Preston Fleming's Reviews > Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
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's review
Nov 20, 2011

it was amazing
Read in January, 1998

The outcome of many a debate is determined in advance by the opening presumption. For example, do we assume a proposition is correct and require evidence against or assume it is false and require evidence in favor?

Viktor Frankl's genius consists of applying this principle to the question of the meaning of life. In MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING, he proposed that we should not demand meaning from life, but rather recognize that life demands meaning from us.

More than that, since the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and even from hour to hour, what matters is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's particular life at a given moment. And from this it follows that each person has his own specific vocation in life and must carry out a concrete mission. In that special assignment he cannot be replaced.

Even under the tyranny of the Nazi death camps, where Frankl was a prisoner for nearly four years (described in Part One of the book), or the Soviet Gulag, where almost everything could be taken from a man or a woman, Frankl insisted that one thing remained, the last of human freedoms: the ability to chose one's attitude under any circumstances.

For me, reading MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING for the first time as a young man was a life-changing experience. It settled in my mind the question of determinism vs. free will. It established for me a working hypothesis that my life could be pulled by goals as well as pushed by drives. As Frankl points out, between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response and in that choice lies our growth and freedom. In short, it doesn't matter what we expect from life but rather what life expects from us.

In my opinion, MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING should be on the core reading list of every American who aims to preserve human freedom and dignity.

NOTE: For anyone facing an existential crisis, I recommend Frankl's speech to fellow concentration camp inmates in the winter of 1944-1945, which can be found on pages 102-105 of the book.


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