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Created: February 4, 2000
Latest Update: March 4, 2002

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  • Seyla Benhabib and Our Version of Good Faith Link added March 4, 2002.
  • Good Faith: An Example Link added February 4, 2002.
  • Old Index Includes definitions.
  • Peggy MacIntosh in Images of Color, p.214 Find it and link. March 4, 2002.

      Good Faith, the Concept
      Part of basic concept series
      Criminal Profiles as Ignorant Bad Faith
      Link added July 1, 1999
      Pushing Them Away When They are Mentally Ill

      Ignorant Good Faith in the Academy
      Perception of refusal in academy to listen to Christy Turner's
      explanation that the Anasazi may have experienced cannibalism.
      Link added June 11, 1999
      Good Faith Hearing Includes Not Privileging Your Own Position
      Over That of the One Expressing the Claim Two Examples

      recent Good Faith and Signs of Bad Faith
      How to Tell
      Link added May16, 1999
      recent Minow's book that covers unstated assumptions
      Helping to Construct a Validity Claim
      or Good Faith and an "Organized" Course
      recent Silencing as NOT Good Faith
      What Does "In Good Faith" Mean?
      May He Yawn in Good Faith?
      Good Faith and Racism

      good faith

      Good faith, as we use it in the discussion of public discourse, means a willingness to leave aside our unstated assumptions, to listen for clues that might help us understand the context and meaning of the Other's validity claim.

      Good faith does NOT mean that we have to agree with the Other's validity claim. We may hear it in good faith and still disagree. But in the interest of legitimacy, and of allowing each citizen to have a voice in the system of law by which he/she must live, we must make a genuine effort to understand.

      Good faith DOES mean that we make a genuine effort to help the Other express the claim he/she is trying to make. Often, when battling what we consider to be the unjust exercise of privilege, the only language available to us is the language of the law and legislature. So we try to express our claims in a form as much like that of prevailing claims as possible. In just this way, lawyers try to express their arguments in words as close as possible to those arguments that have won in the past. But those past arguments, and that language evolved from a context that operated on the assumptions of privilege. See Minow. Good faith suggests that we might be able to help reword the claims in language that privilege can understand. Peggy McIntosh (p. 214, in Images of Color) has specified ways that she can do this: "co-presenting on white-skin privilege with persons of color to share podium time and honoraria, . . . trying to listen and then respond as an ally to participants of color in mostly white organizations, . . . doing homework on, taking seriously, and disseminating words and works by those who do not have white privilege. . ." How's that for starters?

      What Does "In Good Faith" Mean?

      In good faith means with an openness and respect granted to the voice of the other. It does not mean that you have to believe that what is said is "right," but that you listen actively, try to discern the arguments and reasoning, and help the other find the means to bridge any gaps in "hearing" many voices. Sometimes this means that you can begin to hear the pattern that has given rise to the other's validity claim, and you can help him/her to express it in ways that make clear the wicked little unstated assumptions that a majority may have been privileging, thus causing the claim to be denied without a good faith hearing.

      Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture.

      Two examples in which those with the sovereign power to do so, placed their own gain (social or economic) over the claim brought to them.

      The first case was reported in the New York Times on June 29, 1999, in an article by Reed Abelson, Among U.S. Donations, Tons of Worthless Drugs." Aid in World Crises: Pharmaceuticals to Kosovo

      refusal to hear claims of case workers when warnings made of need for hospitalization before client killed. NY subway case. NY Times, June 28, 1999. The doctors who refused to hospitalize were focussed on the convenience of their own world. so the man was evicted from the one place where help might have been found.

      Good Faith and Signs of Bad Faith - How to Tell

      Brief Essay and Examples by jeanne
      May 16, 1999

      A good faith hearing means a hearing that is open to hearing, and to helping construct validity claims that seem at face value to conflict with validity claims we "all" share as norms. The problem is with the "all" in the postmodern world. Very few validity claims can unite all the multiple perspectives of the modern world. This is a practical little essay on how to tell when that begins to happen.

      First clue should be when tempers rise and tears or hurt feelings flow. That means that lots of affect is floating around. Usually, when affect is strong, critical thought and discourse skills are less in evidence. (This is one explanation for Habermas' faith in skilled public discourse - it's theoretically rational and doesn't degenerate into the adversarial tugs of war of affect-based arguments.)

      Second clue: the person making the claim appeals to that which "everyone knows," in other words, an unassailable argument. No arguments I've ever met are unassailable. That term is usually used when wicked little unstated assumptions are involved. In other words, if you look behind the argument, you'll find that it is based on assumptions shared by the person making them with some social "group."

      Martha Minow provides some excellent theoretical perspectives on this difficulty in her book, Making All the Difference in her discussion of unstated assumptions.

      Some brief examples from the college and home front settings:

      1. Female in relationship told by male or children in relationship: "You work too hard." Implicit assumption is that the female chooses to do so (even though the mortgage may go unpaid if she does not, and that "working too hard" could be corrected by her willingness to stop putting so much energy into her work, and put more into the partner and children spheres of the relationship.

        Some plausible unstated assumptions in this scenario are that only a fair day's work will be demanded of her (something that unions had to fight for for many years), that there are no distracting influences that are making her less efficient for reasons other than employer indifference, and that she has to make up for that lesser efficiency by working longer or harder, that there is little or nothing the other members of the family social group can do to alleviate some of the factors that appear to produce the "working too hard" effect.

        Minow's thesis is that we can negotiate these problems best when we look carefully at the underlying assumptions, state them, and then find ways to ameliorate the situation. Simply making us aware of them is a first step towards solving them. As long as we continue to not state them, we can't bring them to discourse.

      2. Student given lower grade and considered "not serious" because of many absences. The unstated assumptions here are that serious students attemd regularly and that students do not have catastrophic experiences in their personal lives (or that if they do, they drop out.)

        Increasingly in the 90s, top students, who are often the most accomplished and assertive members of their families, find that family members turn to them during crisis time. Family loyalty and responsibility thus conflict with "serious" time for academic studies. But if these students drop out every time this occurs, they will never earn the degrees and level of professionalism they seek. They have learned to fit the crises in, and take some of the energy from their studies, but not give up on their studies. Sometimes they manage that, but they are absent from a number of classes. The assumption that absence alone should lower the grade again depends on unstated assumptions about the generalized expectations of study being the most important task during the student years. Not any more.

        This is another scenario ridden with unstated assumptions. We need to state the expectations, examine (including empirically) how untenable they are for some of our students in 1999, and then begin to renegotiate the assumptions on which our discourse is based.

      Martha Minow Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law. Cornell University Press. 1990. At pp. 50-78.

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      Helping to Construct a Validity Claim
      or Good Faith and an "Organized" Course

      As a part of Student Outcome Assessment, we need to know how and why students are confused and made to feel uncomfortable with the learning activities in the classroom, why and how they are helped and made to feel comfortable. Because this involves several conflicting perspectives, that of the teacher who needs to be sure that students actually gain in competence and skills, that of the teacher who wants to share his/her learning and create a caring and comfortable academic community, that of the teacher who would like polite, attentive students who "do their homework," that of the student who "has to put up with four more years of school" before he/she can get on seriously with life's work, that of the student who would really like to engage in academic discourse, that of the student who would just like to know what to do so he/she can get a good grade and get on with it, that of the student who is somewhat overwhelmed by the authority of the professor, and lots and lots of other perspectives. Think for a moment, and you will be able to add many of your own.

      Because the use of an Internet site in conjunction with classroom face to face interaction is new, we need to pay additional attention to the measurement of learning in this situation. A site like Dear Habermas is large. It's scary, especially when you have to learn to comfortably use the computer also.

      The size and the non-familiarity led students to use words like "unorganized" to describe what made them feel uncomfortable. This is an example of the problems in defining validity claims so that all can understand the claim. The courses have to be very well organized to produce such a site. But the site, though increasingly structured, still feels scary, not to all, but to some who feel overwhelmed. We have been conducting interviews with the students to try to guage how to make the learning on such a huge site more comfortable, how to make it feel "organized," how to avoid scaring some into just disappearing from class rather than deal with the discomfort.

      Here is a brief tentative conclusion that I put up here for Prof. Takata at UWP. This is how we develop the theory and the courses:

      I have drawn these conclusions from interviewing students as to what scares them, or causes them not to participate, so we can make it better. I think one source of discomfort is with the extensiveness of what we teach, and its depth (my lectures this week really surprised even me - they're deep), and that gets translated in student validity claims to "not organized," which seems to translate roughly into "I can't see where we're going and where we're going to end up". I think this translates roughly into "Even though the site is organized, I can't find a handle to figure out how I'm supposed to organize my part in this academic dialog." Yesterday, I refused to give students a due date - citing Alfie Kohn - and insisted again that there be simply a "continuous pattern of submitting work by e-mail." Students seemed to understand that I was going to refuse to "control" them, for all the reasons that Alfie Kohn gives, but then I finally caught on - I've been struggling with the site - I knew where it was going, and I had to get there. The difference is they don't know where it's going, but they do have to get somewhere for a grade. Now that's a validity claim I can relate to.

      Solution simple, if I put up 15 exercises for the complete set of exercise requirements to complete that phase of the requirements, then they can see those 15 for each class. It's a gestalt problem, and I understand it. I have it, too. Of course, using 6 or 7 new books puts a little pressure on me - but the students seem willing to go to the depth I want and to handle the freedom I'm forcing on them, if they can see something to guage by.

      The above is the start of a process text on Student Outcome Assessment. We've just taken the first steps toward understanding student interactive involvement in these courses. E-Mail us at to share your perspective of this measurement.

      May He Yawn in Good Faith?

      U.S. Ambassador John Kornblum yawned his way through a meeting, distressing the vice president of the German Parliament, who began counting the yawns. She felt that the Ambassador's behavior bordered on the impolite. Kornblum, of course, denied the accusation of indifference.

      The article reporting this story appeared on p. A1 of the L.A. Times, on July 7, 1998: Tyler Marshall's "Is U.S. Pushing Europe Off World Stage." Could it be that we are going to need to call on the services of Ms. Manners in establishing public discourse? Certainly vice presidents and ambassadors should be engaging in discourse. So what does the yawn mean? Do we not, as persons of status are wont to do, assume, without stating the assumption, that a yawn indicates a lack of interest, and the consequent lack of focus requisite to good faith listening to validity claims?

      But could the yawn mean other things? Could it mean jet lag, lack of sleep, tension? And how will we ever know if no one ever states the assumptions on which they privilege their positions of power? Should the vice president of the German Parliament seek more data before concluding that the yawn is scurrilously indicative of indifference and lack of genuine concern for issues German?

      For scholastic references on the problem of the "yawn" consider Martha Minow's unstated assumptions and Chapter 1 on Unstated Assumptions, Curran and Telesky's Sociology of Law Handbook.

      Good Faith and Racism

      Lewis R. Gordon published Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Gordon uses a deconstructionist approach to racism. He speaks of the contradictions in our consciousness and how that permits us to lie to ourselves, and so reconcile beliefs with which cognitive dissonance would otherwise make us uncomfortable.

      In Chapter 10, "How Is Bad Faith Possible?", Gordon says that we speak of the unconscious, and yet we are aware of the unconscious. We use therapy to reach the unconscious, of which we are therefore conscious to some extent. Gordon interprets Jean Paul Sartre's approach to this conundrum as the "translucency of consciousness." I think he means that at the same time that I am aware of an object, a racial slight, for example, I am aware of being aware of it. At the same time that I cry and create thereby an effect, I am aware of the effect I am creating. We exist on complex levels. Gordon expresses the concept thus: "The 'consciousness (of)' is a way of formulating pre-reflective consciousness." (At p. 51.)

      Our awareness of self and others is complex, uneven, shifting with the perspective of our consciousness. Radical social constructionists see the self as formed by the social context, with little input from the conscious self. Less radical social constructionists see the formation of the self as a mixed media creation of the context in which we exist, of our pre-reflective sense of self and context, and as conscious development of self - the choices we make, for which Sartre and existentialism would hold us ultimately responsible as individuals.

      In our need to understand good faith in relationships, we need to be aware that many philosophers, sociologists, psychologists have tried to pinpoint the correspondence between the conscious and the unconscious (think at least of Freud). But our primary concern for public discourse lies in understanding how relationships are sometimes built on bad faith, and why and how to alter that in the interest of the good faith required to bring us all to the discourse table.

      Gordon assures us that our awareness on multiple levels, our consciousness of being both aware and unaware at the same time, is not an ontological problem. That is, such multiple levels result in contradiction, since I am aware of what I am not supposed to be aware of, like my unconscious. He reminds us, simply that humans are contradictory creatures, and that we can tolerate that ambiguity. That is not a problem of our being, that is simply how we are, says Gordon. What does matter, he insists, is that "[h]uman reality is based on contradiction", and that such contradiction permits a haven for lying to oneself, which gordon sees as the foundation for refusing to hear other voices, and, hence, for bad faith. Lying to oneself is another form of contradiction, and we acknowledge that we are contradictory creatures. Gordon is using a theoretical approach that would explain our contradictory nature to gain critical distance and build argument against racism.

      Gordon goes on to explain that Sartre offered two forms of good faith:

      • Ignorant good faith.

        This Gordon calls "belief without awareness of the belief as a belief." To believe what one believes consistently and without wavering means that one accept the belief as truth or knowledge and closes "off the possibility of questioning one's belief as belief." (At p. 56.) We would interpret this as making wicked little unstated assumptions.

      • Authentic good faith.

        "requires recognizing one's situation as what it is." I think this means that authentic good faith requires that we state all the assumptions. Bear in mind that some beliefs take precedence simply as beliefs, since they are not open to cognitive argument. For example, one's belief in the existence or non-existence of God, and/or of a particular God. Following Minow's argument, such beliefs, when acknowledged as beliefs, should not adversely affect public discourse, for they are not out-of-awareness and unstated. We use the term "wicked" precisely because, when they are unstated, assumptions cause so many problems because we remain unaware that we are using them in our reasoning.

        Refusal to Hear in the Academy - Ignorant Good Faith?

        Brief review by jeanne
        June 11, 1999.

        Article in the Los Angeles Times by Julie Cart, "A Theory of Anasazi Savagery," p. 1, June 11, 1999. "Anthropologist says cannibalism is behind ancient Southwest cuture's demise." Christy Turner, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, has worked for years, with his late wife, on the mystery of the disappearance of the Anastazi from the a remarkably developed site, Chaco Canyon. For years rumors have circultated that "cannibalism" was the culprit that tore this highly developed society apart. Now Turner is about to publish his new book: Man corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest, University of Utah Press, 1999.

        Regardless of the eventual acceptance or rejection of Turner's claims that cannibalism played a major part in the disappearance of this early civilization, the academy has reflected an unwillingness even to hear the claim. Turner claims that he has been called "crazy" by his colleagues, that he is ostracized. A young anthropologist reports that he has seen what he interprets to be such refusal to listen in good faith: "I was just at an archeological conference. There weretenured professors there who said they were not going to read Christy's book. They don't want to think about it."

        Perhaps the young anthropologist is wrong. Perhaps those tenured professors will read Christy's book, in good faith. But we have a public, a serious journalist, and a an aspiring anthropology professional who believe that tenured professors can and might refuse such a good faith hearing. That does not bode well for the academy, for if there cannot be discourse in the academy, where then???


        Gordon, Lewis R., Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1995.

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        Ignorant and Authentic Good Faith: An Elaboration

      • What assurances are there of good faith hearings on both sides during any discourse? Do we need such assurances?

        I think we need assurances. For to deny a good faith hearing in the interest of assuaging one perspective, is to let the problem fester. Practically, we must find approaches to violence and harm that work, that allow the wholeness of the community to be restored. Justice systems all over the world are trying. The Dine have been using restorative justice to this end for hundreds of years (reference to Mann and Zatz, Images of Color, Images of Crime.) Yet how do we assure good faith? Good question.

      • How would Lewis R. Gordon's approach in Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1995, fit into these issues?

        Gordon reminds us that Sartre speaks of two kinds of good faith:

        • Ignorant good faith

          "[B}elieving what one believes." (Gordon, at p. 56) Gordon describes this as open to bad faith, for if one insists on what one believes in as "true," and refuses to hear evidence that might prove one wrong, then one has made that decision to shut out evidence in the interest of what one believes. Quine suggests that good faith requires one to admit evidence, even when it is against what one believes. Essentially that is a form of bad faith, of lying to oneself, of protecting oneself from hearing and seeing other perspectives..

        • Authentic good faith

          The form of good faith that acknowledges that humans must tolerate some ambiguity, for there are things we cannot know. Good faith requires that we remain open to evidence that will point new ways of understanding as we learn more. Authentic good faith carries with it always the anguish of knowing that certainty is beyond our grasp. The ultimate questions must be tentatively answered. Would it be better to impose the community's perception on all offenders? Or must we remain open to hearing that somewhere sometime the offender may provide new understanding about our world and about our relationships within that world? Maybe the world really is round. Maybe the earth really does revolve around the sun. Maybe the neutrinos do account for the dark matter.

          Gordon sees the white perception of the black as a bad faith denial of the facticity of racism. He sees racism as a denial of any choices being made in how we treat people. Things just are, because we believe they are, and we refuse to any evidence that they are not because we believe that they are. This is a terrible over-simplification of Gordon's well though out and very specific explanations of antiiblack racism. I suspect one could apply the principles with other colors, but perhaps it is really a more profound denial in the case of blacks. His book is well worth reading.