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