Photo of Dr. Gordon MedlockDr. Medlock currently serves on the faculties of the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential, the University of Chicago Graham School of Professional Studies, and Purdue North Central Department of Social Work. He also works as a Senior Talent Management Consultant with HRIZONS. Dr. Medlock completed his Ph.D in philosophy at Yale University, focusing on existential philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology. Recent publications include The Evolving Ethic of Authenticity: From Humanistic to Positive Psychology.

Dr. Medlock will present an invited address on Authenticity as a Core Virtue within the Normative Framework of Positive Psychology.


Authenticity as a Core Virtue Within the Normative Framework of Positive Psychology

The purpose of this paper is to clarify the definition and interpretation of authenticity as a character strength or virtue, and to demonstrate how it serves as a core principle 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, including: (a) congruence of feeling, action, and stated intentions, (b) presence and full engagement in the here and now, (c) non-defensive self-awareness and openness to the richness and depth of experience, (d) a growth mindset with an orientation toward developing potential and expanding possibilities, (e) personal freedom and autonomy, (f) responsibility and accountability, (g) resolute commitment, (h) a sense of coherence of meaning and purpose.  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 this respect authenticity emerges as a core principle in Seligman’s theory of well- being (appearances to the contrary), specifically insofar as the qualities of engagement, meaning, and relationships are considered central to human flourishing.

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, while also demonstrating the importance of the existential-humanistic tradition to our understanding of the nature of human flourishing as a psychological and ethical ideal.