[In Our Time] Authenticity


14/03/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=65445014
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p073hv4m.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests dicuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said ‘To thine own self be true’, but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ‘thou canst not be false to any man’ – but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality – that is, if the two are incompatible?

The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child.


Sarah Richmond
Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College London

Denis McManus
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton


Irene McMullin
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Start Date: 2019-05-02

Finish Date: 2019-05-03


  • The bit about having absolute freedom and authenticity only when you have no other people around to constrain you makes me understand why Sartre said ‘Hell is other people.’ Finding out that Iris Murdoch called this total absence of people or moral constraints hellish was interesting. The panel made the comparison to Lucifer choosing to reign in hell rather than serving in heaven; and considering I have been reading so much Lucifer-sympathetic stuff recently, that was a lot to think about.
  • The point about being true to yourself not being enough in the absence of a moral framework also reminded me of Why Buddhism Is True talking about how Buddhism insists on moral instruction to go along with self improvement.
  • But while we’re on that thread, Why Buddhism Is True also talks about the self likely being an illusion, and perhaps not existing at all, which leaves the concept of being true to yourself somewhat moot.
  • The distinction about acting from fear of punishment vs acting from genuine motivation towards doing the right thing for its own sake sounds lovely but brings me back to earlier episodes like the one about the Fable of the Bees about whether we actually really truly know the difference.
  • I wish the concept of growing into your own self had been expanded upon.
  • I kept remembering Dorfl whenever the panel brought up ownership of one’s choices – specifically the bit right after he gets his own receipt as his chem.


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