Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dishonesty VII

Scott Bradley

I close this series with a discussion of honesty. My preferred term is "authenticity". Authenticity might be defined as being true to oneself and one's experiential interface with 'reality'. It is prescriptive in that it tells us that it is a positive value to be honest with oneself so as to truly be oneself, but non-prescriptive in that it does not tell us what form that will take since all of us are unique.

Authenticity is a term largely associated with existentialism, and it is its meaning in that context that most approximates the kind of authenticity that I believe philosophical Daoism advocates. Sartre identified at least two forms of inauthenticity: lying to oneself, and conforming to the opinions and norms of others. One example of the former that he offers is (to put it crudely) when a woman choses to believe a man's attentions are due to her character, rather than just a desire to get into her pants. He calls such self-deceit "bad faith".

To my thinking, this example is much too complicated (there are numerous possibilities — perhaps her belief is correct) and fraught with unfathomable subjective motivations. However, other possible examples are endless. Essentially, they are all mostly about our motivations. Simply asking myself why I really want that red sports car can open me up to greater honesty about myself and thus to acting more authentically. Thus, when I have admitted to myself that it is because I do not believe myself to inherently possess the necessary attributes to attract women and thus require a prop, I can go ahead and drive that car in greater authenticity. All that has changed is that I have grown in self-awareness. (I may be pathetic, but at least I am authentically so.)

There are still more fundamental ways in which we deceive ourselves, of course. We tell ourselves that our "selves" are actual entities (a soul or spirit), which suggests the possibility of continuity beyond death. We deny death. We fabricate "purpose". We project morality onto the universe so as to fix our own inclinations to something secure.

The second form of inauthenticity is when we unreflectingly adopt and conform to the opinions of others or of society generally. This is the herd-morality that so vexed Nietzsche. This is what Kierkegaard railed against in his "Attack on Christendom". ("When everyone is a Christian, no one is a Christian." For becoming a Christian is an act of individual commitment after profound and painful reflection.)

Like existentialism, philosophical Daoism requires of us that we be honest about who we are and how the world seems to be. (“Bask in the broad daylight of heaven.”) Authenticity is thus not about conforming to some ideal, but being and living who we are. Zhuangzi's "Consummate Person" is thus no fixed ideal person to be duplicated, but a single and unique example of what is possible for us all as uniquely different expressions of authenticity.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Thanks for posting this series - stimulating stuff.

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