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bad faith


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A form of self-deception and avoidance of one's freedom. French existentialist philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir used this term (in subtly differing ways) to account for what they saw as the inauthenticity inherent in modern life, by which they meant the individual subject's failure to grasp the truth of their situation in late capitalism. That is to say, if bad faith can be thought of as a lie to oneself, it should not be thought of as a form of lying because the liar in this case is not in possession of the truth. Indeed, as Sartre argues in L'Étre et le néant (1943), translated as Being and Nothingness (1958) the real liar, the one who knows the truth and intends to deceive, does not in fact act in bad faith at all. The point is that bad faith as Sartre wants it understood refers to the way one acts with regard to one's own self and not with regard to others. For Sartre, offering the two by now ‘classic’ case examples of the waiter and the seduced woman, all social roles contain within them the demand that we act in bad faith—we can play the part of the waiter, but we cannot be the waiter in our being; the seduced woman is constrained from acknowledging both her own desires and that of her suitor by social conventions. Toril Moi offers a brilliant feminist critique of this latter argument in her intellectual biography of Beauvoir: Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman (1994). Erving Goffman's theory of performance in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) takes this situation of a divided consciousness, which for Sartre was what was problematic about modern life, as the normal condition.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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