Existential Freedom: Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl’s conception of the freedom of human existence spawned from his trials and observations in WWII concentration camps. Throughout his duration in camps he identified certain attitudes and behaviors that his fellow inmates exhibited when faced with death and meaninglessness. These experiences would later form his logotherapy approach. For Frankl, man’s search for meaning is the primary driving force in life. (99) The search for meaning is uniquely fulfilled by the subjective interests and responsibilities of each individual. Frankl’s logotherapy revolves around the “will to meaning” as the driving force propelling man to achieve fulfillment.  Psychiatric problems arise out of an ‘existential frustration’ when the will to meaning is obstructed. According to Frankl, values and defense mechanisms are constructs fabricated by man as a result of his desire for a meaning. (100)

This search for meaning is fulfilled in three sources. These sources of meaning are love, work and suffering. Frankl describes love as the saving ‘why’ that facilitates the ‘how’ contained in work. The final source of meaning is contained in suffering. Frankl quotes Nietzsche and says that “He who has a why can bear most any how.” He cites two reasons for why suffering is good, namely that it creates inner freedom or spiritual freedom, and that man can choose to see suffering as a task in which he can suffer proudly. Again he quotes Nietzsche saying “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” In this way suffering becomes an achievement which ‘transforms a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

Frankl stresses the importance of attitude toward life. Taking responsibility for life meant seeing life as tasks to complete with right action and right conduct (77).  Man always has choice in his action. He is responsible for his life. This responsibility is an essential response to the will for meaning. Man desires a fulfilling life; he desires meaning and worthwhile achievement. It is important to note that Frankl isn’t concerned with what man wants out of life. He is concerned with what life wants out of man. The demands of life present tasks. Man undertakes these tasks by exercising the freedom of inner life and choosing his attitude and how he aims to respond to these tasks.

Works Cited

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon, 2006.