Meaning in the Modern World

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Human Nature Philosophy: Man’s Search for Meaning

Human Nature Philosophy

Human Nature Philosophy

Viktor Frankl wrote about the search for meaning in life in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. This became his human nature philosophy.

Written in 1946, four years after he was first taken to a concentration camp it went on to be a best seller.

Viktor’s insight was that the uniqueness of each individual gave meaning to their existence. Accepting that you are irreplaceable infers responsibility.

Responsibility for existence, to those who love you and to current or unfinished work.

You could take everything from a person except the attitude that they dealt with different circumstances. You could never take their freedom to choose their own way. To be their own self.

These were insights born of experience. As prisoner 119104 he saw daily suffering and death. He lost his own parents, pregnant wife and brother. From his immediate family only he and a sister survived.

Those who had meaning in their life he felt were more able to survive. They were more resilient to suffering than those who did not. In the horrific circumstances of the camps this difference often meant the difference between life and death.

Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. It was liberated by the 80th Division. May 7, 1945. Lt. A. E. Samuelson. (Army) NARA FILE #: 111-SC-204480 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1103

Insights

A prominent Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Victor had already begun to question the meaningoflife. In the camps he worked as a therapist and in his book he wrote about two suicidal inmates he met there. Worn down by the horrors of camp life these men had come to think there was nothing more to live for. Nothing else to expect from life.

Victor worked with them to realise there was something to hold on for, some reason to continue living for. For one it was a child, safe in a foreign country. For another, it was a series of academic books he needed to finish.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing”, Viktor wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Not only did he find meaning and hope in the midst of such horrific suffering and his own personal losses, but on release he remarried, wrote another twenty five books, and founded a school of psychotherapy.

He went on to live a long, happy life. His human nature philosophy remains popular today and his books still sells well. The message that we always have some freedom of choice and can search for meaning is an eternal one.

“People are free,” says Frankl. No matter their level of oppression they are responsible “for making someone or something out of themselves.” That for him was the meaning of life.

Human Nature Philosophy, Matt, Nov 2016

 

 

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