Meaning (existential)

Meaning (existential)

In existentialism, meaning is understood as the worth of life. Meaning in existentialism is unlike typical conceptions of "the meaning of life", because it is descriptive. Due to the method of existentialism, prescriptive or declarative statements about meaning are unjustified. Meaning is only something that is for an individual, it only has a home in one person. Thus it is 'subjective' or should be understood to have an anti-system or anti-answer sensibility.[1]



"Existence precedes essence" means that a human exists first before they have meaning in life. Meaning is not given, and must be achieved. With objects—say a knife for example, there is some creator who conceives of an idea or purpose of an object, and then creates it with the essence of the object already present. The essence of what the knife will be exists before the actual knife itself. Sartre, who was an atheist, believed that if there is no God to have conceived of our essence or nature, then we must come into existence first, and then create our own essence out of interaction with our surroundings and ourselves. With this come serious implications of self-responsibility over who we are and what our lives mean. For this reason, meaning is something without representation or bearing in anything or anyone else. It is something truly unique to each person – separate, independent.[2]


Logotherapy is a type of psychological analysis that focuses on a will to meaning as opposed to a Nietzschean /Adlerian doctrine of "will to power" or Freud's "will to pleasure."[3] Frankl also noted the barriers to humanity's quest for meaning in life. He warns against "...affluence, hedonism, [and] materialism..." in the search for meaning.[4]

The following list of tenets represents Frankl's basic principles of Logotherapy:

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
  • Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
  • We have inalienable freedom to find meaning.

We can find meaning in life in three different ways:

  1. by creating a work or doing a deed;
  2. by experiencing something or encountering someone;
  3. by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Logotherapy was developed by psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Existentialism is a humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre, (L'existentialisme est un humanisme) 1946 Lecture
  3. ^ Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. p 5.
  4. ^ "Tenets". Logotherapy Institute.

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