Useful for me now

[It is a mistake to give] an absolute meaning to the epithet useful, which, in truth, has no more meaning if taken by itself than the words high, low, right, and left. It simply designates a relationship and requires a complement: useful for this or that.

I am teaching Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity in my Existentialism class, and I’m struck again by what a great book it is. She elaborates the notion of Bad Faith with much greater clarity than Sartre. There are parts of the book that make me rethink myself and my present situation.

This is striking partly because of context: We spent weeks on Heidegger, who does phenomenology in the most abstract way and only has eyes for metaphysics. Then we spent weeks on Sartre, who dabbles in ethics and has some rich examples but never finds his way around to the ethical question. Sartre writes in Being&Nothingness (in a footnote!) that “the description of [authentic existence] has no place here.”

And now we’re discussing de Beauvoir, whose task is “to consider human life as a game that can be won or lost and to teach… the means of winning.”

2 thoughts on “Useful for me now”

  1. Sartre’s footnote is perplexing, but less so if one considers the concept of authenticity to be Beauvoir’s, not Sartre’s. If I have him right, Varga seems to think that in realizing our inescapable ambiguity (roughly, the intractable tension of/between good and bad faith), the “self-recovery” Sartre hints at in that very footnote is what was developed by Beauvoir into the only form of authenticity we can have, namely, the realization of that intractable ambiguity. This “recovery”, however, doesn’t free us from our ambiguity nor allows us to “escape bad faith” (in the sense that we can avoid or rid ourselves of being in bad faith) – it simply makes us aware and accepting of our ambiguity, and this is, somehow, an ethically preferable mode of being.

  2. Interesting!
    In reading the material this time, I was struck more by the extent to which Sartre really only wants to be doing metaphysics. You may be right that he doesn’t really have any conception of authenticity of his own.

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