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Friday, October 3, 2014

Authenticity

By Charles Guigon and Somogy Varga
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Originally posted on September 11, 2014

The term ‘authentic’ is used either in the strong sense of being “of undisputed origin or authorship”, or in a weaker sense of being “faithful to an original” or a “reliable, accurate representation”. To say that something is authentic is to say that it is what it professes to be, or what it is reputed to be, in origin or authorship. But the distinction between authentic and derivative is more complicated when discussing authenticity as a characteristic attributed to human beings. For in this case, the question arises: What is it to be oneself, at one with oneself, or truly representing one's self? The multiplicity of puzzles that arise in conjunction with the conception of authenticity connects with metaphysical, epistemological, and moral issues. On the one hand, being oneself is inescapable, since whenever one makes a choice or acts, it is oneself who is doing these things. But on the other hand, we are sometimes inclined to say that some of the thoughts, decisions and actions that we undertake are not really one's own and are therefore not genuinely expressive of who one is. Here, the issue is no longer of metaphysical nature, but rather about moral-psychology, identity and responsibility.

When used in this latter sense, the characterization describes a person who acts in accordance with desires, motives, ideals or beliefs that are not only hers (as opposed to someone else's), but that also express who she really is. Bernard Williams captures this when he specifies authenticity as “the idea that some things are in some sense really you, or express what you are, and others aren't” (quoted in Guignon 2004: viii).

Besides being a topic in philosophical debates, authenticity is also a pervasive ideal that impacts social and political thinking. In fact, one distinctive feature of recent Western intellectual developments has been a shift to what is called the “age of authenticity” (Taylor 2007; Ferrarra 1998). Therefore, understanding the concept also involves investigating its historical and philosophical sources and on the way it impacts the socio-political outlook of contemporary societies.

The entire entry is here.