Jean-Paul Sartre (1)



Download 187.66 Kb.
Date conversion15.05.2016
Size187.66 Kb.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1)

we have now seen how Merleau-Ponty derived the great Existen­tialist concepts, Freedom and Individuality or Subjectivity, from the consideration of man's connection with the world in percep­tion. The relation between one man and another was also con­sidered, but only as a part of the general examination of man's

relation with his world.

When we turn our attention now to Sartre, his older but still living contemporary, we shall find a new emphasis, but the same themes. However, the structure of his main Existentialist book, Being and Nothingness, is complex, and though I shall attempt to deal first with his analysis of the world of objects and then with the world of other people, it will be found that this division cannot be dear-cut. For the concepts of Nothingness and of Freedom are essential to both parts, and indeed form the recurring theme of the whole book. Moreover all the ideas explored in the book inter­lock in more than one way.

I shall try, first, to clarify Sartre's use of the concept of nothing­ness, and his related distinction between man and the world of concrete non-conscious things. In the next chapter I shall be con­cerned with the relations between men and each other, as co-habiters of the world; with Sartre's implied ethical views; and with the final disintegration, in his hands, of Existentialist philosophy (though this last can be dealt with only briefly). For the most part I shall try to expound only the views formulated in Being and Nothingness, though it will be necessary to say something about Sartre's later book, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, in the next chapter. The earlier works on the imagination and the emotions



JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 93

will not be discussed at all, although it was through them that Sartre first introduced the philosophy of Husserl to France.

The title of Sartre's great Existentialist book, Being and Nothingness, might raise doubts about the propriety of calling him an Existentialist at all. For it was precisely on the grounds that he was interested in Being in general that Heidegger rejected the title Existentialism for his own philosophy. But, though Sartre, in the title and in the book itself, proposes to examine the notion of Being, he does so from a purely human position; that is, he is primarily interested in human existence; and Being in general is introduced only as that within which the crucial distinction between human and other existence is drawn.

We must start, in any case, not with Being, but with nothing­ness, for the idea of nothingness is central to Sartre's Existential­ism. It will be remembered that in the chapter on Heidegger, two senses of the word 'Nothingness' were introduced. In the first sense, nothingness was a kind of gap or separation which lay between a man and the world, or rather between a man's consciousness and the world of objects of which he was conscious. The second sense of 'Nothingness' was that almost of 'futility', of the vanishing and evaporating of objects in the world. Without an awareness of nothingness in this sense, a man could not begin to move from inauthentic to authentic existence. If these two senses can be characterized as the epistemological and the emotional, then it would be true to say that Sartre made use mainly of the epistemo­logical sense of the word. Sartre, as we shall see, insists that a man in the world must adopt some emotional attitude towards it, but it is not, in his case, the sense of nothingness which determines how he feels.

In other than emotional respects, however, it is impossible for Sartre to account for the relation between man and the world with­out employing the concept of nothingness. Man, a conscious being, is distinguished as a 'Being-for-itselF from unconscious objects, which are 'Beings-in-themselves'. (There is also a third manner of being, though not a third kind of object, namely 'Being-for-others', but the discussion of this will be deferred until the next chapter.) Naturally, as we saw in Heidegger's philosophy, the most important feature which marks off conscious from other beings is their ability to consider the world in which they find themselves, and to think of themselves as separate from other things. Their

94 EXISTENTIALISM

consciousness is therefore referred to as the gap or space, the emptiness which divides them from Beings-in-themselves. In this aspect, nothingness is like space; it is outside the conscious being, and it constitutes the distance which divides him from his world. In another aspect, nothingness is thought of as internal to the Being-for-itself. It is the emptiness within him which he aims to fill by his own actions, his thoughts and his perceptions. It is the possession of this emptiness in himself which makes it possible for a Being-for-itself both to perceive the world and also to act in it, determining his own course of action by reference to an imagined future. His freedom is defined in terms of his own potentiality. For Sartre, as for Heidegger, a human being is a being with unrealized potential; whereas a Being-in-itself is solid, massif, entirely actual. Its future is completely determined by the fact that it is, let us say, an ink-well, or a ball. A human being has no essence (his 'Existence precedes his Essence'); he is therefore not wholly determined, but is free to fill the internal gap in his nature in whatever way he chooses.

In this sense, therefore, the nothingness of human nature is, paradoxically, its most important feature. In both aspects, the external and the internal, a conscious being is aware,, through nothingness, of the difference between himself and his world; and thus a percipient human being will always be aware, in however vestigial a way, of himself as perceiving. Whether the object of his perception is the external world or some aspect of himself, still, going along with the first-order awareness, there will be a second-order awareness, of himself being aware. This is, according to Sartre, an essential and defining characteristic of consciousness itself, and he refers to it as the 'pre-reflective cogito', rightly or wrongly associating it with Descartes's theory that we have a direct and certain knowledge of the mind, as opposed to the body. It will be clear how much, at this point, is shared by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty.

There is yet another aspect of the concept of nothingness, where Sartre departs from the doctrine of Heidegger. We have noticed that, although it is tempting to identify Heidegger's concept with the idea of negation, he himself refused to accept a connection between 'Nothingness' and 'Negation'. Sartre, on the other hand, quite readily connects the two ideas. Negation forms the subject matter, indeed, of Part I of Being and Nothingness. It is first de-




95
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l)

fined in terms of man's proneness to ask questions, and therefore to be ready for a negative as well as for an affirmative reply to his question. Moreover, Sartre wants to insist that people come across the idea of Not-being, or Not-being-such-and-such, in two ways. First, they encounter it in their thought about the world, and their classification of it; for, after all, one cannot attempt the most rudimentary classifications without thinking that, for instance, evergreen trees are those which are not deciduous. But generally people actually experience not-being directly, in their perception of the world.

Sartre describes a situation in which I go into a cafe, expecting to see a friend, Pierre, and discover by perception, and imme­diately, that he is not there. The cafe" and all the other people fall immediately into a background, against which I expect to see Pierre stand out. But he does not. 'I witness the successive dis­appearance of all the objects before my eyes, particularly the faces, which hold my attention for a moment (Is that Pierre?) then imme­diately disintegrate just because they "are not" Pierre's face. . . . What is apparent to the intuition is a fluttering movement of non-existence, the non-existence of the background whose nihilization calls for the existence of a form, and of the form itself, a non-existence, gliding like no-thing over the surface of the background.' Of course many other people besides Pierre are not in the caf6 at any particular moment. But that they are not is something which I may think, rather than perceive. The absence of someone whom I had expected to see is a perceived absence, an actual experienced negation or nothingness, which simply, by its clarity, illuminates the general fact that negation can and does enter our perceptual experience of the world.

Having thus, in a highly characteristic and concrete way, estab­lished the fact that we are all of us aware of nothingness and of negation in the word, Sartre goes on to introduce a most impor­tant connected concept, that of Bad Faith. It is very difficult to make out absolutely clearly, here or elsewhere in Sartre's work, in which direction his argument is moving. He appears very often to introduce two closely related concepts and argue both from the admitted existence of the one to the inferred existence of the other, and also the other way round. But this is perhaps not either as confusing or as surprising as it might be, since in the end, time and again, he tries to produce, as a final proof that things are as



96 EXISTENTIALISM

he says they are, a concrete empirical example. It is, indeed, this ultimate appeal to the particular and the concrete which has come to be thought of as the distinguishing characteristic of Existential­ist philosophy as a whole. The course of the discussion of Bad Faith, then, is not only of interest in itself but is also a useful and central example of Sartre's philosophical method. For time and again, to reinforce and sometimes to replace genuine argument, Sartre attempts to get his readers to realize what reality is actually like by means of an anecdote, or verbal picture. It is the quality of life, not its bare description, with which he is concerned.

He objects, for example, to the whole idea of the phenomenological 'epoche', the putting of the world inside brackets, and this in spite of his great admiration for the work of Husserl, so far as it is purely psychological. For, he argues, things in the world just will not submit to being bracketed. They exist, fully, and as obstacles to ourselves. It is of no use to try to isolate the 'pure contents of Consciousness'. There is no such tiling. He goes further, that is to say, than Merleau-Ponty, in aiming at Existential Phenomenology, namely at a phenomenology which is concerned with real existence in the world, and his interest in true pheno­menology as practised by Husserl had almost withered away by the time he came to write Being and Nothingness. It may well seem that Sartre's objection to Husserl is rather like Dr. Johnson's refutation of Berkeley's idealism, the refutation by kicking a stone. And the comparison would not be altogether unfair. Sartre is saying that previous philosophers have failed to give a convincing account of the world, simply through neglecting to consider what it is like being in the world. The realité Vécue is what he himself attempts to present, philosophically.

He, like Merleau-Ponty, is concerned to answer the question how we are to describe the interaction between man and the world, between Beings-for-themselves and Beings-in-themselves. And in the attempt to answer this question he argues both from certain very general features of the world which he assumes to exist (such as this very distinction between Things-for-themselves and Things-in-themselves) to the particular nature of individual situations in the world; and also, starting from a description of a particular scene, he argues that this could not be a true description, which we recognize that it is, unless in general the world were as he wishes to say it is. In this pattern of argument, he starts from observations,


97


JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l)

often of an acute and illuminating kind, of how people in fact behave, and argues that they could not behave in this way unless the whole structure of the world were thus and so.

In both kinds of argument a great difficulty has been thought to arise. For if people are committed by the structure of the world to the kind of behaviour which he describes, then what becomes of their freedom, that characteristic which is supposed to dis­tinguish them from mere inanimate Beings-in-themselves? The difficulty may be expressed in this way: If the anecdotes which Sartre relates (for instance, about Bad Faith) are illuminating, as they are; if they bring to life a particular kind of human behaviour, practised by a particular, recognizable kind of person, then it cannot be right to ascribe this kind of behaviour to everyone, all the time and necessarily. If we are all guilty of Bad Faith all the time, then Bad Faith ceases to be an interesting accusation to bring against any individual; indeed it ceases to be an accusation at all.

But perhaps this is not so real a difficulty as it seems. For Sartre is arguing from the possibility of Bad Faith to the existence of a human consciousness, compounded partly of Nothingness, and he shows that Bad Faith is possible by showing that in some cases it is actual. Again, he argues from the most general features of consciousness to the particular possibility of Bad Faith, not its necessary existence in all cases.

Taking first, then, the argument from the general to the parti­cular, Sartre proceeds as follows: there are certain features of Beings-for-themselves from which it is possible to derive the con­crete fact of Bad Faith. As we have seen, Beings-for-themselves are necessarily conscious of themselves at least in a vestigial, pre-reflective way; and they are thereby also conscious that they are different from other people and other things. The power to say to oneself T am not such-and-such' is the experienced effect which the vacancy or gap within consciousness produces. The internal nothingness actually is, as we have seen, what constitutes conscious­ness. Without it, a man would be a solid massif thing incapable of perception or self-determination. Though Sartre does not explicitly say so, it seems that he is identifying conscious beings with language-using beings. For it is in the ability to formulate categories by which one thing is distinguished from another that the nothingness which is negation emerges; and this category-formation is, obviously, crucially connected with the use of

98 EXISTENTIALISM

language. Animals would be dubiously conscious, in Sartre's use of the term, and this is absurd. But if we explicitly identified a Being-for-itself with a user of language, then we could say that an animal, though conscious, was not a For-itself. According to this classification, consciousness is a necessary, but not a sufficient, con­dition of a creature's being a For-itself. Animals are certainly much more like Beings-in-themselves, despite their manifest con­sciousness.

In the nothingness which lies at the heart of human beings there is an endless number of possibilities. Since there is no Human Nature as such, there is no necessity for a man to determine him­self in one direction rather than another. His possibilities include the possibility of answering 'No' to every suggestion, not only of what he should do, but also of what he should think, or even how he should describe and categorize what he perceives in the world. When a man really sees for the first time that this nothing­ness exists within himself (in other words, that he is free to do and to think whatever he chooses), he suffers Anguish. He is unable to bear the thought of his boundless freedom, and in order to escape from this anguish, he often adopts the cover of Bad Faith. This takes the form of pretending to himself that he is not as free as he actually is. Bad faith is the Sartrean equivalent of inauthenticity.

At this stage, it is very hard to interpret Sartre exactly. For nowhere else does his characteristic exaggeration create as many difficulties as in the general discussion of freedom. If it is really true that we each of us frame our own categories, determine our own ways of looking at the world, and our own ways of feeling about it, then, since we most of us never feel in the least bit free in any of these matters, we must all of us be far gone in self-deception and Bad Faith. It does not seem as if we had any choice at all, for example, in the practice of distinguishing blue from yellow as a colour. It is irrelevant to argue that there have been peoples who have had no words in their language by which they could draw any such distinction. No one perhaps would wish to say that the categories of blue and yellow are absolutely essential to any description of the world. It is only that, belonging as we do to a race which has the two words 'blue' and 'yellow' at its disposal, and supposing that we are neither blind nor colour-blind, and that we have been brought up in a normal way among users

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 99

of the two words, then it does look very much as though to use them in the ordinary way is not really a matter of choice at all. Obviously anyone could choose to misuse the two words, and either substitute one for the other, or use them at random. But what such a person would be doing would be choosing to refuse to communicate in the language which his compatriots use. He would not be choosing to adopt a new method of description. If the feel­ing that we are bound to describe something as blue when it is seen and agreed to be blue, as yellow when it is seen and agreed to be yellow—if this feeling is Bad Faith, then certainly we are all guilty of Bad Faith every time we open our mouths. Choosing the right word is not choosing according to our personal fancy, but choosing what will be the best and most informative word used in its agreed or conventional sense. At least, this is the normal case. There is a vast difference between saying, on the one hand, that human beings in general invent their own ways of categorizing the world around them, and that there is no single inevitable way that they should do this, and saying on the other hand that each human being chooses his own categories. The former is probably true, the latter certainly false.

But let us concede that Sartre was here guilty either of confusion or at least of gross exaggeration, and let us nevertheless give due attention to the concept of Bad Faith, as that device which protects us from the anguish of recognizing that we are freer than we like to think. We may take it that nobody suffers the anguished recog­nition of his own freedom all the time, or even very often. For the most part we feel as much committed to our way of life, to our tastes and values, as we do to the very language that we speak. Values, Sartre says 'spring up around us like partridges' when we take a step in any direction. But every now and then, perhaps because of some war or revolution, perhaps because of some per­sonal crisis, people are forced to think about their values, and it will be then that they face their freedom in anguish. They will find themselves bereft of all the ordinary ways of thought, of all the comforting beliefs that one must work, that one must be loyal, that one must support one's family or regard human life as sacred. When they realize that they may value anything as they please, and moreover that they have no character to guide their choice except that which they chose for themselves, that they are not essentially members of a certain profession or class, then they

100 EXISTENTIALISM

experience anguish at their emptiness, their vacancy, and at that

private non-existence which is identical with their freedom.

Thus for Sartre's man, nothingness does not appal because it is the end of everything, nor because, in thinking about things, he sees them swirling about between Being and Not-being. Nothingness appals him because it is part of himself, and both he cannot escape from it, and it prevents him from completely absorb­ing himself in any other project. I am nothing. I cannot completely become anything, in the solid inevitable way that a tree is a tree, or an inkwell an inkwell. Because of the nature of consciousness itself (or, as I have suggested, of language-using), whatever a man does, he is always capable of contrasting what he is doing both with what other people and things are doing, and with what he might be doing, but is not, and with what he would be doing if he were a Being-in-itself, wholly describable by a description of his acts. Bad Faith would not be possible except to a creature who was capable both of self-consciousness, in the minimal pre-reflective manner, and of negation; for it consists in seeing what one is, and denying it; asserting that one is what one is not.

Besides these two capacities, it is, according to Sartre, a simple fact about human beings that they are able to hold two contra­dictory beliefs at one and the same time, or to believe and not believe the same thing at the same time (and in saying that people can do this he is manifestly right). So, even though in the kind of argument we are here considering, Sartre is ostensibly moving from those very general features of the world, contained in the distinc­tion between Beings-in-themselves and Beings-for-themselves, he has recourse even here to quite ordinary psychological observa­tions of how human beings behave; and these observations form part of his premise. His metaphysical intuition is constantly sup­ported by his novelist's eye for human idiosyncrasy. The conclusion of the argument from the general to the particular is that human beings are capable of very specific kinds of self-deception, and that their general relationship with the world makes it inevitable that they should practise it.

In Bad Faith there is no cynical lie nor knowing preparation for deceitful concepts. The first act of Bad Faith, on the other hand, is to flee what it cannot flee, to flee what it is. The very project of flight reveals to Bad Faith an inner disintegration in the heart of being, and it is this disintegration which Bad Faith wishes to be. In truth, the two




1O1
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l)

immediate attitudes which we can take in the face of our being are con­ditioned by the nature of this being and its relation with the in-itself. Good Faith seeks to flee the inner disintegration of my being in the direction of the in-itself which it should be and is not. Bad Faith seeks to flee the in-itself by means of the inner disintegration of my being. But it denies this disintegration, as it denies that it is itself Bad Faith.... If Bad Faith is possible, it is because it is an immediate permanent threat to every project of the human being; it is because consciousness conceals in its being a permanent risk of Bad Faith. The origin of this risk is the fact that the nature of consciousness is simultaneously to be what it is not, and not to be what it is. 1

Bad Faith is, he elsewhere says, 'a certain art of forming contra­dictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea'. Having thus derived Bad Faith from the ultimate structure of human reality, Sartre can then go on to illustrate it by means of some of his most memorable exemplary anecdotes.

Coming back for a moment to our earlier objection, it will be noticed that Sartre says that Bad Faith is a risk built in to the nature of consciousness. He does not say that we are all necessarily in Bad Faith all the time. On the other hand, he also suggests in the passage quoted above that Good Faith, or honesty, is usually itself only another form of Bad Faith, a different method of escap­ing the anguish of freedom, by avowing one's faults, and thus seeming to render one's viciousness a kind of inevitable charac­teristic which one has, in the way that objects in the world have inevitable characteristics. Sartre writes of the 'honest' man who cannot see that the honest man constitutes himself as a thing in order to escape the condition of a thing by the same act of honesty. The man who confesses that he is evil has exchanged his disturbing 'freedom of will' for an inanimate character of evil; he is evil, he clings to him­self, he is what he is. But by the same act of confession, he escapes from the thing since it is he who contemplates it, since it depends on him to maintain it or let it collapse into an infinity of separate acts. He derives merit from his honesty, and the meritorious man is not the evil man in so far as he is evil, but only in so far as he has passed beyond his evilness.2 So Bad Faith and so-called Good Faith or honesty are really two




102 EXISTENTIALISM

different forms of the same flight from reality, which is possible and likely because of the incomplete, empty and 'nothing-like' nature of human beings, a nature which goes inevitably with their intelligence and ability to describe and discourse about the world. If there is an authenticity, a way of avoiding this great pitfall, Sartre does not disclose it; indeed in a footnote to Being and Nothingness he says that the description of authenticity has no place in his present work. So much for the arguments from the

general nature of man.

If we look next at the arguments which move from the particular to the general, we shall find that the position is rather better. Provided that Bad Faith is a possibility for human beings, then Sartre can draw his conclusion that Nothingness is an esential part -t —„„J/Mienpss. since Bad Faith would not be possible without it.

-' --->- ~* k^a Faith.

Sartre can draw ms v.unuu«. : Nothingness is au <_ov..v._- r

of consciousness, since Bad Faith would not be possible without it.

' ^*oa* tn describe two different kinds of Bad Faith.

*~~- *" ivlwe. while knowing


of consciousness, since oau »»—

He therefore proceeds to describe two different kh*x« «

In the first kind a human being tries to believe, while knowing at the same time that it is pretence, that he is just a thing, and therefore cannot help behaving as he is behaving. It is obvious that this mode of Bad Faith is very close indeed to what Sartre describes as the Good Faith of the honest man, who confesses that he just is weak, wicked, a homosexual, or whatever it is, and thus absolves himself from the responsibility, either of being like this, or of trying to be otherwise. It is also dear that, when one pretends to be a thing rather than a free conscious being, one is likely to invoke the concept of causation. One's actions will, according to such an account, be determined by purely physical causes as are the actions of a ball which is being bounced, or a bit of paper which is being blown in the wind.

Sartre illustrates this mode of Bad Faith by his story (which incidentally has also been used by Simone de Beauvoir) of a girl who is taken to a restaurant by a man, and who, in order to preserve the excitement of the occasion, and to put off the moment when she must face making a definite decision, saying either 'yes' or 'no' to him, pretends to herself that she does not notice his intentions towards her. There finally comes a moment when he takes her hand; and the moment of decision would be upon her, only at this very moment she becomes totally absorbed in intellect­ual conversation, and leaves her hand to be taken by him, without noticing it, as if he has just picked up some thing, any thing, off the table. She has dissociated herself from her hand, for the time

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 1OJ

being, and is pretending to herself that it is nothing whatever to do with her. Her hand just rests in his hand, inert and thing-like. If she had removed it, or deliberately left it where it was, she would in either case have manifestly come to some decision. But by simply not taking responsibility for her hand and what hap­pened to it, she avoided the need to decide; and this is Bad Faith. Here is an anecdote which really works, in the sense that the girl is instantly recognizable, and indeed we may go further, and not merely say 'there is a type I know* but 'there am I'. So Bad Faith is possible, because, as we now agree, it occurs. And therefore it must be possible for human consciousness to reflect upon its situa­tion in this peculiar asserting-denying manner, which in turn derives from its free power to negate, or to assert what is not the

case.

The second kind of Bad Faith is introduced by Sartre's portrait of an over-acting waiter. (Once again, such a figure appears in Simone de Beauvoir as well, as a barman.) All the movements and gestures of the waiter are slightly over-done. His behaviour is essentially ritualistic. He bends forward in a manner which is too deeply expressive of concern and deference for the diners; he balances his tray in a manner which is just a little too precarious. His movements are all of them like the movements in a mime or a game. The game which he is playing is the game of 'being a waiter". He is quite consciously acting out the role of waiter, and executing the peculiar waiter's 'dance'. 'The waiter in the caf6 plays with his condition in order to realize it.' He wishes, that is to say, to make his condition real, so that he shall have no choices left, but shall be completely and wholly absorbed in being a waiter. Not only does he want this himself, but there is pressure upon him from outside to do this. For the general public wishes to be able to think of him simply and solely as a waiter. They do not want to have to think of him as a free human agent, but prefer that he should be nothing but the character demanded by his



job.

Of all tradesmen, Sartre says: 'The public demands of them that they realize their condition as a ceremony; there is the dance of the grocer, of the tailor, of the auctioneer, by which they endeavour to persuade their clientele that they are nothing but a grocer, an auctioneer, a tailor. A grocer who dreams is offensive to the customer because he is not wholly a grocer. . . . There are

102 EXISTENTIALISM

different forms of the same flight from reality, which is possible and likely because of the incomplete, empty and 'nothing-like' nature of human beings, a nature which goes inevitably with their intelligence and ability to describe and discourse about the world. If there is an authenticity, a way of avoiding this great pitfall, Sartre does not disclose it; indeed in a footnote to Being and Nothingness he says that the description of authenticity has no place in his present work. So much for the arguments from the

general nature of man.

If we look next at the arguments which move from the particular to the general, we shall find that the position is rather better. Provided that Bad Faith is a possibility for human beings, then Sartre can draw his conclusion that Nothingness is an esential part of consciousness, since Bad Faith would not be possible without it.

He therefore proceeds to describe two different kinds of Bad Faith.

In the first kind a human being tries to believe, while knowing at the same time that it is pretence, that he is just a thing, and therefore cannot help behaving as he is behaving. It is obvious that this mode of Bad Faith is very close indeed to what Sartre describes as the Good Faith of the honest man, who confesses that he just is weak, wicked, a homosexual, or whatever it is, and thus absolves himself from the responsibility, either of being like this, or of trying to be otherwise. It is also dear that, when one pretends to be a thing rather than a free conscious being, one is likely to invoke the concept of causation. One's actions will, according to such an account, be determined by purely physical causes as are the actions of a ball which is being bounced, or a bit of paper which is being blown in the wind.

Sartre illustrates this mode of Bad Faith by his story (which incidentally has also been used by Simone de Beauvoir) of a girl who is taken to a restaurant by a man, and who, in order to preserve the excitement of the occasion, and to put off the moment when she must face making a definite decision, saying either 'yes' or 'no' to him, pretends to herself that she does not notice his intentions towards her. There finally comes a moment when he takes her hand; and the moment of decision would be upon her, only at this very moment she becomes totally absorbed in intellect­ual conversation, and leaves her hand to be taken by him, without noticing it, as if he has just picked up some thing, any thing, off the table. She has dissociated herself from her hand, for the time

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 1OJ

being, and is pretending to herself that it is nothing whatever to do with her. Her hand just rests in his hand, inert and thing-like. If she had removed it, or deliberately left it where it was, she would in either case have manifestly come to some decision. But by simply not taking responsibility for her hand and what hap­pened to it, she avoided the need to decide; and this is Bad Faith. Here is an anecdote which really works, in the sense that the girl is instantly recognizable, and indeed we may go further, and not merely say 'there is a type I know* but 'there am I'. So Bad Faith is possible, because, as we now agree, it occurs. And therefore it must be possible for human consciousness to reflect upon its situa­tion in this peculiar asserting-denying manner, which in turn derives from its free power to negate, or to assert what is not the

case.


The second kind of Bad Faith is introduced by Sartre's portrait of an over-acting waiter. (Once again, such a figure appears in Simone de Beauvoir as well, as a barman.) All the movements and gestures of the waiter are slightly over-done. His behaviour is essentially ritualistic. He bends forward in a manner which is too deeply expressive of concern and deference for the diners; he balances his tray in a manner which is just a little too precarious. His movements are all of them like the movements in a mime or a game. The game which he is playing is the game of 'being a waiter". He is quite consciously acting out the role of waiter, and executing the peculiar waiter's 'dance'. 'The waiter in the caf6 plays with his condition in order to realize it.' He wishes, that is to say, to make his condition real, so that he shall have no choices left, but shall be completely and wholly absorbed in being a waiter. Not only does he want this himself, but there is pressure upon him from outside to do this. For the general public wishes to be able to think of him simply and solely as a waiter. They do not want to have to think of him as a free human agent, but prefer that he should be nothing but the character demanded by his

job.


Of all tradesmen, Sartre says: 'The public demands of them that they realize their condition as a ceremony; there is the dance of the grocer, of the tailor, of the auctioneer, by which they endeavour to persuade their clientele that they are nothing but a grocer, an auctioneer, a tailor. A grocer who dreams is offensive to the customer because he is not wholly a grocer. . . . There are

104


EXISTENTIALISM

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l)

105


indeed many precautions for imprisoning a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away, and suddenly elude his condition.'

On the other hand, from within, the waiter knows that he cannot be wholly and completely a waiter and nothing else at all, as an inkwell is an inkwell; since the mere fact that he can reflect on his condition precludes such a solid and total existence within the situation. The abstract idea of a waiter, with all the rights and duties which go with the idea, is something which no human being can completely fulfil. The 'ideal' waiter is a representation, not something actual; and so one can only represent the waiter as oneself. 'But if I represent myself as him, I am not he; I am separate from him as the object from the subject, separated by nothing—but this nothing isolates me from him; that is, I imagine to myself that I am he.'

What the waiter, in acting out his part, is attempting to make real is the Being-in-itself of the caf6 waiter. He is pretending that, given that he is a waiter (that is to say, given that he actually earns his money this way, and he is not a farmer or an ambassador), it is absolutely inevitable that he should behave in certain ways. He is pretending that it was not he who had in fact imposed this necessity upon himself. Bad Faith consists in pretending to one­self that one is bound by necessity, and has no choices open to one. This is pretence; for obviously the waiter could choose not to get up in the morning, not to make the coffee, not to be polite to the customers and so on. If he did not fulfil his duty, he would doubtless be sacked. But he could perfectly well choose to be sacked. However far one presses it, the waiter could value things differently. It is no good his saying that he must work to support his wife and family. Why must he support them? He could choose to let them starve. It is precisely the realization that to value things as he does and to accept the consequences of this evaluation is his own decision, which causes that Anguish which Bad Faith is intended to make bearable. The waiter is a waiter 'in the mode of Being-what-he-is-not'.

This is the conclusion which Sartre draws from his verbal port­rait. He is therefore able to deduce that such behaviour would be impossible without the human ability to conceive of that which is not, and to transcend, conceptually, any particular situation. This transcendence is identical with the separation from one's

situation which, as we have already seen, is the essential charac­teristic of consciousness. Thus the existence of Bad Faith, estab­lished by means of acceptable and recognizable descriptions of kinds of human behaviour which are familiar to us, is taken to prove that consciousness is as Sartre says it is, compounded of distance or nothingness, which is what sets conscious nature apart from non-conscious nature.

It is perhaps worth noticing that the people who emerge in the anecdotes in Being and Nothingness are like people as imagined by Kierkegaard. It was Kierkegaard who conceived of the anguish of Abraham. When Abraham heard the voice commanding him to sacrifice his son, he took it to be a command from heaven, and he obeyed it. But afterwards he might have realized that it was he who interpreted the command as divine. There could never be any conclusive proof that it was so. The responsibility, therefore, for the sacrifice of Isaac could not have been shuffled off onto God. It was Abraham, and he alone, who decided to obey the voice. He alone was entirely responsible for his acts. Similarly, for Sartrean man it is of no use to try to evade the responsibility entailed in total freedom. Beings-for-themselves are simply constituted free, and cannot get out of it. But Bad Faith is one of their methods of trying to do so.

It is not entirely clear whether Sartre thinks that people are to be blamed for falling into Bad Faith or not. Although, as we have seen, in a footnote, he contrasts both Bad and Good Faith with Authenticity, he has nothing to say about the latter; and perhaps he would agree with Heidegger in disclaiming any evaluative sense in his use of the term 'Authentic' (which he uses, in fact, very seldom). But the most extended and elaborate treatment of Bad Faith is contained in the book on Genet, and here there is a kind of pity for Genet who was driven, like the waiter, to playing out the role, this time as thief and criminal, which society had assigned to him. But, in the end, for him, the way of salvation was found, in literature. Genet came to realize for himself that he had chosen to live as a criminal, because once upon a time he had stolen from his foster-parents and had been labelled a thief. Realizing that it was a matter of decision, he was able to reverse the decision, and self-consciously work out his salvation in writing. His initial Bad Faith was the result of 'transcending' his situation, and determin­ing to represent himself as that which society expected him to be.


io6
EXISTENTIALISM

His escape was equally a consequence of standing back from his life and, having set it at a distance from himself, seeing it for the play-acting that it was.

The basic fact, then, which is proved by the characteristic human behaviour of Bad Faith is that in a world of things, there exists also, unaccountably, consciousness, which is aware of the things around it, and also of itself; which is separate from the world, and therefore able to conceive both how the world is and how it is not. This distance from the world produces not only human freedom but also the power of imagination, which essentially consists in representing things as they might be, but are not.

Sartre also speaks of the Nothingness which constitutes con­sciousness as a lack'. The existence of desire as a human fact, he says, is sufficient to prove that human reality is a lack. What human beings lack is, of course, the completeness of existence which belongs to Beings-in-themselves which are through and through whatever it is that they are; which have essences, and which are solid. Sartre thinks that the attribute of solidity, of being massif, is intrinsically preferable to the attribute of hollow-ness. All creatures, he believes, have, as their deepest instinct, the instinct to fill up holes, and to abolish emptiness wherever they find it. So human beings long to possess the solidity of things. But if they were solid and complete, they would necessarily lose their consciousness. And they do not wish to become unconscious. Thus, what they wish for is a contradiction; they wish to be conscious, and at the same time massif.

This impossible goal towards which the Being-for-itself strives is the supreme value (sometimes called God). It is just because the goal is contradictory, and therefore necessarily unattainable, that the free human consciousness can always move towards it, beyond whatever is its present state. This value arises immediately, like freedom itself, out of the vacancy within the human being. Sartre says that value, in its original upsurge, is not posited by the For-itself; on the contrary, it is 'consubstantiaT with it. There is no consciousness which is not haunted by its own value. 'It is present and out of reach, and it is simply lived as the concrete meaning of that lack which makes my present being.'

It will be seen that, on Sartre's thesis about the nature of consciousness, it is impossible to describe the relation between conscious beings and the world as purely perceptual or cognitive.



JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 107

Immediately, into the logical foundation of the connection between Beings-for-themselves and Beings-in-themselves there enters an element of emotion: a yearning on the part of conscious­ness to become something which it cannot become. (It will be recollected that for Heidegger, too, the basic connection between people and their world was that of 'Sorge' or Concern.) A conscious being's attitude to the world in which he exists is never one of dispassionate enquiry; or not of this alone. A man longs to become in some sense thinglike, and so he envies, loves, hates, desires things, as well as either just observing or just using them. Sartre would deny that perception of the world can be isolated and examined as a phenomenon on its own. Merleau-Ponty aimed to show that perception cannot be 'bare' perception, as envisaged by Hume or the Phenomenalists. He argued that perception of objects is always a matter of perceiving significance or meaning in our world. We are 'condemned to meaning'. Sartre would go further and would not wish to draw any distinction between perceiving and experiencing emotion.

In his early Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, he argued for a definition of emotion as intentional, that is, as directed towards an object. Emotion is in fact, he suggested, a particular kind of perception; it is a certain way of apprehending the world. Instead of seeing the world as governed by causal laws, to experience emotion is to see it as governed by magic. When I am gripped by fear at the sight of a face at the window, it is because I see the face as belonging to someone who could get at me and destroy me immediately, even though in fact I may be safely locked into my house. When I stamp my foot in rage, it is because I cannot really, in the real world, trample my enemy under foot, but I believe for the time in the magical world in which he will be destroyed by my stamping. Whenever the apprehension of an object gives rise to unbearable tension, the consciousness tries to apprehend it otherwise, or does so without trying. The emotion may take the form of our seeing the object in a new light, for instance when, in disappointment at not being able to reach some grapes, we see them as green and unripe; or it may take the form of our transforming ourselves, the observers. We may relieve the tension by fainting, or by weeping, so that we cannot perceive the offending object any more. All this is to suggest that perception, feeling, and action are logically connected. Emotion is a way of


108


EXISTENTIALISM

perceiving; it is also an incipient action. We operate upon the world, we feel moved by the world, we perceive the world. All these happen together. We see the world from a certain point of view, with certain purposes, and in a certain light, not just some-tunes, but always. "

That was Sartre's early doctrine. His view of the connection between emotion and perception had not changed by the tune he came to write Being and Nothingness. There are three main emotions or attitudes which he believed we must necessarily adopt hi face of the world, given that consciousness and the world are as they are. The first of these emotions is anguish, about which enough has already been said. The second response which we are bound to have is the feeling of absurdity, or of the dispensableness of everything. The third response is a feeling of nausea in the face of certain characteristics of Beings-in-themselves.

The first two of these emotions derive wholly or entirely from the conscious being's perception of himself. He experiences anguish, as we have seen, upon the contemplation of his own freedom. The sense of the absurd arises in a somewhat similar way. Nothing is absurd or de trap if it is an integral part of a rational plan. So, as long as we skate across the surface of our life, taking our plans and projects seriously, believing that there are things we have to do and materials or tools which we have to use to do them, we will not suffer from the sense of the absurd. But as soon as we contemplate our own facticity, then all this is changed.

The facticity of a human being is the particular set of contingent facts that are true of him and of him alone. For each one of us there is such a set of facts, concerned with our parents, our date of birth, the physical appearance which we happen to possess, and so on. We tend to take these facts for granted, as a necessary part of each one of us; but though it is true that everyone must have some parents, some sort of appearance, hair of some colour or other, there is no possible reason why one of these features in particular should be present rather than another, for any parti­cular person. There is no possible point in our being as we are. T cannot doubt", Sartre says, 'that I am. But in so far as this For-itself, as such, could also not be, that I exist has all the contingency of fact. Just as my nihilating freedom is apprehended in anguish, so the For-itself is conscious of its facticity. It has the feeling of its
JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) log

complete gratuitiousness; it apprehends itself as being there for nothing, as being de trop.'

It is hardly necessary to elaborate upon the kinds of devices of Bad Faith by which we can mitigate for ourselves this disagreeable feeling. Obviously if one can believe that one's life has a purpose, that one has some missionary or other task to fulfil which could be fulfilled by no one else, then the sense of the absurdity of one's existence will vanish. Similarly the ordinary objects of everyday life will no longer seem pointless or dispensable, if one can think of them as necessary means for some genuinely important or necessary end. The absurd is closely related to the futile, and the sense of futility is not felt by those who are sufficiently self-important.

The third response to the world which Sartre believes that conscious beings must experience is disgust or nausea. All our contact with the world, whether in perception, emotion or action, is contact through the medium of our own awareness of our bodies. The body is as crucial a part of our general consciousness on Sartre's as on Merleau-Ponty's theory. But the actual quality of this awareness of the body, without which a man cannot be aware of anything else, is, according to Sartre, the quality of nausea. Nausea is thus a kind of physiological counterpart of 'prereflective consciousness'. I carry it around with me inevitably as long as I am alive. Very often I do not notice this nausea, because I am fully engaged in some other feeling or activity; but when the particular activity ceases, the nausea is found, after all, to have persisted. Sartre writes:

In particular we must note that when no pain, no particular satis­faction or dissatisfaction is experienced by consciousness, the For-itself does not therefore cease to project itself beyond a pure and unqualified contingency. Consciousness, that is, does not cease to "have" a body. . . . This perpetual apprehension on the part o! the For-itself of an insipid taste, which I cannot place, which accompanies me even in my efforts to get away from it, this we have described under the name of nausea. A dull and inescapable nausea perpetually reveals my body to my con­sciousness. Sometimes we look for the pleasant or for physical pain to free ourselves from this nausea; but as soon as the pain or the pleasure are experienced by consciousness they manifest its facticity and its contingency, and it is against the background of nausea that they are revealed.

11 op. tit., pt. iii, ch. a, sec. i.


no


EXISTENTIALISM

It is not only in the apprehension of our bodies that we experi­ence nausea. We are also filled with the same nausea on becoming aware of certain key-aspects of the world. The very nature of existence itself disgusts us. Sometimes Sartre seems to envisage a man's being overcome by disgust, as Roquentin was in the novel La Nausee, at the thought of the frightful teeming unmanageable mass of material of which the world is made. Part of the terror felt by the conscious being in the face of the world is the terror that he cannot properly manage his environment. He wishes to label and tabulate things but they are not amenable to such discipline. Roquentin, looking at the roots of a chestnut tree in the park, suddenly saw it as existing, untouched by all the descrip tions he might give of it, part of an undifferentiated mass of being; and all the ways in which he normally thought about things seemed at that moment to be superficial and silly. Roquentin reflects that in the past he took things in his hand, he used them as tools, he described them.

But all that was happening on the surface. If anyone had asked what existence was, I should have replied in all good faith that it wasn't anything, just an empty form which was added to external things, with­out in any way changing their nature. But suddenly there it was, as clear as day; existence was revealed. It had lost its inoffensive look of an abstract category; it was the very stuff of things ... The roots, the park railings, the bench, the sparse grass on the lawn, had all disappeared; the diversity, the individuality of things was a mere illusion, a veneer. The veneer had splintered, leaving monstrous flabby, disorganized masses—naked; terrifyingly and obscenely naked.1

This is a new kind of answer to Heidegger's enquiry about exis­tence itself—what it is like to exist. It is disgusting.

If this is, according to Sartre, the aspect of nature which can at any time be revealed to us, obviously those natural objects which, without any special revelation, possess this kind of features, the spreading sticky amorphous features which Roquentin saw in the tree stump, will exercise a peculiar fascination for us, as revealing the true nature of reality; and they will disgust us accordingly.

Sartre believes that an Existentialist ought to be able to provide a 'psycho-analysis of things', which would be an explanation of why it was that people liked or disliked, feared or welcomed, different textures, tastes, appearances in the physical world. To



1 Nausea, trans. L. Alexander (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1968), p. 171.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE (l) 111

do this would be to reveal the meaning that each kind of quality had for each person. This is, of course, an idea familiar from Freud. But there are some general meanings, Sartre thought, against the background of which particular idiosyncratic systems of meaningfulness would be displayed.

One item in the general list would be the disgust and fear felt by a conscious being when he contemplates the viscosity or sticki­ness of things. For any conscious being this quality of viscosity stands for all that is beyond his power to manage in the world of existent things. There is a sense in which the fact that things exist in the world at all is a kind of threat to consciousness; and viscous things bring clearly to light what this threat is. To touch the viscous is to risk being dissolved in viscosity. Now this dissolu­tion by itself is frightening enough, because it is the absorption of the For-itself in the In-itself, as ink is absorbed by the blotter. But it is still more frightening in that the metamorphosis is not just into a thing, but into the viscous.

A consciousness which became viscous would be transformed by the thick stickiness of its ideas. From die tune of our upsurge into the world we are haunted by die image of a consciousness which would like to launch forth into the future, and which at the very moment when it was conscious of arriving at its own projection, would be held back slyly by the invisible suction of the past, and would have to assist in its own slow dissolution in this past which it was fleeing. The horror of die viscous is the horrible fear that time might become viscous, that facticity and contingency might insensibly absorb die For-itself. It is the fear, not of death, not of the pure In-itself, not of nothingness, but of a par­ticular type of being which does not actually exist any more than any other ideal, and which is only represented by the viscous. It is an ideal being which I reject with all my strength and which haunts me as value haunts my being, an ideal being in which the In-itself has priority over the For-itself. We shall call it an Anti-value.1

Here, then, we have the crucial element in the connection between consciousness and the world. It is a kind of horrified fear of inert and lifeless matter which we may see, in a nightmare, as taking over and destroying the elaborate values and purposes in life which we have constructed for ourselves. We may conceive it as sucking us into a whirling and sweetly sticky, sickening morass. It is in a world where the conscious Being-f or-himself has to create

1 Being and Nothingness, ft. iv, ch. s, sec. 3.

113 EXISTENTIALISM



his life amid such hideous fantasies, that Sartre is supposed to be able to say what kind of a life this should be. In the next chapter I shall discuss first the relation which Sartre believes to hold, not now between people and the world, but between one person and another (Being for-others). I shall go on to discuss the nature of Sartre's philosophy, in so far as it is practical. Enough has been said, perhaps, to show that there is no very hard and fast line to be drawn in Existentialism between practical or ethical philosophy and theories about the nature of the universe. If this line cannot be drawn for Existentialists in general, least of all can it be drawn for Sartre.


1 Being and Nothingness, pt. i, ch. 2, sec. 3. The translations from this work are by Mrs. Christine North. Except for this passage and the next, they were first published in Mary Warnock: The Philosophy of Sartre (Hutchinson, London, 1965).

2 op. cit., pt. i, ch. 2, sec. 2.


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page