One of my favorite pastimes around campus is discussing other students’ thesis papers. I was conducting an interview with a teacher, Dr. Foltz, about the history of the class, and the range of topics he’s encountered. At our college, the thesis must articulate and explore a paradox unique to the individual. He and I discussed philosophy and science, but then he brought up something which I had never given much thought. He began talking about authenticity.
It took me back at first. The last decade of my schooling has been all about the pursuit of knowledge, in hopes of coming closer to Truth, the ultimate value of logic. Particularly western philosophy in its sciences, philosophies, and religion are ever chasing after this idea of objectivity, and its ambitious synonym. His integration of many Eastern ideas in his biblical exegesis also through me for a loop, but it was refreshing. A few weeks later, I realize the enormous philosophical gift this is.
First of all, authenticity is a solution to the epistemological paradox. This paradox is nearly impossible to shake because it’s irrational; that is, because it is the dislocation of evidence from capital T truth. Even with all the evidence in the world pointing at a theory, you can’t know with absolute certainty. All philosophers have struggled with relativism, but it was Kant who really articulated this concern most magnificently, in his Critique of Pure Reason. The inductive line of reasoning (that which specifically looks at evidence) only infers causation from our experiences or measurements of events occurring in tandem, which not necessarily true.
While it is reasonable to believe that Truth does exist, the logic of relativism means that it’s impossible to completely capture or see (traditionally relativism denies the existence of Truth, but it doesn’t have to). Our perspective shifts based on where we stand, so a bed looks smaller from a distance, and wider from the side. Thus, the spectrum of ideas in our world can still be consistent with Truth, as long as each individual is being authentic about what they believe.
Second of all, authenticity is vitally important to ethics. Just as many ethical theories place a higher importance on intentions than on actions or results, so the authenticity becomes a personal measure of intentions and truth. It’s legal, political, and religious implications are this, that there is no way to institutionalize or methodize a way to find intentions or truth. Instead it endorses humbleness and personal journey.
Lastly, authenticity has a vital spot in a third philosophical branch, aesthetics. The highly subjective qualities of taste and beauty require authenticity. The duplicity which Plato saw in art was because of its form, not because of any duplicitous intentions which art conveyed. Plato focused so much on the abstract, it’s incredibly ironic that he focused so much on the physical duplicity of media forms.
I have realized in writing this post, that logic is not actually about truth but about validity. Which is measured in the self-consistency of a set of statements in relation to one another. It has nothing to do with objective Truth. The sciences are really a chaotic mixture of induction (use of evidence), deduction (use of principles), and abduction (guessing, particularly in the synthesis, interpretation, and selection of theories). The guessing part is one component which most scientists don’t dwell on, but without it, we would not have any theories. These philosophical implications are actually good news, because we can personally assure our own authenticity. In centralizing the sojourn, we now have a touchstone for ethics, logic, and epistemology.