Recently on facebook (yes, I, too, am on facebook, fond readers; my output is not limited to this, my blog) I "defined" bad faith (as in mauvaise foi, not as in just anything for which the phrase is used in English) concisely if gnomically as "identification with an identity", and followed it up with a link to the Onion classic Asshole Admits to Being Asshole in Supreme Asshole Move, which also, I claimed, exemplified bad faith. Unsurprisingly not all found either of these transparent or informative; hence this post, which attempts to explain why I thought "identification with an identity" was a decent way of getting at (part of) what's intended by "bad faith". This is not actually a good post, I think, but I said I would make one, so here we all are.
I say "part of" because I tend to be guided by Dick Moran's presentation of bad faith in Authority and Estrangement, where he's mostly concerned with what one might call the bad faith of identity (he calls it something, but I can't remember what), as against what Sartre in Being and Nothingness seems more concerned with, what one might (and I think Moran does) call the bad faith of transcendence. (Incidentally, and somewhat irrelevantly, I find Sartre's presentation extremely confusing, because many of the examples of bad faith he gives seem to me to be merely self-deception, and while he does characterize bad faith as self-deception it doesn't seem as if he thinks it's found in every case of self-deception. (For instance, the (not very sympathetic) discussion of the homosexual, pp 107f.) And others, the ones that do seem more significant, don't seem to have anything to do with self-deception, necessarily.) But anyway: the key, I think, lies in Sartre's characterization of a person as "at once a facticity and a transcendence" (p 98 of my edition), and the basic move of bad faith is taking oneself to be entirely a facticity or a transcendence. (Something that needn't involve self-deception!) So the bad faith of transcendence is exhibited by "the man who in the face of reproaches or rancor dissociates himself from his past by insisting on his freedom and on his perpetual re-creation" (100), or, in Moran's example, a habitual gambler who, realizing that his habit is unfortunate, just decides that he'll stop. Indeed, a person is not exhausted by his or her present characteristics, and is changeable, and can give direction to those changes; one enjoys freedom in that respect. But one can't just up and decide to be different—the present facts do matter. (This is the kind of bad faith that Velleman accuses Frankfurt's agents of indulging in, and I think he's right: the writing-off of disfavored actions as not really mine could come straight out of one of the examples in Being and Nothingness.)
The bad faith of identity is what the asshole exemplifies. Why is admitting to being an asshole the supreme asshole move? In this case, at least, because the recognition of assholery brings with it no desire to change into a non-asshole, or acknowledgement that there's anything one might reasonably say against being an asshole. Instead, an asshole is just who he is—it's a fact—so you'd better get used to it. This is bad faith: it just isn't true that a person is an asshole the way (say) a person is dependent on oxygen to live. It's treating a fact about one's person (or personality) as if it characterized one's essence—swinging entirely to the side of facticity. That, more or less, is what I meant by "identification with an identity": one has various identities or roles one plays, self-conferred or conferred by others, which have or are thought to have various characteristic properties. And one can identify with them in the sense of taking the identity not to be something one has, or has adopted, or has had foisted upon one, or whatever, but of being what one is, really and deeply, such that further things about oneself follow from it. One sees it in statements like "I'm an English major, so …"; "I'm an artist, so [something about an unconventional personal life is apt to follow]"; "I'm a geek, so …". One can recognize that one has some, many, or all of the trappings of, and will be assigned, some label or identity; it's a further step to embrace it, and yet a further step to see oneself as defined by it, with further consequences for who one is, what one does, etc. (The flip of the switch would seem to come in a move from "because I do such-and-such, I am a so-and-so" to "because I am a so-and-so, I do such-and-such", but even there, there's a difference in inflection; it needn't be bad faith to affirm "because I am a doctor, I often work long hours".) That's what "identification with an identity" was meant to capture.