Christine Daigle

Facing the Ethical challenge: On Living Authentically

The question of authenticity is one with which many existentialist philosophers have struggled. Indeed, while such figures as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Beauvoir each have their own specific areas of inquiry, these can all be related, in one way or another, to the question of how one may live as an authentic human being. This problem is the ethical problem par excellence for these thinkers. They all consider authentic existence as the good one should aim for. Even Heidegger, who carefully draws a distinction between authentic and inauthentic Dasein and who wishes this discussion to remain on the ontological plane, can be understood as proposing authenticity as a better ethical option. In my presentation, I will focus on how this problem is tackled by Nietzsche, Sartre, and Beauvoir. My choice is guided by my belief that they share a common concern with human flourishing that revolves around notions of selfovercoming, conversion to the other, and ambiguity of being. Their understanding of the human being as embodied consciousness and being-with-others grounds their ethical call for individual striving toward authenticity. The Overhuman is none other than the Sartrean authentic individual of the Cahiers pour une morale (written in 1947-48) who is also none other than the authentic ambiguous embodied being of Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity (1947). Keeping in mind Kant’s “ought implies can,” I wish to examine whether authenticity is indeed a possibility for the human being. For, if authenticity is the ethical goal for one’s being, and if authenticity proves impossible, then it means that the existentialist thinkers are offering us an ethical program that is as alienating as the traditional Christian morality they reject. Certainly the existentialist program fares better than the one it criticizes and rejects, even if the ethical goal they posit is a very challenging one. I will show how this is the case.