Explain why Frankl believes that we should not ask about the meaning of life. What is his alternative?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Viktor Frankl found meaning and purpose in the bleakest possible circumstances by using his system of logotherapy to treat his fellow prisoners in the concentration camps. He believed that meaning was the most important element in any person’s life and that it was generally lack of meaning that led to depression and suicide. People from all social classes die by suicide. Some of these people are wealthy and powerful. Some even have loving families and partners. However, Frankl argues, no one whose life is full of meaning and purpose, who has an urgent and vital mission to fulfill in the world, will ever commit suicide.

One might think that such a philosophy would lead Frankl to enquire into the meaning of life. Actually, like any Existentialist, he dismisses the question as unanswerable and meaningless. If there were a single “meaning of life,” Frankl would only have needed to treat one patient. He could then simply have told all the others the meaning he had discovered in that single case. Frankl believed that there could be no possible single meaning for life. He aimed to prevent suicides, but it would be absurd to imagine that this means the meaning of life is to prevent suicides. It would then follow that if there were no suicides, life would be meaningless. On the contrary, such an outcome would not even render Frankl’s life meaningless. It would simply mean that he had succeeded and could now move on to some other useful object which would make his life meaningful. Frankl, therefore, thought that it was pointless and counter-productive to ask, “What is the meaning of life?” One ought to ask instead, “How can I give meaning to my life?”

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial