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Man's Search for Meaning

by Viktor Emil Frankl

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Student Question

What does Frankl imply about people distracting themselves with pleasure when they lack deep meaning?

Quick answer:

In Man's Search for Meaning, when Frankl says that people who cannot find a deep sense of meaning distract themselves with pleasure, he means that the Freudian pleasure principle is not a satisfying goal. Even if the craving for pleasure is satisfied, the person in question still experiences a void within themselves, which only disappears upon doing something meaningful. Pleasure can then be enjoyed as a by-product of meaning.

Expert Answers

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One of the most important differences between Frankl's logotherapy and Freud's psychoanalytic method is Frankl's rejection of the pleasure principle as a major motivating force. Freud thought that human beings were largely driven by the quest for pleasure, while Frankl regards pleasure as a shallow and unsatisfying value which lasts only a short time and cannot compensate for a lack of meaning in life. Happiness, according to Frankl, is deeper than pleasure but has a similar nature, since even happiness is only a by-product of doing something meaningful and should not be pursued directly as an end in itself.

Frankl, like Freud, uses sex as one of the principal examples of pleasure, but he points out how unsatisfying and frustrating so-called sexual "fulfilment" can be, arguing that "the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum." Frankl groups pleasure of all kinds alongside money, power, and other distractions which he says people attempt to use as substitutes for meaning when their lives are meaningless. He gives examples of patients who have made these distractions their primary aim in life, with the result that they have become neurotic, because the void in their lives remained even after the apparent objective had been achieved. Only by seeking meaning were they able to enjoy pleasure as an incidental benefit.

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