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.
A Response to Ronald Santoni on Bad Faith
This article is a clarification and development of my interpretation of Sartre’s theory of bad faith in response to Ronald Santoni’s sophisticated critique, published in this issue. It begins by clarifying Sartre’s conception of a project and explaining his claim that one project is fundamental, thereby elucidating the idea that bad faith is a fundamental project. This forms the groundwork of my responses to Santoni’s critique of my interpretation, which comprises four arguments: Sartre does not consider us to be ontologically and congenitally disposed to bad faith; Santoni is right that social pressure cannot explain the prevalence of bad faith, but this is a problem with Sartre’s theory rather than a problem for my interpretation of it; Sartre’s conception of seriousness is merely an optional strategy of bad faith; and Sartre is right to deny that bad faith is an inherently cynical project.