Jean-Paul Sartre:
Bad Faith


The human being is not only the being by whom negations are disclosed in the world; he is also the being who can take negative attitudes toward himself (Sartre).” Jean-Paul Sartre delves deep into this statement through the use of the conscious. The conscious can in its mind’s eye constitute its very existence, it ascertains for itself what its existence means or doesn’t. By this Sartre means that humanity and more importantly our consciousness is the only being on earth that has the ability to ascertain the notion that it in fact does not exist. We have the freedom to choose such the committing of such an undertaking. In this manner, it becomes a “No,” a person, a conscious that constitutes its own nothingness, its nullity. The conscious becomes a contradiction in and of itself, for how could a consciousness claim it does not exist and yet still have the capability make such lofty declaration? The faultiness lies in the consciousness’s choice to address not the outward world, universe, but to instead focus this negation, this denial of something towards itself. Sartre views this self-negation, denial of oneself, as bad faith. This notion comes from the faith required to believe in either something’s existence or none existence, the faith befits itself when it is focused towards the very nature that creates it. Instead of deciding what it is, the conscious, the person lies about the existence of oneself. In form, the lie curtains itself as the truth, however it only implies a lie of great magnitude in which the person knows the truth of their being. The person has initial knowledge of the lie, however does not attempt to decipher the lie as a lie, instead they allow the lie to take over themselves. The person, the liar, does not solicit to hide this from himself, for it becomes an inner form of him. It engraves on his behaviors and in doing so no longer persists as a lie. The nature of the bad faith infects the conscious in such a profoundly deep manor that it can completely change the conscious’s knowledge of itself. However, Sartre asserts that rarely does an instance arise in which such a perfect lie is produced that the liar himself becomes the victim of his lie.
Bad faith is in and of itself a single entity converging upon itself. Sartre proclaims that bad faith does not begin outside in the world, nor does it come upon the conscious, or infect the conscious as it was originated in the conscious; the conscious gives itself bad faith.
However, how does such a phenomena occur? He evaluates this by way of harking to the suspicion that if in fact a conscious has bad faith, self-negation, then it must have good faith and know of its existence if it can have knowledge of its bad faith. “Since all consciousness is a consciousness itself this much hold as well for the consciousness in bad faith, in other words, one must be conscious of one’s bad faith (Bell 33).” The issue arises in which if the conscious mind in the form both bad faith and good faith are aware of each other consciousness, then how can the conscious deceive itself into believing the lie of its own non-existence? In order to allow for such an occurrence, Sartre separates bad faith from cynicism, the notion that the consciousness willing and openly lies to itself. Sartre argues that this idea, this notion of bad faith is caused by the conscious, the person, who unintentionally incorporates this behavior into their lifestyle. The only means through which such phenomena can and does occur is if the conscious is aware of it and allows a sort of duality to occur.

Criticisms and Rebuttal

Jean-Paul Sartre’s bad faith has ensued criticism from a multitude of individuals. Arthur C. Danto, an art critic and professor of philosophy, challenged Sartre’s proposal of bad faith by disputing that in the case that the consciousness is not lucid of their freedom to choose an action, then they must be placed in a different category from bad faith as they do not retain it. “ Sartre fails to establish that the waiter and others are aware of their freedom, Danto argues, they may be wrong in what they assume or believe about values, but they will not be bad faith (Bell 37).” Sartre however would forsake such a claim with rationale delving into the consciousness. If in fact the conscious is capable of the vast and intricate knowledge that goes so far as to have awareness of two different forms of faith residing in the same consciousness at once; then unless the conscious be that of a child or feeble-minded buffoon, it should have the proper grasp of its freedom. “According to Sartre…what the examples…reveal about bad faith is that bad faith is a matter of forming contradictory concepts (Bell 39).” Sartre’s criticizers are attempting to point out how he leaves little option for the individuals he uses to demonstrate his position. However he would simply throw it aside because he is trying to show the transcendence of conscious.
Alasdair MacIntyre, an English philosopher, rebukes Sartre’s notions, as the only way that such freedom can occur is if the conscious, the self has no history. However, with Sartre’s stress on the individuals facticity, condition of being fact, that the individuals do in fact have a past and that this past is what creates for the conscious the freedom to choose from an abundance of options and the consciousness gains increasing knowledge and experience from each decision, act, thing, person that they encountered. Furthermore, while the singular factors of the past of these individuals can be altered, the freedom and the past remain constant.
One of major issues that numerous critics had with Sartre’s bad faith is how it appears to be a paradox, in which although worded correctly and intelligently, inevitably ends in nonsense or self-contradiction. None of Sartre’s critics held this opinion more so than Herbert Fingarette. “Fingarette thinks that Sartre treats self-deception as a cognitive notion, rather than connecting it to personal identity. In addition he accuses Sartre of losing sight of the international aspect of putting oneself in self-deception (Silverman 34).” In order rid disputes of this nature, Sartre would simply indicate how during the normal hustle and flow of our daily lives, our mind can do a multitude of activities that we do not notice, but that our consciousness knows it occurs because of our conscious.

The Following are links to a YouTube 3 part video series on Bad Faith.

Works Cited

Silverman, J. Hugh and Frederick A. Elliston, eds. Jean-Paul Sartre: Contemporary Approaches to His Philosophy. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1990.

Linda, A. Bell. Sartre’s Ethics of Authenticity. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1989.