The purpose of this paper is to clarify the meaning of authenticity in relation to the theory of character strengths and virtues, and to demonstrate how it serves as an integrative moral ideal within the normative framework of positive psychology. The paper clarifies the meaning of authenticity, as defined within the existential-humanistic tradition, as a multi-dimensional construct.
Thus understood, authenticity assumes a much larger place in the catalogue of virtues and related character strengths than is typically allocated within positive psychology. It not only interfaces with many of the strengths identified by Peterson and Seligman, but also accounts for how individuals integrate their distinctive value orientations into their core sense of self and personal identity.
In all these respects, authenticity emerges as a central element of the normative framework of positive psychology, and thus highlights the essential continuity between the traditions of existential-humanistic and positive psychology. The paper explores some of the advantages of regarding authenticity as a virtue in the Aristotelian sense of being a form of know-how or skill in living well. As such, it becomes possible to discuss how it can be cultivated, taught, and integrated into the individual’s fundamental character and way of being. It considers the hypothesis that the yearning for authenticity represents a fundamental human need, complementary to the need for autonomy as articulated in self-determination theory. It also addresses the lack within positive psychology of a constructivist theory of the self to account for how character strengths are incorporated into the fundamental value-orientation and self-structure of the individual. The paper concludes with a discussion of how positive psychology has brought attention to matters of virtue and ethics as they relate to our understanding of personal authenticity; at the same time, the paper demonstrates the importance of the existential-humanistic tradition to our understanding of the nature of human flourishing as a psychological and ethical ideal.