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11648 McCulloch Rd. Orlando, FL 32817 407-737-4018

Inquiring Minds

THIS WEEK    |   Listen Online via Zoom    |    Meeting ID 863 9059 0096

The Idea of the Authentic Self: Yesterday and Today

Jim and Ellen will introduce our discussion on: “What do we mean by the authentic self?” Has the meaning changed all that much since, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius shared wisdom with his son as Laertes as was preparing to begin his university studies in France? In what has become one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, Polonius admonishes Laertes as follows:

“This above all—to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

It is clear from this passage that the great bard was very conscious of the connection between thought and action, behavior, and trust. He challenges us to ponder the same in our lives. Shakespeare is also well-aware of the need to exercise caution in one’s approach to social interaction, conscious of the need to balance self-protection and self-respect with interaction. In Shakespeare’s words:

Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade.
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.
Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment.

Although he never used the word authenticity, Shakespeare acknowledged that self-preservation and success require the cautious application of thought to action. In his own way, his admonitions set the stage, so to speak, for further discussion of what we mean by authentic.

The word authenticity itself derives from the Old-French word authentique, meaning for real, the real thing, usually referring to the legitimacy of an object, such as a manuscript, as opposed to a fake or a copy. Eventually, the idea of authentic came to assume an interior, philosophical dimension, especially after two French philosophers, Descartes in the 17th century and Rousseau in the 18th, interiorized the idea of authenticity, applying it primarily to the life of the mind such that the authentic came to be less associated with an object and more with a thought. The consciousness of the self was at the center of Descartes’ approach to existence (“I think therefore I am.”) and not the way that thought corresponds to action or to another’s perceptions of that action. Rousseau went further and argued that authenticity pertains exclusively to thinking and to questioning and doubting the veracity of one’s own thoughts as opposed to questioning whether an object was or was not the real thing.

Thus, the idea of authenticity was interiorized over time, less concerned with the correspondence between thought and behavior or fake and real and far more with the search for inner truth, be it philosophical, intellectual, spiritual, existential, or psychological.

Where are we today? How do we think about the idea of the authentic? Are we more focused on what is phony and what is true? On the way, we connect what we think with what we say and what we do?  On the contrast between pure and impure? On whether we can trust one? On how we monitor the way we connect our thoughts and our spoken words? On how we respond to someone’s honest criticism of our own ideas and actions? On how we appreciate the mix of nature, nurture, and the external as the bases of our own thoughts and actions? On how we develop and maintain our authenticity? On how we perceive authenticity and the search for truth?  How can we remain authentic in a time when truth itself seems to have lost its value?

Reading Material


  • Is our true self our core values?
  • Where do these core values come from?
  • How do our actions authenticate our core values?
  • If you remove the supernatural, ie Religion, Consciousness, or Spirituality what determines our core values?
  • Is it only Nature, Nurture, and DNA that defines our core values or is there a hidden source that informs our mind as to what our core values should be?

Our Inquiring Minds group meets to discuss a chosen topic in an informal setting. Subjects include religion, current events, politics, and science, among others. Drop-in visitors are always welcome. Inquiring Minds information is also available at the Plato’s Cave meetup website:


Please submit a relevant discussion subject to me that you would like to introduce for a future discussion. The introduction should be no more than 10-15 minutes.


Jan 31 2021


9:00 am - 10:00 pm



Zoom meetings are online, video-conferencing meetings. It does require the installation of free software to your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Link to the particular Zoom location will be found in the event description.


Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall

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