How does existence preceding essence not preclude the possibility of bad faith? In what sense is it possible to act inauthentically if there is no authenticity other than what we make for ourselves?

I mean, it's absolutely possible to deny that existence precedes essence. A lot of people aren't existentialists. It's pretty central to Christian doctrine, for example, that essence precedes existence. The issue I have with rejecting it is that it's the original and compelling claim that existentialism is making.

I guess you could make some kantian-type transcendental argument about the limits of freedom, you can't freely choose to be not free, etc. etc., but bad faith doesn't seem as narrow as that. It vaguely feels like 'making choices Sartre thinks are beneath human dignity', but perhaps that's uncharitable of me.

Philosophers accuse each other of being dogmatists all the time, or what have you, so it seems ok in my book that Sartre would call an essentialist Christian inauthentic if he is making a universal claim against a priori essence.

Though, I'm not sure Sartre would rely on dignity exactly, but more like these are just the facts of the matter: there is no a priori essence with which you can operate. Denying the facts would be tantamount to lying, lying sort of like bad faith. Living inauthentically might be like not being aware of the facts.

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    Would it be possible to focus your question a bit more? I think there's something in here but it feels like you should try to narrow it in on something you can post as the question, rather than using "Question on" as a loose heading.
    – Paul Ross
    Dec 7, 2021 at 13:51
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    According to Aquinas, the pre-eminent philosopher of Catolithism, actus essendi, the act of being, a.k.a. esse, is what "precedes" both matter and essence, as their union presupposes it. And in God essence just is the esse, God = his existence. An influential school of thought even takes Aquinas as a precursor of existentialism, see e.g. Knasas, Thomistic Existentialism. So that essence precedes existence is not central (or essential, pardon the pun) to Christianity.
    – Conifold
    Dec 7, 2021 at 14:18
  • I am not too sure what are you are precisely asking about, but essentially speaking, Existentialism is a form of glorified bad faith, although perhaps, it is more pronounced with A. Camus. i.e. We have to think we are free and that the meaning we ascribe to things matters, because not doing so is an impossible situation. Dec 7, 2021 at 14:28
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    Why would existence preceding essence preclude bad faith? Bad faith, inauthenticity, is about how one acts, not about what one is. One can be in denial of choices they can make, and objectify themselves, regardless of metaphysical precedence between existence and essence.
    – Conifold
    Dec 7, 2021 at 14:36

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking, philosophical thought entails the development of self-consistency. Briefly put (perhaps overly so) philosophers would hold that authenticity comes from removing irregularities and inconsistencies in one's worldview. Recognizing an inconsistency in one's worldview generates cognitive dissonance, and cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state that motivates change. Many people simply compartmentalize — holding the dissonant aspects separate to reduce the unpleasantness, but most philosophies argue that such dissonance must be experienced and resolved to find a greater, overarching consistency.

Pre-Nietzschean philosophy tended to assert that there was some essence — a Platonic form, a religious ideal, etc — which represented a self-consistent worldview. Ancient Greeks used the concept of excellence/virtue; Abrahamic religions invoke some ideal of divine grace; karmic faiths reach for dharmic path... However in the late-19th/early-20th centuries there was a philosophical push away from this 'essence' perspective, not because these philosophers had trouble with the ideals themselves, but because there was a pervasive loss of trust in the institutions that carried and transmitted these ideals. Religion was increasingly viewed as dogmatic and hypocritical; governance as corrupt and Machiavellian; intellectual authority as malign and inhuman. Thus a major branch of modern philosophy (including existentialism, phenomenology, absurdism, etc) discarded the notion of finding self-consistent worldviews within traditional social institutions (e.g., discarded recieved wisdom) and looked for ways to develop self-consistent worldviews directly from experience (what one might call perceived wisdom).

If I understand what you mean by 'bad faith', that is a feature of any inconsistent philosophy. It doesn't matter whether essence or existence has precedence; bad faith means that there is a disconnect between the two, a basic incoherence in one's understanding of the world. If one gives essence precedence, one must guide existence to adhere to that essence; if one gives existence precedence, one must craft an essence that is fully developed.

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