Is Bad Faith possible?

I believe bad faith is not only possible but inevitable; however I will refrain from giving my justification of this statement until we have looked at a few areas. Firstly, exactly what is meant by “bad faith” and the logical problems that this entails, then the different patterns of bad faith that arise and finally any proposed resolutions of bad faith.

Basically, Sartre said, bad faith is self deception, and this is a kind of lie, a lie we tell ourselves. Thus, it can be said it should exhibit all the structure of lies in general. Any lie involves two sides: The Deceiver and The Deceived. Don’t forget I’m talking about a lie that works. Sometimes, of course, an attempt at lying doesn’t succeed and no one is fooled. The conditions for a successful lie are:

(1) The Deceiver knows the truth he is lying about. If he doesn’t, he’s not really lying; he’s just mistaken.

(2) The Deceived doesn’t know the truth.

In the case of self-deception, the lie to oneself, this simple and unproblematic structure becomes paradoxical. This is where bad faith encounters a lot of problems.  Because, the deceiver is the deceived. Thus, one and the same person both knows the truth and doesn’t know the truth, and that is a contradiction.

Sartre attempts to avoid the paradox by affirming that both lie and bad faith are negative attitudes and that falsehood has basically the same phenomenological structure as bad faith in such that there exists acts of lying. He also asserts that there exists a basic difference between them. This being, the negation that exists in a lie is directed towards a transcendent other, and not to one's consciousness itself as in the case of bad faith. It thus affirms fourfold aspects of existence: of myself, of the other, of myself in relation to the other and of the other in relation to myself.

 In fine, the duality of the deceiver and the deceived in a lie is rooted in a distinction of subjectivities. This characteristic of lying in general makes facile the act of hiding the truth from the other. Secondly, the liar possesses the truth in its totality in so far as he is able to hide it from the other. Sartre then concludes that he is willing to grant that bad faith is a lie to oneself, with the prerequisite of a distinction between lying to oneself and lying in general. Emphasising the fact that lying in general, is not necessarily the same as bad faith.

Sartre says, the Freudian notion of an unconscious is frequently appealed to as a way of avoiding this paradox. “To escape from these difficulties people gladly have recourse to the unconscious.”(Sartre 1943:50)

However when dealing with bad faith we get one of Sartre’s most sustained attacks on the notion of the Freudian unconscious. But what I want to show here is not that there is no such thing as a Freudian unconscious. I am arguing instead that, even if there were, that wouldn’t help one bit to get around the contradiction we are talking about.

Freud’s theory of the unconscious starts with the Id. This is an unorganised mass of drives and instincts. It is ruled by The Pleasure Principle. All the drives and instincts in this pool seek to be fulfilled, satisfied.  As consciousness develops, a part of the Id becomes organised, and the psyche begins to develop. This organised region of the Id is called the Ego. The Ego is ruled by another principle: The Reality Principle. The Reality Principle is what tells the psyche to wait to satisfy those Id drives until the appropriate time.

Join now!

Now, although it looks at first as though the Id and the Ego are in conflict, they really aren’t. The Ego is a sub-region of the Id (the organized part), and is really at the service of the Id.  The third structure Freud identified is “the Superego.” It is a subpart of the Ego, and is what we normally call the conscience. Certain Id drives are so strong and so dangerous to the long-term health of the psyche that the Ego, in its special function as the Superego, denies them.

 How does this apply to Sartre’s discussion of ...

This is a preview of the whole essay