au·then·tic·i·ty (ô th n-t s -t ). n.

Authenticity is a state of meaning that indicates undisputed authorship, reliability, faithfulness and accurate representation. [i] In simple terms, authenticity indicates the credibility of an object, idea, piece of information or entity.
Ethical authenticity involves an examination of social interactions and emphasizes the veracity or faithfulness of one’s principles in interactions with others.[ii] It focuses on virtue and the degree to which individuals respect and regard one another and the role of the “self”.[iii]


The word “authenticity” comes from the Greek word “authentikos”. Originally, authentikos had the two-part meaning of “self” and “authoritative”. The modern meaning of the word (emphasizing the genuine) first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in the late 18th century. [iv]

Historical Perspective


external image 220px-Socrates_Louvre.jpgAlthough Socrates did not make specific reference to authenticity in his work (perhaps specifically because the word did not mean at that time what it does today), he did express the importance of truly knowing oneself as a means by which to truly express one’s true self. For Socrates, the pursuit and engagement of one’s true self was the only means by which to achieve fulfillment in life.[vi]


There are three major viewpoints which seek to explain authenticity:

The Ordinary Viewpoint

The ordinary view of authenticity was first formulated by Johann Gottfried Herder (and further examined by Charles Taylor). It focuses on the individual’s potentia.Similar to Socrates, this view proposes that each person possesses a distinct way of being “human”. Authenticity comes from the expression of these elements of distinctiveness.[vii]

Lionel Trilling argues that this ordinary view is an entirely Western phenomenon that was developed only in the last couple of centuries. Its development was in reaction to social contract theories developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which saw societies as a false constructs. The result of these false social constructs, according to Trilling, is individuals who feel separate and distinct from the communities they belong to.[viii]

The Existentialist Viewpoint

Existentialist philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir argued that while individuals possess an innate freedom to make choices, societal pressures cause them to disown their principles in interactions with others and adopt false values (not being authentic). [ix] Because of this, de Beauvoir argued that for one to achieve authenticity they must achieve a moral freedom. Moral freedom is achieved when one avoids what she termed bad faith.[x] Simply put: by being authentic in all interactions continuously is the only way to create authenticity in one’s life.

Virtue-Ethics Viewpoint[xi]

external image 220px-Martin_Heidegger.jpgTaking the overview of the existentialist view a little further, Martin Heidegger argued that virtue can be described as an individual’s disposition to respond to things in a manner that is “good” or at least “proper”. It is this innate goodness that makes one virtuous. For Heidegger, authenticity relies on the interconnectedness of one’s virtues: coherence, clear-sightedness, resoluteness, steadfastness, loyalty, and reverence.[xii]

Authenticity then, is the ability to be clear about one's self and openly express this stance in the public arena. [xiii] However, Heidegger argues that since individuals have an obligation to meet and maintain the status quo of the particular social constructs they are part of. In short, individuals are constantly searching for a way to be authentic while meeting the norms of their society.[xiv]

External Links

Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Research entry


[i] Varga, S. (2012). Authenticity as an ethical ideal. Routledge, 13.
[ii]Heter, T. S. (2006). Sartre's Ethics of Engagement. Continuum, 2.
[iii] Heter, 2006, 75-76.
[iv] Varga, 2012, 1.
[v] Photo retrieved from:
[vi] Guignon, C. (2008), Authenticity. Philosophy Compass, 3: 278.
[vii] Guignon, 2008, 278.
[viii]Trilling, Lionel. Sincerity and Authenticity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1971, 125-127.
[ix] Shabot, S. C., & Menschenfreund, Y. (2008). Is existentialist authenticity unethical? De Beauvior on ethics authenticity and embodiment. Philosophy Today, 52(2), 153.
[x] Shabot & Menschenfreund, 2008, 153.
[xi]Photo retrieved from:
[xii] Guignon, 2008, 287.
[xiii] Guignon, 2008, 287.
[xiv] Henschen, T. (2012). Dreyfus and Haugeland on Heidegger and Authenticity. Human Studies, 35(1), 102.


Heidegger, ethics, morality, moral, authenticity, virtue, self, authentikos, Socrates, true self, Johann Gottfried Herder, Charles Taylor, potential, social contract, Lionel Trilling, existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, bad faith, social constructs, norms