“also that a repressed will to meaning can have similar results. In fact, he placed the will to meaning at a higher level than the other causal factors. Pleasure, Frankl said, is not an end in itself but only a by-product of a person’s having found meaning. Power, too, said Frankl, is not an end in itself but only a means to an end, namely to find meaning. Meaning, or logos, in Frankl’s view is neither a by-product nor a mere means to an end, but is an essence. The human being is basically a meaning seeking animal-and appears to be the only meaning seeking animal. (Barnes, 2000)
In many ways, the concept of ‘will to meaning’ is at the centre of Frankl’s existentialist discourse in the book. Since existentialism proposes that “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering”, it holds humans responsible for finding meaning to their existence. This responsibility is contrasted against the impulse to long for freedom. In Frankl’s view, freedom is very dangerous in the absence of commensurate responsibility. He even hints that responsibility is a more urgent pre-condition for existence than freedom. This is so, for spiritual progress is a matter of inner discipline and fortitude. In this scenario, responsibility is the more suited virtue than liberty. Frankl identified with this idea so strongly that he even recommended the erection of a Statue of Responsibleness on the West Coast of the United States to counterbalance the Statue of Liberty guarding the East Coast.
The insights and theories presented in the book have implications for various disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, sociology and even political science. Hence, I would call it a treasure trove of wisdom for anyone related to any of the mentioned fields of inquiry. When we place the book in the socio-political and historic context in which it was written, its value is further enhanced. For example, Frankl’s book is as much a comment on the dangers of political authoritarianism (as it unfolded under Hitler) as it is a thesis on psychotherapy. In its latter role, instead of dismantling or trying to disprove the ideas of Freud and Adler (leading contemporaries of his era) he mostly accommodates his theories to theirs. In this regard, Frankl’s project is integrative as against being polemic. As for the scholarship style and merit,
“the book is both well written and organized, with information and atmosphere to spare. But perhaps what is striking about this work is the balanced perspective it offers. Frankl comes across as a “paradoxically dogmatic” individual who is open and strident as well as immensely tolerant…he is also shown to be, at times, unyielding and unforgiving.” (Dattilio, 2003)
As I conclude this essay I admit to how deeply moved I am by reading the book. No other book has had such a profound impact on me as Man’s Search for Meaning has. It has made me realize how superficial my concerns and preoccupations have been so far. As a result of reading this book, I will now think twice before complaining about anything. If people can get through the most torturous conditions in a concentration camp and not complain about it, what are my complaints worth? In this regard, reading this book has been a humbling experience, as it has shaken up my conscience and rejuvenated my spirit to find and fulfil my life’s purpose. It will be my endeavour to remember and apply the numerous psychological insights offered by Victor Frankl to life’s various challenges.
- Barnes, R. C. (2000). Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy: Spirituality and Meaning in the New Millennium. TCA Journal, 28(1), 24+.
- Dattilio, F. M. (2003). When Life Calls out to Us: The Love and Lifework of Viktor and Elly Frankl. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 57(1), 140+.
- Lowen, J. (2000, Winter). Viktor Frankl, the Champion of Humanness. Free Inquiry, 21(1), 55.
- Viktor Emil Frankl (1 June 2006).Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.