Lying is part of our everyday being. Too often we take for granted how much unnecessary suffering it causes us. “To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication.” What is common to lying is that there is a deceiver who is doing the lying and the deceived who -assuming the lie is believed- believes the lie. However, this dichotomy can be assimilated to a comparable phenomenon that is not oriented by a subject-object dichotomy. Jean-Paul Sartre called this “bad faith”. Sartre’s characterization of bad faith, however, befalls him into a multitude of puzzles. Specifically, in the inescapability of bad faith. In this inescapability, Sartre also claims we have “freedom”, which in terms of philosophical coherence, is irreconcilable, as if we were free, we’d be able to escape from the vicious circle of bad faith.
We as human beings have a capacity for negation -which in Sartre’s essay, The Transcendence of The Ego, is made evident in our capacity to form questions, which imply a potential negative answer. Wherein this capacity for negation exists ontologically is Being-For-Itself. Being-for-itself is illuminated by imminent aims (that is, aims which are instrumental towards a teleological aim or a multitude of teleological aims) and identifications of personal identities -as, Sartre sees the “self” as a multifaceted notion (i.e. an individual has a multiplicity of selves, which constitutes the various roles we take up in life). For instance, my current Being-for-itself is sitting down editing this paper as a student. Our capacity for negation allows us to comprehend and navigate the Being-In-Itself of the world, insofar Being-In-Itself has a fullness of being (full positivity), which without our capacity for negation would overwhelm us ad nauseam as the sheer totality of things. Not just of things, but also of selves: as stated earlier, I am a student editing his paper; if I was simultaneously all of the other roles (Being-In-Itself) that I play in my daily life, that would overwhelm me to the point of an inability to be and become. The basis of negation is freedom, which is the essence of humans insofar as they are Being-For-Itself -as, it is the case that Being-For-Itself is the being of consciousness. This capacity of negation extends inwardly. This capacity to negate is inherent to the human being, in terms of their consciousness, ontologically: “he is also the one who can take negative attitudes with respect to himself… we defined human consciousness as“a being such that in its Being, its being is in question so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” The human being is thus not only the being by which nothingness comes into the world (as, without nothingness, being as is made manifest experientially, would simply be incomprehensible) but it is also by this same capacity to bring about nothingness, that one turns to oneself and is in turn in Bad Faith.
Sartre initially compares bad faith to lying to another person. Comparing in the sense that lying to oneself (bad faith) is something that is distinguishable from lying to others or falsehoods in general. What makes a lie a lie, is that one party (the deceived) is not in touch with the truth and the other party (the deceiver) is and is withholding it from the former intentionally and doesn’t hide the fact of their lying, from themselves. Lying is an inward affirmation and an outward negation. In a sense, it is a negation of another to comprehend Being-In-Itself, and in turn, dehumanizing. Through lying, the deceiver “affirms that it exists by nature as hidden from the other.” Contrastly, in bad faith, there is no other that one is affirmed to be hidden from. Bad faith is to “lie to oneself”, that is, hiding the truth from thyself. The deceiver-deceived dialectic is encapsulated with the unity of one consciousness in bad faith. “That which affects itself with bad faith must be conscious (of) its bad faith since the being of consciousness is consciousness of being.” Bad faith, in other words, is self-deception and conscious awareness of it. For example, a person who hangs out in a toxic social crowd, and tells themselves that they belong there and are happy with the situation, but are not, and also realize this and in turn actively seek to hide the details of the scenario from themselves, and also knows of this concealment consciously, is a person in explicit bad faith. The latter component of realization of bad faith, makes it seem rather asinine psychologically.
It is, however, less asinine when one pierces mere superficial psychology and delves into why it is we are in bad faith. This has to do with Sartre’s concept of anguish, which is a recognition of our freedom. Freedom, phenomenologically speaking, is the fact that we can make choices. Sartre is not a determinist. I can choose to write this paper or not to. Freedom is the steering wheel of my motives. For instance, as a college student, I have many motives (choices) to choose from. This multiplicity is not enough for me to act, which in turn, is where freedom comes into play. I chose by my freedom to write my Sartre paper, instead of reading Spinoza, for the time being; I easily could have chosen to have done the latter. Anguish is coming face-to-face with the necessity/existence of freedom, in our very Being. Given the examples that Sartre uses to characterize anguish (vertigo and gambling), it is reasonable to assume that there is a fear in being free. Indeed, if I was starkly aware that I was a heroin addict, this fact would induce an urge to flee. There is a fear in the fact that I could jump in front of a train, as, a sliver of thought might arise as temptation for me to do so. The fact that I don’t is of my own freedom. The fact that I can, is an anguishing feeling. Given that freedom is existentiale (i.e. essential to dasein) to humans, however, such fleeing is impossible. We are forced to confront our freedom.
An important way that consciousness operates in terms of its capacity for knowledge acquisition in Being and Nothingness is almost identical what Spinoza asserts regarding the nature of human mind: “For soon as someone knows something, he thereby knows that he knows it, and at the same time knows that he knows, and so on, to infinity.” This is analogous to Sartre’s notion that, consciousness (knowledge) of an object must entail consciousness of itself having consciousness of its object, otherwise “consciousness [would be] ignorant of itself, an unconscious -which is absurd.” However, when it comes to the “lying to oneself” of bad faith, this seems paradoxical. Given that the lie in bad faith is toward oneself, that means the one who is being lied to also knows the truth, which on the surface seems absurd. Sartre’s awareness of this seeming absurdity is met with ambivalence:
“ Sartre tells us, is the “evanescence” of bad faith. This is a phenomenon that fluctuates between “good faith” and “cynicism” and exists only “in and through its own differentiation.”5 Bad faith is “metestable “-a word which Sartre contrives to designate the mercurial, abruptly transitional nature of its psychic structures (p. 90). At this point, he claims neither to reject nor understand it.”
Sartre goes about rectifying this problem in his descriptions of facticity and transcendence. However, in terms of freedom, this creates a rather inescapable situation and puts Sartre’s notion of freedom itself in question.
The translucency of consciousness forces Sartre to reject a psychoanalytic conception of rectifying the perplexing idea of lying to oneself. The most interesting aspect of this rejection is the negation of the unconscious in the explanation of bad faith, as Sartre claims that bad faith “is there in full consciousness, with all its contradictions.” Rejecting the hypothesis that the “I” of the human being is fragmentary across the id, ego, and superego, Sartre sees a unity: the human being is at once both factical and transcendent; bad faith is exhibited by the human being who has a lack of coordination between these two facets. An example of each might be that my factical self is me currently sitting in a cafe writing a paper on bad faith and my transcendence is that I am a powerlifter and could easily close my laptop and walk to the gym and begin deadlifting. It is on account of the fact that we’re both Being-For-Itself (transcendence) and Being-In-Itself (factical) that we are both factical and transcendent. Being-For-Itself is the being of consciousness and Being-In-Itself is the being of phenomenon. The key distinction here is self identity: Being-In-Itself is self-identical, in the sense that what I am is referring to what I am right now in this very moment and Being-For-Itself is non-self-identical, in the sense that there are a multiplicity of me’s that are referential to the past or the future. This is where the idea that “I am what I am not, and I am not what I am” comes from. Bad Faith at bottom is conflating/merging facticity as/into transcendence and vice versa. Good faith on the contrary, is taking into account both. For example, I would be in Bad Faith if I said “I am a Hunter College student” as this is talking about “I” as if all “I” am is this one thing, whereas my transcendence proves otherwise. An example of Good Faith would be “I am a Hunter College student, but also understand that I also am x,y, and z…”.
How is this conception of the human reconcilable with the notion of freedom, which Sartre asserts is a concept that is impossible to disconnect from the human being? Is it at all possible to not be in Bad Faith if we’re constantly in a state of flux between facticity and transcendence and if not how is it that can even call this freedom? It seems to be that what “freedom” is is to shift from one form of Bad Faith to another (a negation of facticity over transcendence or the contrary) and a perpetual flux between anguish and bad faith. It is not at all self-contradictory to say that we “affect ourselves with bad faith” and that we too are aware of doing so, but this is not at all compatible with the notion of freedom -especially the arbitrary articulation of it that Sartre claims as definitional to human beings, on account of our self-nihilation. Freedom as the mediator between motivation and action must be critelationless if what bad faith is, is a realization of freedom and a fleeing from this realization (anguish) -both of which are states that one cannot avoid, insofar as it is inherent to us ontologically. Being either in a constant state of flux between anguish and bad faith or transcendence and facticity is incredibly incompatible with the notion of freedom, as if one were “free”, it would be but a mere “choice” to extract oneself out of this situation permanently. Indeed saying “I had no other choice” but to not do this, would be in bad faith. Freedom and the guaranteed unnavigable vortex of bad faith is a glaring contradiction in Being and Nothingness.
It is also the case, that “good faith” is possible but not as “good” as the title proclaims. This is due to Sartre’s language regarding faith and belief. Sartre asserts that all faith is belief; indeed, Sartre says that the problem with bad faith is that it is a form of faith, precisely for this reason. However, Good faith itself too is faith. The problem of this derives from the fact that, according to Sartre, “To believe is to know that one believes, and to know that one believes is no longer to believe.” Would this not in turn be bad faith as well? Both forms of faith “believes itself and does not believe itself”. Good Faith seems to be a form of delusion, as Sartre claims that all it is at bottom is believing my bad faith sincerely and Bad Faith is actually less of a delusion because one is actually aware of being in Bad Faith as in Bad Faith. There is also a peculiar incompatibility between section 3 of the chapter on bad faith and section 1, in that, in the former bad faith is characterized as belief and in the latter as self-deception. Sartre makes amends to this by saying that bad faith is beliefs that are oriented by being “resigned in advance to not be fulfilled by evidence” whereas good faith is easily persuadable by this evidence. However, this says nothing about the latter not being a masquerade of bad faith -which it essentially is, as in Sartre’s philosophy no pure good faith is even possible. Bad faith in turn is inescapable, except in moments of credulity which we call “good faith”, which is essentially a delusion.