Sartre, dialectic, and the problem of overcoming bad faith
InBeing and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre affirms a circle of relations between oneself and another. This circle moves between the relations of love and desire and results from the fact that both love and desire are attempts to capture the other who always remains out of reach. Sartre denies that there can be a dialectic of such relations with others: never can there be a motivated movement beyond the frustrations and failures of each of these attempts to relate to the other. The only way out of this circle is, therefore, according to Sartre, a radical conversion.Like the master in Hegel'sPhenomenology of Mind, each individual caught in this circle wants what cannot be attained: the assimilation or the negation of the freedom of the other. He is thus, like Hegel's master, impervious to any reasons that could count against what he is seeking; his failures cannot in any way motivate him to want what can be. From the point of view of such desires, any negative evaluation of these desires must seem arbitrary. Therefore, to the extent that Sartre's earlier writings indicate no other possibilities of human existence except those premised on such impossible demands, Sartre's negative evaluations concerning the bad faith of these individuals must seem arbitrary.My conclusion is not, however, simply negative since I argue that inSaint Genet Sartre presents Genet's life as a dialectical movement beyond failure to triumph. This is not a dialectic of bad faith. Rather it is a dialectic based on a very different desire from the desire for what cannot be. If Sartre thus develops another level, another fundamental desire, from which the level of bad faith can be judged to be wrong, then at least from this level the judgment is not a merely arbitrary one.
Bell, L. (1977). Sartre, dialectic, and the problem of overcoming bad faith. Man and World 10 (3), pp. 292-302.
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