People have always contemplated the big question: meaning of life in the wrong way, the question itself is incorrect and needs to be reworked, if anything reversed, man should not ask what the meaning of life is but rather should recognize that it is he who is asked, it is man who is questioned by life itself not man questioning life, if done in the former, no answer will be found. therefore, it is not the question of: “what is the meaning of life” but rather: “what does life mean to me?”
To answer for the existence of one’s own life it is of primary necessity to see that one can only respond to such a question by being: Responsible. Responsibility is therefore the essence of human existence.
Vicktor E Frankl was an austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, after surviving such terrors he wrote one of his most popular books: “man’s search for meaning” and developed the psychological therapeutic doctrine called: Logotherapy whereby Logo’s in greek means: Meaning, therefore: Meaning Therapy.
He asked the question: “What drives Humanity?” his conclusion was this: “the will to meaning” it was the desire for meaning that made people continue on living, this view would contradict other psychoanalytic view points at the time, for example: Freud believed in the will to pleasure and Adler believed in the will to power.
Man’s search for meaning for Frankl was man’s primary motivation in his life and certainly not something of a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives as Freud would call it
“There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!”
From his experiences of the holocaust Frankl saw something empirical at it’s most extreme that would detonate psychological fatalism, this was all part of what Frankl called: The Collective Neurosis which is that of nihilism with the belief that being itself has no meaning, Frankl saw that the fatalistic conditioning of science on mankind would only make the nihilistic neurotic believe themselves as a pawn and victim of outer and inner influences and circumstances, thus, denying man’s freedom and making the existential vacuum ever so bigger:
“this neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychological therapy which denies that man is free”
What frankl saw beyond the conceptions of determinism and scientific fatalism was that on a foundational level: man’s ability to withstand conditions is a definition of freedom, this understanding did not neglect the reality of man’s deterministic nature, but saw (with insight from the holocaust) that man IS capable of defying and braving the worst conditions conceivable, even those with the sole intent to destroy.
different wills which through mere force of being meaning, power or pleasure, push back the deterministic wall to it’s final end point, whereby the will itself isolates determinism as of where it should be, within this relative space of start to end or will to finality there lies a degree of freedom which allows one to be capable or incapable of defying or acquiescing towards conditions of a brutal nature. In relation to the will to meaning this is of a highest degree, it is all dependent on how much one withstands to bear in the search for meaning, thus, within the will to meaning there is a degree of freedom.
The way in which logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis is that it considers man as a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather then in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and enviroment.
What he saw in the concerntration camps was that people who knew there was a task waiting for them to fulfill were most apt to survive, hence the nietzschean quote:
“he who has a WHY can bear almost any HOW” because of this Frankly saw that for a good mental health a tension needs to be of existence, that tension would most precisely be, i quote: “the GAP between what one is and what one should become”
He saw that it was extremely dangerous to presuppose the need for equilibrium or a tensionless state because what man really needs is, i quote: “not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task”
Something that Frankl saw as being the wide spread phenomenon of the 20th century and thus causing a loss of meaning was what he called: The Existential Vacuum, he said that this was the result of two fundamental occurrences: 1. Loss of Tradition and 2. Loss of Animal Instinct, the fact that man has to make a choice puts the prospect of paradise and security at a halt.
I quote: “No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism)”
“The existential Vacuum manifest’s itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom”
Depression, Agression & Addiction, this is what you could call the mass neurotic triad of the people but this is what Frankl saw as result of the existential vacuum of the 20th century, all three of these have nothing but sky rocketed since the appearance the existential vacuum.
his attack against alderian and freudian psychoanalysis in relation to the will to power and will to pleasure is based on the fact that the existential vacuum can mask itself behind these different striving’s of the will.
“there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates to sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampent in the existential vacuum.”
We can see how frankl’s answer to the meaning of life is very similar to Camus’s view of the meaning to life, Camus makes the proposition of: revolt against suicide, freedom against ideology & passion for living without hope. Camus’s view of passion for life is similar to Frankl’s reversal question of the meaning to life, which is that of: what is your calling, what is life’s calling to you? BUT frankl does view that there are 3 fundamental, objective ways in which we find meaning in life, that is through: Deed, Love and Suffering.
In reference to love this meaning can be attained just by experiencing something whether it be goodness, beauty, truth, nature or culture but also by experiencing another human being whereby these qualities can be embodiment of another individual.
The meaning of love is located in the ability for another person to release the beloved’s potentialities into the mind so that they become actualized, this is the motion that unfold’s when the partner see’s the possibilities of the other, thus, making them come true, in the process of love a partner can give rise to the realisation of their potential which therefore gives their lives meaning, this can work in a reciprocal manner.
Suffering on the other hand can give rise to meaning when a personal tragedy is turned into a triumph, for example: the realisation and understanding of suffering gives an artist the pure groundwork to produce a beautifully tragic painting, whereby the meaning of life would be for the artist to express life in art.
We can develop a meaning to suffering my simply changing the attitude and the way we look at it, for example: Let’s say as a husband your wife (or vice versa) has died from an illness and you have been in despair even since, thus you ask the question to yourself: what if this was reversed? what if it happened to me and not her, well, she would obviously also be in great despair and suffering but what we can conclude is that because that is not the case: a suffering has been spared and it is you who has spared her this suffering at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her. So by changing the attitude in how we see despair we can uproot a meaning which gives a purpose to our existence.
Carl Jung also noticed the collective neurosis that frankl previously mentioned saying the follow, quote:
“Man cannot stand a meaningless life. The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it. It is only the things we don’t understand that have any meaning. Man woke up in a world he did not understand, and that is why he tries to interpret it. About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.”
“The only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional — of its own particular law. To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being, he has failed to realize his own life’s meaning.”
Jung also identified that individual realization was at the heart of finding a meaning to life, he put great emphasis on the individuation process but the method which allows one to become self realized is approached through a method called: Circumambulation. This is the idea that through continuous potential as an individual – interests manifest themselves in present life these interests are those which will help you realise what it is that will hopefully allow you to gravitate towards your ideal self but obviously you will begin as the archetypal fool as that is always the case before becoming a master in whatever it is that you idealise, therefore, there are continuous diversion which one will make so it’s never a linear psychological evolution it’s more circular but by every inch you are slowly rotating inwards to attain the centre or the self, it’s no different from a maze and maybe even the concept and creation of the maze is a conscious or unconscious representation of circumambulation because one enters into the game of life from all different entrances but then one is continuously confronted with physical and mental walls until reaching the centre.
Frankl’s logotherapy is I think very much an antidote to existential problems because it is the only psychological therapy produced specifically for confronting the existential vacuum, nihilism and the different ways in which the will to meaning can beome submerged under the ever present neurotic triad of agression, addiction and depression in the modern age.
One thought on “Viktor Frankl, Carl Jung, Freud and Camus | The Meaning of Life”
Terrific post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thanks!