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Viktor Frankl's Philosophical Theory on Man's Search for Meaning

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Presentation given at the 4th Nordic Conference on Philosophical Practice; 26.-27.4.2014; Helsinki, Finland

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Viktor Frankl's Philosophical Theory on Man's Search for Meaning

  1. 1. VIKTOR FRANKL’S PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY ON MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING Timo Purjo, PhD, Diplomate in Logotherapy Fourth Nordic Conference on Philosophical Practice: ”MEANINGFUL LIFE” 25.-27.4.2014 Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2. Viktor Frankl’s meaning-centered theory Meaning-centered = meaning-focused (cf. solution- focused) = meaning-oriented Why meaning-centered? Meaning-centered vs. Self-centered
  3. 3. Viktor Frankl’s meaning-centered theory Viktor Frankl’s philosophical theory as the basis for: • Logotherapy and Existential Analysis (LTEA) • Existential Analysis  Logotherapy • Existential Analysis = analysis of a person’s existence = phenomenological analysis of factors causing qualitative problems in a person’s existence What causes suffering in a person’s life? • Logotherapy = a) clinical application of logotherapeutic techniques, or, b) counseling based on logotherapeutic principles and conceptual framework of logotheory What kind of meanings and purposes can be discovered that cause happiness, a comprehensive experience of good life?
  4. 4. ”Happiness must happen” Viktor Frankl
  5. 5. What is ment by meaning in Frankl’s theory? • German Sinn = meaning, or rather: meaning and purpose The question of meaning also includes a consideration of, and relation to, universal values (e.g. goodness, beauty, and truth) “What makes a person’s life meaningful or purposeful?” always intertwined with: “What is valuable in life?” • The purposefulness of a deed is not determined by one’s own experience of meaningfulness but rather by its meaningfulness to others • The purposefulness of a deed is not determined by our own valuations or by its value only to us ourselves, but by its value to others
  6. 6. What is meant by spiritual in Frankl’s theory? • German Geist, geistig = spirit, spiritual • Geistig vs. geistlich: spiritual in its devotional, religious signification NOT meant by Frankl when talking about human spiritual capabilities
  7. 7. Essential assumptions of Frankl’s logophilosophy1 1. Humans are spiritual beings 2. Humans are beings in search of meaning 3. Humans are responsible beings, able to respond to the demands of life 4. Humans are beings open to Socratic kind of education  Human beings are able to activate their best potentials, overcome their limitations, and choose meaningful actions or, where this is not possible, choose meaningful attitudes  Human beings have a basic need to search for meaning; not to strive for power (Alfred Adler), pleasure and immediate gratification (Sigmund Freud), and material wealth and prestige 1 Fabry, J. 1997. Logophilosophy in the Third Millenium. The International Forum for Logotherapy 20, 68-76.
  8. 8. Essential assumptions of Frankl’s logophilosophy • One of the principal insights of logophilosophy is that the goal of a fulfilled life is not power and pleasure but meaning • A new ethic is emerging, emphasizing such values as openness in personal relationships, hospitality, cooperation, tolerance, involvement, creativity, experimentation, spontaneity, participation, self-esteem, self-determination, self-transcendence*), awareness of one’s feelings and honesty in expressing them, consciousness, and most of all self-responsibility in searching for a meaningful life • Of all the new values, acceptance of self-responsibility is the most challenging *)it means, that the human reality is always pointing to something beyond itself – to something or someone
  9. 9. Essential assumptions of Frankl’s logophilosophy • Gaining of freedom has been the dream of humankind. This has been achieved by at least a sizeable part of the world. But as Frankl has warned, freedom and irresponsibility does not bring meaning but chaos. To learn how to use our newly-won freedom responsibly is perhaps the greatest challenge for humans in the third millennium. • The suffering masses of the poor, homeless, and starving are growing. In different ways the rich suffer – from boredom, emptiness, and frustration. They hunger not food but for meanings. They have plenty to live on, but don’t know what to live for.
  10. 10. • When Frankl developed LTEA in the late 1920's and the 1930’s, it was designed for patients who suffered from an existential vacuum • It that had not been considered in psychotherapy as it is a noogenic (of spiritual origin) problem, NOT a psychogenic (of psychological origin) or pathogenic (illness producing) problem • Frankl wrote already in 19252 that the approach to the problematic should be philosophical as the main task was to reconstruct the person’s worldview, “philosophical system” or “conception of life” Issues of ethics; meanings, values, and purposes; fulfillment; belief systems; other issues requiring philosophical interpretation LTEA and the problematic of an existential vacuum 2 Frankl, V. E. 1925. Psychotherapie und Weltanschauung. Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie III, 250-252.
  11. 11. How to help persons suffering from existential vacuum and its consequences? • Frankl’s ”prescription for cure”: education = character (personality) education, value education, and education to responsibility • Frankl’s ideas of education go back to Socrates, who believed that, deep within, we know what is good, true and beautiful E-ducere: to draw out; "maieutics", to act as a "spiritual midwife" • Frankl called this kind of prevention of existential frustration or noogenic neurosis (illness) as existential analysis3 Accepting one’s responsibleness, refinding one’s will to meaning • It may also be continued as logotheoretic counselling Finding concrete and personal meanings 3 Frankl, V. E. 2002. Grundriss der Existenzanalyse und Logotherapie [1959]. In: Logotherapie und Existenzanalyse. Weinheim: Beltz, 121-122.
  12. 12. • Not as simple as that Prerequisite of successful logotheoretic / logophilosophical counselling is good knowledge of all the spiritual abilities named and defined by Frankl Next weekend course at Kriittinen korkeakoulu 10.-11.5.2014 Weekend course also in Hämeenlinna 24.-25.5.2014 How to help persons suffering from existential vacuum and its consequences?
  13. 13. Viktor Frankl, the forerunner of Philosophical Practice4 • In 1981, the German philosopher Gerd B. Achenbach opened the very first modern Philosophical Practice and began to practice philosophical counselling • Achenbach’s Philosophical Practice was a new starting point and simultaneously a revival of the old tradition of practicing philosophy. In fact, ancient philosophy was primarily a very practical enterprise and a way of life. Many modern Philosophical Practitioners are influenced by ancient philosophers, humanistic psychotherapies and especially logophilosophy. E.g. Lou Marinoff, President of APPA, gives credit to Frankl. • There is a strong similarity between the spiritual exercises of the ancient philosophers (rediscovered by Paul Rabbow and Pierre Hadot) and Frankl’s methods 3 Zaiser, R. 2006. Viktor E. Frankl as a Pioneer of the Modern Philosophical Practice. The International Forum for Logotherapy 29, 69-72.

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