Jean Paul Sartre Existentialism And Bad Faith
February 25, 2018 6:51am CST
If not for Secular Humanism, (organized modern atheism) I might have become an Existentialist. It seems the only credible philosophy of atheism/agnosticism apart from Humanism itself. Existentialism began with Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) who believed that in the terror that comes of recognising that there is no God and therefore no meaning or purpose behind life, we should live as though there were a God anyway, as a sort of positive, affirmative act of agnosticism. This would be in keeping with Pascal’s Wager. The idea is to live as if there is a God just in case there is one. Sartre rejected such reasoning. So do I. For Sartre, we exist, and we choose what to do. Trees, stones, and animals exist as beings in themselves A rock is entirely at the mercy of forces around it, and helpless to prevent its fate. It may erode, or be used by us in building work. A dog is only able to feed, fight or flee instinctively, and answer to its training by us. It has no apparent free will. Humans however are beings for themselves. That is, we have the freedom to choose through reasoning, what we will do. Our existence precedes our essence. We have to be in order to do. and by acting we create moral values. To Sartre, the driving compulsion to act through choice is overwhelming, a curse as well as a blessing. In his 1938 novel, Nausea, his hero Roquentin is a historian writing about an enigmatic, neglected figure from the past called Rollebon, (a fictional mixture of Rasputin and Thomas Paine) who mainly exists as a series of footnote references to other figures from the past. Roquentin finds with time that his hero is given essence only through what he writes about him, and that by selecting and highlighting different aspects of the man’s life, he can create different interpretations of him, but that he can never capture any true essence. Roquentin gives up his research, but then finds that the same lack of meaning and essence affects his own biography. The world around him, and all its physical manifestations begins to sicken and physically nauseate him. There is simply too much existence around him. He concludes that "Everything that exists is born for no reason, carries on living through weakness, and dies by accident." This probably makes optimistic Humanism so much more attractive. We still have hope. Sartre sees that many people try to escape from the existential fact that they are burdened with making their own choices by deluding themselves into thinking they follow some kind of duty to some other cause or obligations to other individuals, groups of people, or to some kind of creed. Sartre calls this delusion BAD FAITH. It applies to much more than religious faith. It is a denial of the existential fact that we have only ourselves to blame or praise for the consequences of our actions. In Sartre’s 1939 story, Intimacy, Lucienne Crispin wants to dump her husband for another man, and yet also wants her husband to compel her to stay with him. She effectively gives in to having them push and pull her to oblige on them to make her difficult decision for her. She rejects the burden of choice on to them. Hers is a total act of Bad Faith. We may try to defend our actions by saying we were driven to them by emotion and passion. Not so, to Sartre. He believes our reason rules our feelings. Emotions are feelings we choose to adapt. our emotions. Sartre, who fought for the French Resistance against the Nazis, believes they freely, consciously chose to scapegoat the Jews in order to escape their feelings of unhappiness and social uncertainty. This was a theory Sartre wrote into a story called Childhood Of A Leader about a young French fascist in early 1939. His critics said it was about a hooligan, and therefore far fetched. Events beginning later that year proved them wrong. We try to be ourselves but we are also detached from ourselves by our awareness of what we do. We can never be beings in ourselves. Sartre famously described a French cafe waiter who had confused doing a waiter’s job by choice of profession with being essentially a waiter. Bad Faith is the attempt we make to be beings for others. We try to see ourselves through the eyes of another; we try to gain another person’s trust, affection, etc. We can’t bear the thought of others thinking badly of us. We try to make them look at us and think of us as we see ourselves and how we want them to see us. This is known as the Look, trying to get someone to look at the world as if through your eyes. We continually reinvent ourselves, and resell ourselves. In Huis Clos (No Exit) three people are in an unusual hell. It has no torture instruments or demons. It is an elegant, stuffy hotel room. Each is appalled by the acts that the others committed to deserve being there (murder, wife-beating, suicide, cowardice) and while two might be able to see each other’s fate as circumstantial misfortune, the ‘Look’, of the third person makes it impossible. This provokes the play’s most infamous line, and the reason why there are no torturers. "Hell is other people." If we live for others, or in bad faith, instead of as ourselves for ourselves, existing before choosing, this needn’t be so. To Humanists Heaven is other people too. Arthur Chappell
He was full of contradictions. He has always liked publicity and scandals, and he had a few masterpieces when it comes to scandals, like when he refused the Nobel prize or when he renounced at his atheism at the end of the 1970's (this one is still discussed, although I have no doubts about that). Finally the best thing that I heard about Sartre was at the beginning of a documentary that I saw about him when I was in high school during a class. An old aunt of Sartre questioned about him was saying "He would not have written so many stupidities if his parents had better educated him." I had a philosophy teacher who spent 3 months on Sartre. This one had been the secretary of another communist philosopher, and he also ended bad, at the head of a Lycée in the more rich and snob neighborhood of Paris. I remember Sartre with his big glasses selling his maoist magazine in the streets in the early 70's near the Sorbonne. At this time I was thinking that Aguigui Mouna was a greater existentialist philosopher than Sartre. At least Aguigui was not taking himself seriously when he was selling his magazine, and he knew how to sell newspapers in the streets. For the rest, I need to salute the quality of this post. I had to search the French title of "Childhood of a leader", I thought a moment that I had not read this one. It was published in "Le Mur"/The Wall like "Intimacy."
• Preston, England
@topffer awesome that you remember seeing him. He was quite confused as to his beliefs in later years. His embrace of Communism upset many and he fell out big time with Albert Camus who was much more optimistic. Sartre was also very cruel in his relationships especially with Simone De Beovoir
@arthurchappell I was a kid and I never exchanged a word with Sartre, I just saw him 2 or 3 times. My father was calling him "the clown" but he had his early books. I would really have liked to meet Camus. Sartre writes very well, but it is difficult to enter in his writing. Camus has always been one of my favorite authors.