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The meaning of existence

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On the recommendation of a colleague, I read the book "The Meaning of Existence" by Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor. An impressive and intriguing book in which Frankl, as a psychologist, drew principles from these profound and often degrading experiences. Unlike the title suggests, the book hardly transcends the individual frame of mind. This is not insignificant, by the way, and should be given much more attention. It reminds me of the importance of the work on meaning in psychiatry by psychiatrist Gerrit Glas, among others (e.g., the religious anamnesis).

Although Frankl indicates almost at the end of the book that; '[...], I must expressly add that the true meaning of life is to be sought in the world, rather than in man himself, or in his own psyche, as if it were a closed circuit.' is little expressed in this introductory book to his work. I also think that philosophical principles are assumed to be unsaid, which are nevertheless relevant to shaping thinking about meaning. I am thinking of the intrinsic value of man or the usefulness of meaning in a meaningless universe.

If the meaning of life is no more than the pursuit of the unfulfilled (individual) desires - or to find them - we cannot talk about the question of existence. And although I agree that this is therapeutically important, after all, it is live for something 'more meaningful' than living for nothing and taking responsibility is essential, this in no way transcends the individual desirability. In other words; it does give meaning to one's life, but that does not make it objectively meaningful. Real meaningfulness can only exist as an extrinsic fact; as a self-transcending value. A meaningful life is therefore, in my opinion, not about a fulfilled or enjoyable life, but about a meaning from which other values emerge: the value of life, human dignity, rights and duties, morality. If these are all determined only by what the individual manages to make of them, or what society of the moment finds desirable, good and evil boil down to feeling; not justice.

I am reminded of the tasks that were given to mentally challenged clients (sometimes with autism) during my work as a social worker. It makes sense if the client thinks that the tasks serve a purpose, if he believes or thinks that accomplishing the given task does not merely make time pass, but that it really matters. What reason he comes up with for this is not important, as long as he thinks it makes sense - that is Frankl's logotherapy. With that I am not trying to dismiss it as nonsense, certainly not! I think it is very important, but only part of the story. It ignores the question of whether it is also objective makes sense. Whether there is a meaning maker; in this case, the facilitator who knows that it activates cognitive and memory functions or promotes spatial thinking. Or whether there will eventually be an exhibition of work made. Some facilitators threw the work away or empty in front of the clients. It is hard to think of anything more inhuman. Yet: more inhuman is if the client does not know that he is valuable in spite of everything, regardless of his capabilities, (un)completed tasks or the meaninglessness of the latter.

The signifier cannot be the client himself; at least, it can be for his psychological state of mind, but only if he thinks it is there truly matters. To a large extent, therefore, I agree with Frankl's analyses, but only on the individual level and not in the context of real life meaning. This still requires a meaning-giver, which with Frankl remains completely out of the picture. With Frankl, this question does not exist outside the individual or social situation: in the question of the meaning of life, it is the questioner who is questioned and only one's own life can be accounted for according to one's own standards and values. Thus one does not begin to discover the meaning of suffering, but gives one's own meaning to suffering. Unless there is a higher, transcending human meaning. Life has meaning when it transcends the is individual coloring.

Man is so like the ant with self-esteem. This one can find its own life meaningful and special, even from the social perspective as a worker within the colony. But we can remove an anthill without guilt. So what makes the suffering of the ant - or even the entire colony - meaningful?

A chess piece may think it makes sense to make one last move, but the real sense lies in the real existence of a chess game and game strategy. And thus a strategist who can oversee the moves. Presumably Frankl would say about this that the individual life concerns the chess piece, the chess board concerns the world and its given circumstances. I agree. But the real meaning of this falls or stands not with the thoughts of the pawn, but of the chess player.

By this I do not mean to indicate mere pawns, but that (among other things) the idea of the intrinsic value of man cannot be determined by the individual or explained by his philosophy. It cannot even be determined by the game of chess. It depends on whether there is something or someone who gives it value. Who makes man transcend the beast. Who make confinement and humiliation unworthy of a human being. If that really matters, there are philosophical principles at play that Frankl completely ignores in this book.

And at this point I must say that I deeply believe in the value of man, including individual man. Created to choose freely, man has chosen himself as god and still does so daily. But man is God does not And cannot (stand) on his own. God has paid a costly price for him to buy him free and allow him to be bound to Him. The economic value of goods is determined by that which a person is willing to give for it. For man the highest price has been paid - the death of the Son. And he may freely choose true fulfillment of his life with the firm hope of a future (Heb. 11).


Erwin de Ruiter

"One man tries to express himself in books, another in boots; both are likely to fail." - G.K. Chesterton

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