On Authenticity

As mentioned in my previous post, I took a philosophy module last semester, Introduction to Continental Philosophy. Sure it was tough trying to wrap my head around some of their concepts, but it was also really interesting to explore the different perspectives that these philosophers had. Since I’ve spent a fair bit of effort and brainpower on them, I figured I might as well pen down some of the more interesting concepts before I completely forget everything.

Among the five philosophers we were introduced to, there were two who had their own notions on authenticity, namely Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. But first, a humble disclaimer: I definitely do not fully understand Heidegger and Sartre’s works, so this is really just my take on them, which is hopefully not too far off the mark.

For Heidegger, before we can talk about authenticity, we first need to understand what he calls Dasein, which refers to us actually. Simply put, Dasein is an entity that is able to recognise its own being. Unlike other entities, like a rock, a chair, or even other animals, we are able to ponder upon and pose the question of our existence. According to Heidegger, Dasein does not initially distinguish itself from the rest of the world, which he refers to as “being-in-the-world”.

This is where his concept of authenticity comes in. The inauthentic Dasein is unable to distinguish himself from the rest of the world and so bases his identity on the words and opinions of others. On the other hand, the authentic Dasein, who has distinguished himself from the world, understands that his existence belongs to no one other than himself, and likewise his identity. I guess in a way, Heidegger is saying that to really be yourself, you must understand that your existence is yours alone, and no matter what others think or say of you, they are not you and so it doesn’t define you.

Moving on to Sartre, let us first take a look at his concept of bad faith. We fall into bad faith when chose to believe something that we know is not exactly true. For example, when we convince ourselves that we have no other options. According to Sartre, this is never really the case. Deep down we know that we are free and we have other options, but yet we choose to not acknowledge the fact because acknowledging it would lead to one of two outcomes. We either go ahead and explore the other options or stick with our current situation and acknowledge that we’re doing nothing about it. So this denial is kind of like a coping mechanism of sorts.

What does this have to do with authenticity? Well, authenticity can be seen as the opposite of bad faith. The authentic individual chooses not to deceive themselves, acknowledging that they are not bound by their circumstance and that perhaps they are freer than they have might let themselves believe initially.

I brought up their concepts of authenticity, as I’ve found them really helpful in providing more food for thought when it comes to answering the big questions like purpose and meaning. Also, don’t you find these concepts kind of Stoic as well? Anyway, let us end off with a quote from Sartre himself, which hopefully piques your curiosity a little.

Existence precedes essence.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Thoughts from the recent semester

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve just completed another semester in school, rounding up my second year of university. This semester was not at all what I’d thought it would be.

I took five modules, as usual, but this time I was a little more invested in more of them. By this time, I had gotten most of the boring foundational modules out of the way, and so I had some freedom to pick and choose. I took a leap of faith and went for a philosophy module, Introduction to Continental Philosophy. I also picked a UI/UX design module, Interaction Design. The other three were the remaining core modules that I had left, Software Engineering, Design & Analysis of Algorithms and a communications module. I figured it would be a somewhat enjoyable semester, as I appreciate philosophy, I’m not too shabby at design, and I had assembled a good team for the Software Engineering module. And so my semester began.

I promise this is not a rant post, so let me just give a brief overview of my suffering. The client project I was working on during the winter break extended into my semester, so I was working part-time while schooling. Continental philosophers were a huge step up from Plato, Aristotle and the Greeks. They loved making up new words and writing about their abstract concepts in the most complex way possible, while providing little to no examples. The design and software engineering modules had pretty high workloads. And finally, the algorithms module was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to study in my life, and pretty much beyond me.

It ended up being the toughest semester yet. It almost felt like a sprint from start to finish, barely having any time to catch a break. I could chalk it down to poor time management skills, or blame myself for being lazy and unproductive some days, but I think I’m not going to do that. I found that throughout this hectic semester, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of life and career I would like to have post-graduation. I didn’t come up with a solid plan or anything. But here’s what I’ve got.

For the next three years post-graduation, I would be serving my bond for my scholarship, working at a local tech company. Ideally, I’d like to work at a place whose product I care about and believe in, a place that respects my time (no 996 life for me), and a place that I can grow in. After completing my bond, I would take a year off software engineering and try things that I’ve always wanted to try, like working as a barista. Yes, it’s unconventional and it sounds a little silly, but it’ll be fun, I think. Furthermore, if design and software engineering is about building solutions that solve problems, what better way to identify problems than by doing and trying different things yourself?

I guess my “big takeaway” this semester is to not take life too seriously, and it’s okay to do what makes you happy sometimes. Yes, I’m aware this comes from a place of privilege, and I’m thankful that I have the freedom to ponder about things like these.