Originally published 31 Mar 21
Here is an excerpt:
But, as an ethical ideal – as a standard of what it is good to be, both in the way that we relate to ourselves and others – authenticity means more than self-consistency or a lack of pretentiousness. It also concerns features of the inner life that define us. While there is no one ‘essence’ of authenticity, as Marino observes, the ideal has often been expressed as a commitment to being true to yourself, and ordering your soul and living your life so as to give faithful expression to your individuality, cherished projects and deepest convictions.
Authenticity in this ethical sense also had a critical edge, standing against and challenging the utilitarian practices and conformist tendencies of the conventional social and economic order. Society erects barriers that the authentic person must break through. Finding your true self means self-reflection, engaging in candid self-appraisal and seeking ‘genuine self-knowledge’, in the words of the American philosopher Charles Guignon. It means making your own those truths that matter crucially to you, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor stresses, the truths that it’s right and necessary to be true to. In this understanding, the inward turn is not an end in itself. It’s a means to personal wholeness and access to shared horizons of meaning that transcend the self and contribute to a richer, more human world.
The meanings of authenticity that concern the inner life are now fading away. They are not, as Marino suggests, and as I too have argued, consistent with how life is generally lived today. But there is an alternative meaning – an authenticity that is harmonious with our times. Here is a mode of authenticity that we might say ‘everyone wants to be’, because here is the mode that everyone is expected to be.