, ,

In Being and Nothingness, Sartre famously invents the term “bad faith” to refer to a certain belief that one is completely determined either by one’s acts (facticity) or by one’s removal from these acts (transcendence). In opposition to this is the level of authenticity where a dialectical tension between facticity and transcendence is admitted (with neither having the dominant position). Sartre’s examples in the “Bad Faith” chapter are a great way to manifest how this phenomena fleshes out: one the one hand you have bad faith in the escape to facticity, that is, fully identifying yourself with your acts and neglecting any level of removal from them. This is like the restaurant waiter who is a little too gregarious, as if he’s ready to define his entire existence as constituted by waiter-dom. On the other hand, you have bad faith in the escape to transcendence, that is, fully removing yourself from your actions and neglecting any level of responsibility for your past. For Sartre, this is like the pederast who always considers his sexual misconduct to be “mistakes of the past” or “bad luck”, as if his life decisions don’t make up a certain trajectory that will be difficult to change. Instead, Sartre proposes, we should admit to a dialectical tension between both of these truths: we are simultaneously determined by our acts and by our freedom to be otherwise; concurrently situated to where our past has brought us and yet free to reinterpret the latter by means of the radical freedom of the future.

Now, my interest lies in how this onto-existentialist schema might be applied at the level of metaphysics, and I think it could be said that Meillassoux’s notion of radical contingency could play a part here. Radical contingency, for Meillassoux, lies in admitting to the fact that all natural laws, save the law of contradiction, are inherently contingent, and arose out of a sort of inflated hyperchaos of proto-being. However, this being said, these laws are still effectual in that they are where we find ourselves currently as observers. There a sense in which an escape to facticity would be found in fully identifying the universe with these natural laws, as if they were handwritten by God and tell a story that inevitably leads to ultimate meaning and human flourishing (and that these laws inevitably lead to specific political and social laws necessarily), as well as a sense in which an escape to transcendence would be found in fully removing the universe from these laws, as if the human observer had the power to completely overturn his perceived world at the drop of a hat, a sort of Monadic power to become a fully independent mirror of the universe. Both of these options are dangerously incorrect as isolated doctrines, yet a dialectical tension of the two seems to give us a level of truth which could prove helpful as a basic litmus test for metaphysical bad faith.

I don’t think Meillassoux intends to allow this level of dialectical tension between these two poles of metaphysical intention, nor do I think it a good starting point for thinking about these issues. I would place it more or less in the realm of a regulative principle for testing the wholeness, or better yet plurivocity, of a system. Does it reference the context, to the situated-ness of things as they are? And does it speak to the ultimate power to-be-otherwise, the radical contingency of the universe?