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Motivated Aversion: Non-Thetic Awareness in Bad Faith

Jonathan Webber

Abstract

Exactly what does Jean-Paul Sartre mean when he describes some conscious awareness as ‘non-thetic’? He does not explicitly say. Yet this phrase, sprinkled liberally throughout his early philosophical works, is germane to some of the distinctive and fundamental theories of Sartrean existentialism. My aim in this paper is to examine the concept in terms of the role that Sartre claims it plays in bad faith (mauvaise foi), the deliberate and motivated project of refusing to face or consider the consequences of some fact or facts. I will argue that non-thetic awareness could play the role Sartre ascribes to it in bad faith only if it is understood as being equivalent to the nonconceptual representational content currently discussed in anglophone philosophy of mind. I will proceed by first providing an initial rough characterisation of ‘non-thetic’ awareness through a discussion of the philosophical background to Sartre’s term, then showing how this rough characterisation needs to be refined in order that bad faith may evade the two paradoxes of self-deception, next drawing the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptual content, and then arguing that non-thetic awareness must be construed as nonconceptual content. This clarification of one of the most pervasive and one of the most obscure concepts in Sartrean existentialism will have the additional ramifications that Sartre’s theory of consciousness in general must be understood as involving both conceptual and nonconceptual structures and that his discussion of the interplay of these structures can provide innovative and valuable contributions to the debates over the role of conceptual and nonconceptual contents in perception and action currently raging in anglophone discussions of mind.

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