Sunday, October 11, 2009

sartre and others

In his section on “Bad Faith” Sartre gives the three examples to help explain different facets of his point, the woman on a date, the waiter, and the homosexual. The women on the date shows how the women is in bad faith by believing she can transcend the situation she is in by denying the facts of the situation, and by reducing the man’s actions to mere facticity instead of applying meaning to them as well. The example of the waiter illustrates the bad faith of a waiter who is denying the transcendental qualities about himself by trying to fit an specific conception of the waiter, only concerning himself with his facticity. The example of homosexual shows the problems with sincerity, as choosing to be sincere is in Sartre’s view objectifying oneself as a “real” object or label.

The example of the waiter stuck with more than with the other two, and also has given me an excuse to ramble about my own misunderstandings of Sartre. First, I agree with Professor Johnson that it is very easy to see Sartre’s description of what it means to be in “bad faith” played out in everyday interactions with others and in my own thinking. For example, driving back to campus yesterday I had an experience I thought was exactly like Sartre’s waiter example. As a friend skipped through radio stations, one DJ’s voice stood out very clearly. Talking about musicals and rock operas, just the way he sounded to me made me think that he sounded too much like a stereotypical DJ, that he in particular seemed to fit the expected norms of what I think a DJ sounds like too perfectly. According to Sartre, the DJ was denying transcendent qualities about himself. At the same time, though, in having this thought about the DJ being too much like a DJ, I was reducing him to mere facticity as well.

This dual attack on the waiter’s self made me feel a little unfair. On the one hand the observer sees the other and claims they are being too much like a mere object, that they are denying their transendency. On the other hand, by doing this the observer is embracing their own facticity by arguing that the other person, as an object in the world, is being too much like an object we expect, the ideal of the waiter. Together, I think that this limits the waiters and DJ’s by conceiving of them against a certain stereotype of being, and limit myself by having this conception of what the waiter is trying to be in the first place.

Thinking about this reminded me of Kierkegaard’s analysis of how we limit other beings by our own conceptions. In the case of the waiter, looking at him and saying that because he is “too real” he is being absorbed by facticity and denying the transcendent seems to limit his ability to be anything other than what I see. While the waiter is free to continuously fluxuate between different types of bad faith, I don’t see how an observer can actually say another is in bad faith without being in bad faith themselves. In order to say that the waiter is too much a being-in-itself I must reduce myself to a being-for-itself. The observer necessarily limits both themselves and the other to make this decision, even if they admit that they are both free in the ability to move from one state to the other.

I was wondering about Kierkegaard, though, whether he would look at the individual as limitless every time, refusing to acknowledge either their faciticy or transcendency but instead being completely open to the other as being free absolutely. I don’t know. I know Sartre is not denying possibilities for persons, but I’m having trouble thinking about it as at least to me, in order for me to know of myself, I contrast with others and in doing so limit them to a label, to a state, to something other than me. I guess I’m just tied up in how even when I may be capable of an infinite set of possibilities, it seems like I have to limit everyone else and fight the limitations perceived on of myself in order to be that way. I wasn’t sure if this was an accurate reading of Sartre, or just my confusion, but thinking about bad faith and others makes me feel that in order to be me I naturally limit others to being others, to being things in the world, while this limiting of others is at the same time a limitation on myself.

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