Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most influential books in history. In it, Viktor Frankl describes his experience in a concentration camp from a psychiatrist’s point of view. He also lays out principles of logotherapy, a theory founded on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose.
In this article, I will give you 12 Man’s Search for Meaning quotes that will give you an insight into his theory.
After the horrors of the 20th century, many found themselves coping to grasp the meaning of life. Some even went as far as to proclaim that there is no meaning.
But then, Viktor Frankle appeared. His book Man’s Search for Meaning emerged as a (successful) attempt to challenge existential nihilism. After all, who would dare question the existence of the meaning of life and suffering when a holocaust survivor proclaimed that there is one. So, without further ado, here are 12 Man’s Search for Meaning quotes.
Essential Man’s Search for Meaning Quotes
#1. “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.”
#2. “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”
#3. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.”
#4. “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
#5. “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
#6. “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity -even under the most difficult circumstances- to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”
#7. “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
#8. “Ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man… What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic.”
#9. “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
#10. “Ironically enough, in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes… Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.”
#11. “As a professor in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields I am a survivor of four camps – concentration camps, that is – and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.”
#12. “One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be…”
Viktor Frankl truly gave the world an antidote to existentialism and nihilism. His work helped millions of people cope with suffering, or rather, find meaning through it. Hopefully, these 12 Man’s Search for Meaning quotes will lead you to a meaningful and fulfilling life.