Bad Faith

views updated May 21 2018


The most common form of inauthenticity in the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, "bad faith" is paradoxically a lie to oneself. For such self-deception to be possible, the human being must be divided against itself, one level or aspect concealing from the other what it in some sense "knows." The paradox arises from the condition that this operation occurs within the unity of a single consciousness.

The root of Sartrean bad faith is a twofold dividedness of the human being, psychological and ontological. As conscious, humans are prereflectively aware of what they may not reflectively know. Such prereflective awareness or "comprehension," as he will later call it, functions in Sartre's psychology in a manner similar to Sigmund Freud's unconscious, a concept that Sartre notoriously rejected. The project of bad faithto keep oneself in the dark about certain mattersis itself in bad faith since prereflective consciousness "chooses" not to acknowledge on reflection what it is concealing from reflective consciousness.

There can be an entire Weltanschauung of bad faith: the habits, practices, objects, and institutions that one employs to maintain oneself in a state of "perpetual distraction." Sartre's analysis of Second Empire French society in his work on Gustave Flaubert is a study in collective bad faith. But the root of the moral responsibility that this term carries lies in the self-translucency of prereflective consciousness: individuals, alone or together, are prereflectively aware of more than they reflectively allow themselves to know.

The ontological basis of bad faith is the dividedness of the human situation. Every human exists in-situation. Situation is an ambiguous mix of facticity (the given) and transcendence (the surpassing of the given by our projects). Bad faith is our way of fleeing the anguish that this ambiguity causes either by collapsing our transcendence into facticity (as in various forms of determinism) or by volatilizing our facticity into transcendence (like the dreamer who refuses to acknowledge the facts of his or her life). Though the details of bad faith are as singular as our self-defining choices, its moral significance is the same in each instance. Bad faith is basically flight from our freedom-in-situation.

As Sartre's concept of situation expanded to include and even place a premium on socioeconomic conditions, the relation between bad faith and class struggle became more pronounced. He later argued that good faith, which in Being and Nothingness he dismissed as a form of bad faith, was fostered by socioeconomic equality and that scarcity of material goods made bad faith almost inevitable. The anti-Semite was in bad faith, but so too was his or her liberal assimilationist defender; likewise the neocolonialist and the industrial capitalist, both of whom fled their responsibility for subscribing to and sustaining a system that made exploitation of others "necessary."

Only in his posthumously published Notebooks for an Ethics does Sartre discuss the nature and possibility of good faith at any length. This presumes a "conversion" in which one chooses to live one's anguished dividedness while fostering via generous cooperation a situation that enables others to do likewise.

See also Determinism, A Historical Survey; Existentialism; Existential Psychoanalysis; Freud, Sigmund; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Unconscious.


Beauvoir, S. de. Pour une morale de l'ambiguité. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Translated by B. Frechtman as The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Philosophical Library, 1948.

Fingarette, H. Self-Deception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969.

Martin, M. W. Self-Deception and Morality. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986.

Mirvish, A. "Bad Faith, Good Faith, and the Faith of Faith." In Sartre Alive, edited by R. Aronson and A. van den Hoven. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Morris, P. "Self-Deception: Sartre's Resolution of the Paradox." In Jean-Paul Sartre: Contemporary Approaches to His Philosophy, edited by H. J. Silverman and F. A. Elliston. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1980.

Santoni, R. E. Bad Faith, Good Faith and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Sartre, J.-P. Cahiers pour une morale. Paris, 1983. Translated by D. Pellauer as Notebooks for an Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Sartre, J.-P. L'etre et le néant. Paris: Gallimard, 1943. Translated by H. E. Barnes as Being and Nothingness. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.

Thomas R. Flynn (1996)

Bad Faith

views updated May 14 2018


The fraudulent deception of another person; the intentional or malicious refusal to perform some duty or contractual obligation.

Bad faith is not the same as prior judgment or negligence. One can make an honest mistake about one's own rights and duties, but when the rights of someone else are intentionally or maliciously infringed upon, such conduct demonstrates bad faith.

The existence of bad faith can minimize or nullify any claims that a person alleges in a lawsuit. punitive damages, attorney's fees, or both, may be awarded to a party who must defend himself or herself in an action brought in bad faith.

Bad faith is a term commonly used in the law of contracts and other commercial dealings, such as commercial paper, and in secured transactions. It is the opposite of good faith, the observance of reasonable standards of fair dealings in trade that is required of every merchant.

A government official who selectively enforces a nondiscriminatory law against the members of a particular group or race, thereby violating the civil rights of those individuals, is acting in bad faith.

bad faith

views updated May 18 2018

bad faith • n. intent to deceive: the owners have bargained in bad faith.