I completely understand your point; that for Sartre that choice would always be there, there is no ‘impossible’ in relation to living authentically, that is is just choice. However, do you feel that in the context of our very modern society that it may be harder? Do you think we may have progressed into a more inauthentic contemporary world? Or a world where authenticity maybe almost valued- in some respects? – Natasha

I’m not convinced that it’s any easier or harder to live authentically now than in any other era. Being “Real” always takes a great deal of willpower. Think of the Inquisition, or of McCarthyism, or the Cultural Revolution. Think of Janucz Korchak and his children singing on the way to the death camps (WWII). It’s hard to claim our own era is more inimical to authenticity than any other.

I do think that one peculiar feature of modern times, however, is the overwhelming prevalence of fake authenticity –where the appearance or the pursuit of what is “authentic” becomes itself a locus of artificiality. That’s probably a side effect of commercialization, wherein “realness” or the convincing illusion of it becomes a commodity that can be profitably monetized.

That said, it’s also worth noting that one can be authentic even when playing a set role –think about any truly great actor.

For these and other reasons, I personally lean away from Sartre’s authentic/bad-faith dichotomy. In my own rendering of existentialism, the key tension is between being true (authentic, as it were) to your own self-identity and being a productive member of a functional larger community –two ends which are each positive in themselves, but which continually and inevitably come into conflict.

As a Christian existentialist, I resolve this tension in a religious context: “Develop your talents, and put them to work in service to others” –a gospel-inspired synthesis of individuality and community.

In regards to Sartre and Heidegger to what extent to do you think it is existentially possible to be ‘authentic’ in our modern society? Do you think it is possible to live in contemporary society without acts of what Sartre deems ‘bad-faith’? – Natasha

From Sartre’s perspective, “is it possible” would the wrong wording. No matter the circumstances or context –i.e. modern society –it is always possible to be authentic or inauthentic. It is always a choice that you are unable to avoid.

What we might rather say is that modern society discourages and punishes authenticity –that being authentic has momentous consequences for both the individual and the surrounding society. Therefore most of us assess the consequences and choose inauthenticity. It is still, however, a choice. You can always be authentic and damn the consequences.

I was thinking about this very question recently. I currently work in a business environment –the height of an inauthentic context. One of my co-workers is leaving the job, and many people are genuinely distressed to see him go, despite the fact that he has made very little effort to win friends during his time here. I think the reason people are affected is because my coworker is an authentic personality –his real self, more or less –even in a context that does not encourage that. It certainly hasn’t made his time here easier, but it does demonstrates Sartre’s contention that authenticity is always available if you choose to embrace it.