Bad Faith and Character in Jonathan Webber’s Sartre

An Appreciation and Critique

in Sartre Studies International
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I have two aims: to analyze Jonathan Webber’s analysis of bad faith and compare it to my own, traditional, account and to show that Webber’s focus on character, as a set of dispositions or character traits that incline but do not determine us to view the world and behave in certain ways, contributes further to understanding Sartre’s ‘bad faith’. Most Sartre scholars have ignored any emphasis on ‘character’. What is distinctive and emphatic in Webber’s interpretation is his insistence ‘on bad faith’ as a ‘social disease’ distorting the way one views, interprets, and even thinks about the world. (Matt Eshleman also moves in this direction). But, again, this pattern is not deterministic. Early in his work, Webber tells us that Sartre does not claim that we have bad faith by ‘ascribing character traits where there are none but by pretending to ourselves that we have ‘fixed natures’ that e.g. preclude the behaviour or character trait of which one is being accused.

Though hardly disagreeing radically with Webber (or he with me) I do offer critical considerations. While Webber focuses on character, I focus on Sartre’s contention that the ‘most basic’ or ‘first act’ of bad faith is ‘to flee from what [the human being] cannot flee, from what it is’, specifically human freedom. And I disagree partially with Webber’s articulation of the ‘spirit of seriousness’, and strongly with both Sartre’s and his supporting claim that bad faith cannot be cynical. I also demur from Webber’s overemphasis on the ‘social’. For me, the root of all bad faith is our primitive ontological condition; namely, that at its very ‘upsurge’, human reality, anguished by its ‘reflective apprehension’ of its freedom and lack of Being, is disposed to flee from its nothingness in pursuit of identity, substantiality - in short, Being.

Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture

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