Excerpts from Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (original Ger., 1946; original Eng. trans., 1959; Boston Press, 2014), 180 pp.

Foreword by Harold S. Kushner (2006)

“Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the great books of our time” (ix).

“Terrible as it was, his experience in Auschwitz reinforced what was already one of his key ideas: Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. . . .

“Finally, Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counseling situations: Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.” (x).

“Experiences in a Concentration Camp” (pp. 3~87)

“I think it was Lessing who once said, ‘There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.’ An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior” (19).

“Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds” (41).

Frankl says that “everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (62).

“Dostoevski said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom— which cannot be taken away— that makes life meaningful and purposeful” (62-63).

“Any attempt at fighting the camp’s psychopathological influence on the prisoner by psychotherapeutic or psychohygienic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing out to him a future goal to which he could look forward. Instinctively some of the prisoners attempted to find one on their own. It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future . . . . And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task” (68),

“The prisoner who had lost faith in the future— his future— was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay” (69).

“As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners” (71-72)

“Logotherapy in a Nutshell” (pp. 91~125)

Logotherapy focuses “on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. (Logotherapy, indeed, is a meaning-centered psychotherapy.)“ (92).

“Let me explain why I have employed the term ‘logotherapy’ as the name for my theory. Logos is a Greek word which denotes “meaning.” Logotherapy, or, as it has been called by some authors, ‘The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,’ focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centered, as well as in contrast to the on which Adlerian psychology, using the term ‘striving for superiority,’ is focused” (92-93). will to power

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

“ . . . . It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning” (106).

Frankl’s existentialism is expressed in many places, including here: “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment” (122). And, “Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible and of changing himself for the better if necessary” (123).

The 1962 version of the book ends with these significant words: “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips” (p.125).

“POSTSCRIPT 1984: The Case for a Tragic Optimism” (pp. 129~145)

I found this to be an interesting statement: “The truth is that man does not live by welfare alone” (133).

“As logotherapy teaches, “there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love. . . .

“Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph” (137).

Again, Frankl asserts that if “one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude” (139).

Frankl avers that “there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.

“. . . . Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and is not contingent on the usefulness that he or she may or may not retain in the present” (142).

 

About Leroy Seat

* Born in Grant City, MO, on 8/15/1938 * Graduated from Southwest Baptist College (Bolivar, MO) in 1957 (A.A.) * Graduated from William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) in 1959 (A.B.) * Graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) in 1962 (B.D., equivalent of M.Div.) * Received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from SBTS. * Baptist missionary to Japan from 1966 to 2004. * Full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. * Adjunct professor at Rockhurst University from 2006 to 2014.
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