Man’s search for meaning entails firstly, the psychological and physical experiences of Austrian-born Doctor Viktor Frankl (May he rest in peace) who spent a collective of three years in the concentration camps of Dachau, the camp/ghetto Theresienstadt and Auschwitz and secondly his thoughts and discussion on his theory of logotherapy, also psychotherapy and existential anxiety. I shall divide the book into three main points that the book portrays. Firstly, the view of hopelessness and hope. Secondly, the main contentions of logotherapy and Lastly, how in the western world this is still applicable.
According to Frankl in the concentration camp, as prisoners were living their day to day lives they clung to the hope of salvation before their inevitable death, this is found in death row prisoners and is called the delusion of reprieve. This illusion acts as a sort of improvised goal whilst the essence of existence is slowly being stripped away from the prisoners. Some may argue that in the camps simple things like work coupons and the pursuit of being a “capo or prison guard” driven the prisoners forward which would accommodate the theories of the will for pleasure and power, however, it is furthermore seen that these theories do not hold the up to the scrutiny of applicability in the facets of miserable happenings. For, a healthy man died when his illusion of salvation was stripped from him, when the war did not stop and he was still imprisoned his body shut down, he did not simply disregard his hope and replace it for the ventures of materials or power within the camp, or take for example the inmates employed within the gas chambers. They may have been killing fellow inmates because they were given special treatment, or it could have been that they followed the goal of salvation vehemently. In the camps, Frankl and his fellow inmates worked in awful conditions, and to give up hope was to give up life in these extreme circumstances. In these extreme conditions, men would take pleasure in scenery, “art” or time they could talk about things like food or humorous events, the reason why they enjoyed these subjects so often was to subconsciously negate the short-term effects of an inevitable death and to achieve a goal that may never come. In these extreme circumstances many cling to hopes of a world outside the camp, to loved ones or to places of fondness, Frankl instead tries to create goals to corrensite with the life he lives. That being the clinging of love to his wife, no the love he used to have. As he details ” The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved” The most important point that can be described as such “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. That everything can be taken from a man 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”. For that a goal in a dire situation negates the feeling of long term hopelessness, and that the short-term sufferings and the feeling of misjustice will be negated by the clinging hope to the idea of that particular goal and to complete set tasks to achieve that goal.
logotherapy is the third theory of drive in human psychology. The others being that of pleasure and power. Logotherapy offers the individual asking the question “what is the meaning of life?” not a definite answer that you would get from Freud or a biologist, however, it asks you a question of arbitrary abstract meaning, and in your responce the answer will be found. The meaning of life is dependent on the goals the individual sets out to problem-solve in their current predicament and to complete tasks. Therefore the Frankl philosophy of meaning can be described by Nietzche’s famous quote “He who has a why to live or can bear almost any how” and to find a why is to create meaning for the individual, and if you live in constant suffering you must create meaning within the life you live even in suffering, to become remarkable even with the potential stripped from you.
The theory of Logotherapy applies heavially in the West is home to the egotism and rampant induvidualism that catergarises our consumerist culture. For the collective is disregarded in the sense of importance and is replaced by the constant need for induvidual gratification, we ask for what is the meaning of existence if we live in the world of empiness and disconnect with our natural happenings? The West is full of material waste and many fall victim of being a profligate or wastrel, it is encouraged in fact. Whilst this creates a feeling of satisfaction for a short time it also creates a void of induvidual extensential crisis, which creates feelings of conformity amoung segments of the populance to achieve more material wealth or achieve similar goals as the instinctial mechanicism for goal createing is slowly being lost on this society. Therefore we need logotherapy in the west to try an negate the cycle of emptiness that many face in the turn of induvidual materialism.
In finality, Man’s search for meaning describes that if one cannot reach outside the confines of the life they live they shall never achieve the goal that they wish to set out nor if they never set a goal they shall be doomed to work within the confines of thier circumstance. This is applicable in every circumstance from a man who wishes to commit suicide to a man who wants a better job. One must have a goal to negate the effects of the short term, with the promise of the long term.
My criticism of this theory, (I feel quite disrespectful sending criticism to a theory that has actually been used by a holocaust victim.) is that the west is so open to ideas, marketplaces, and possibilities of wealth and success. I believe that this theory is less effective as time continuously goes on, for people become more and more cynical and greedy in material wealth that simple things like setting goals and striving to achieve them will be replaced further with stagnate in individual life and medication to give the illusion of placebo reform in personal life.