Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mauvaise foi is french for Bad Faith

The French Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre coined the term ‘Mauvaise foi’ which is translated “bad faith”, defined as the culpable self deception involved in declining to accept responsibility for one’s choices. He used it in the context of refuting Christianity’s concept of original sin, claiming it violence to human responsibility and free will [1].

But this concept has evolved over time, and bad faith has come to mean a lot more, one popular theme is the idea of cognitive dissidence which is best summed up as;

“Cognitive dissonance is a condition first proposed by the psychologist Leon Festinger in 1956, relating to his hypothesis of cognitive consistency. Cognitive dissonance is a state of opposition between cognitions. For the purpose of cognitive consistency theory, cognitions are defined as being an attitude, emotion, belief or value, although more recent theories, such as ecological cognition suggest that they can also be a goal, plan, or an interest. In brief, the theory of cognitive dissonance holds that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the human mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.”

Source: The Wikipedia

So the person with this bad faith, deceives himself, and mitigates any threats to their framework, believes, so that they are not vulnerable. I have seen this illustrated before in situations like;

Example 1

I remember listening to CNN news, a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the world trade centre, an American journalist was in Afghanistan, interviewing a Taliban man who was exporting illegal narcotics from Afghanistan, and when he was asked if this was wrong, he agreed that it was. And so the reporter retorted, “If its wrong to sell these drugs, why are you doing it” to which he promptly responded “As long as we don’t sell it to Muslims, its fine”.

Example 2

DA Carson tells of a man, that woke up one morning convinced he was dead. His wife did everything she could to try and convince him he was still alive, but he refused to accept it. Finally she calls the family physician, and he comes over and reasons with the man. Two hours later, he realizes its futile, the man remained convinced that he was dead, and so the doctor got an idea and said to the man, “Do dead people bleed?”. The man said, “I don’t think so” and so the doctor gave him a 30 minute scientific explanation to prove that one dead as long as he has been, could not possibly bleed. So the man conceded “yes, dead people cannot bleed”, and the doctor reached into his bag and pulled out a needle. He then went over to the man, and pricked his hand, and a drop of blood appeared and soon turned into light bleeding. The doctor said to him, “see, do you know what this means?” and to this the man exclaimed, “yes, I suppose that dead people do bleed!”.

So this is a condition that we Christians must avoid at all cost, we must strive, not to build our empires of ideologies, then make and modify truth to conform to it, but to seek to follow truth, to where ever it, and He, may lead us.

[1] Sartre's French term for "bad faith," the culpable self-deception involved in declining to accept responsibility for one's choices. Recommended Reading: Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, tr. by Hazel E. Barnes (Washington Square, 1993) {at}; Joseph S. Catalano, A Commentary on Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' (Chicago, 1985) {at}; and Ronald E. Santoni,

Bad Faith, Good Faith, and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy (Temple, 1995) {at} bad faith {Fr. mauvaise foi} In the philosophy of Sartre, an effort to avoid anxiety by denying the full extent of one's own freedom. Bad faith, on this view, is an especially harmful variety of self-deception, since it forestalls authentic appropriation of responsibility for ourselves. Recommended Reading: Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, tr. by Hazel E. Barnes (Washington Square, 1993) {at} and Ronald E. Santoni, Bad Faith, Good Faith, and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy (Temple, 1995) {at}.

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