, where vast masses of individuals relinquish their individuality, sacrificing it to the great ideal, the eternity of the soul, or the political golden age preached from the stage. Bad faith is therefore also a collective phenomenon, which depends upon the collective character and needs of the individuals forming the group.

In conclusion, Sartre's designation of bad faith has a variety of dimensions. It begins with the individual, who fears individual nothingness. The individual and his or her fear however does not function in isolation. Society perpetuates the fear, even while offering bad faith…

Sources Used in Documents:


Brown, Ernest. "Sartre on 'Bad Faith'." 2009.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. Routledge, 1969.

Sherman, David. Sartre and Adorno: The dialects of subjectivity. SUNY Press, 2007.

Cite this Document:

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