Jon Elster

For a writer it is not easy to resist the desire to go down in posterity as a diary writer of unrivalled sincerity, a project as confused as the wish to be well-known as an anonymous donor to charities. The terms of sincerity and authenticity, like those of wisdom and dignity, always have a faintly ridiculous air about them when employed in the first person singular, reflecting the fact that the corresponding states are essentially by-products. And, by contamination, the preceding sentences partake of the same absurdity, for in making fun of the pathetic quest for authenticity one is implicitly affirming one’s own. “To invoke dignity is to forfeit it “: yes, but to say this is not much better. There is a choice to be made, between engaging in romantic irony and advocating it. Naming the unnameable by talking about something else is an ascetic practice and goes badly with self-congratulation.

Jon Elster, ‘States that Are Essentially By-Products’, Social Science Information, vol. 20, no. 3 (June, 1981), p. 440