’s Impetus Essay, Research Paper
I do not agree with Frankl. I do not believe Man’s primary driving force is a search for meaning. Nor do I concede with his critics that propose alternative ‘motivations’, such as power, or pleasure. I believe that man has the capacity to be driven by many motivational factors, not just any single one. Moreover, I believe that these motivations represent themselves in a predictable, patterned way. In three of the books we read this summer, it is possible to trace the evolution of the protagonist’s motivations, and their subsequent philosophical state of awareness. Miller’s Willy Loman, Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych, and Victor Frankl himself all follow a similar path of self-philosophy, each character showing us a little of the author’s own philosophy.
Freud, who was the first to define a psychological ‘motivating force’, was the first to approach the subject as a scientist. As a scientist, he felt obligated to find the simplest explanation for man’s behavior, a General Rule that would apply to every person. As can be attested to by the likes of Victor Frankl, though, Freud’s suggestion that “man is driven by a search for pleasure” isn’t always accurate. I commend Freud’s efforts, however, for I would venture to say that it is accurate most of the time. It is my belief that in Man’s initial stages of philosophical and psychological development, pleasure is the single greatest motivational factor. Kierkegaard cited a similar idea in his “Child” stage of development, that when Man is in his psychological infancy, he is driven solely by pleasure and reward.
This drive for pleasure may never cease to be Man’s primary motivation. One may stay in this stage of development permanently. It all depends on whether or not this pleasure ceases.
I follow the idea that, initially, Man lives his life as a passenger. As Kierkegaard noted, in early life, a Man’s decisions are made for him. His parents and family, teachers, and society, all make his decisions. Unlike Kierkegaard, I do not see any necessary connection with Age in relationship to this principle. Man may never live his life actively. Man may live his entire life passively. Passivity is not something Man necessarily grows out of. The reason for this, is that passivity, and a drive for pleasure, are intimately connected.
(I am not saying Man can not live for his own pleasure in an active manner, but rather, that in the earliest stages of one’s development, man is both naturally passive, and naturally pleasure-seeking.) The shift in consciousness from a passive, to an active life, is dependent on a loss of this pleasure. If Man is living passively, and is also receiving a satisfactory amount of pleasure, there is no philosophical, nor psychological motivation for activity. If passivity works, there is no reason for Man’s psyche to change. However, if gradual or sudden changes in circumstance create a lack of pleasure in a Man’s life, a natural, instinctual response forces Man to live actively.
For many people, this change is the defining moment in people’s lives. It can be rewarding and eye-opening, or it can be chaotic and horrifying. It all depends on the person, and the situation. As Man’s change in circumstance can be either gradual or
sudden, so can his change from passivity to activity. As can be expected, a sudden change to activity can be devastating. People unaccustomed or unprepared for the sudden destruction of their passive microcosm can be destroyed by the change. I believe that is what happened to Willy Loman and Ivan Ilych. Both had lived lives predetermined by their society, living as an outsider, a spectator. Neither lived actively. Willy’s microcosm was shattered relatively quickly, and he was overwhelmed by his own lack of control. Ivan’s world fell apart piece by piece, both externally and internally, and his lack of choice, his lack of control, his lack of power, destroyed him gradually. Victor Frankl was able to get through his change, however. When his passive world was destroyed, thrown into chaos by the Nazi invasion, Victor was almost destroyed. However, as he stated in his book, his desire for meaning, his “reason to live” was what saved his body and mind from death. He was able to re-direct his life actively, and survived his crisis.
Frankl would have said that a “lack of meaning” destroyed the lives of Ilych and Loman. I disagree–for several reasons. The first is for something Frankl himself should have noticed. Before he entered Auschwitz, he did not necessarily have a ‘meaning’ to his life. He was writing a specific work, and this did serve as a thesis for much of his life’s work, but it did not become the meaning of his life until this self-same life fell apart. Frankl made his assumption about Man’s motivation because of what he saw in Auschwitz. When people had no meaning in a time of crisis, they were lost. Those with a meaning could keep going. What Frankl did not see in his assumption, though, are the key words “…in a time
of crisis…”. He did not realize that these people were fine and healthy without meaning, up until the time they entered Auschwitz. Only at the very time of crisis does the lack of meaning have any significance. When Man is in his early stage of development, living passively and happily, he has no necessary need for meaning. The need for meaning occurs only when passivity fails, and pleasure exists no longer. A lack of meaning is not the crisis itself; it is not the disease which destroys Man. Rather, it is the lack of pleasure, the lack of control, and the lack of understanding activity which causes the crisis. The subsequent despair is the disease which destroys Man. A lack of meaning is a symptom of Man’s own immune response to this despair.
It is my belief that a search for meaning, a search for religion, a search for some guiding factor in one’s life is a way for Man to regulate his own sanity. When Man changes from passivity to activity, he loses the guidance and order inherent in a passive lifestyle. He is surrounded by what seems to be chaos, what seems to be without order, and cannot figure out how to regain the pleasure they lost. When Man has never lived actively, he is filled with a fear of his own inadequacy, a fear of being without the protection of passivity. To protect himself from this fear, I believe that Man creates within himself an instinctual, natural desire for meaning. Man hopes to use this meaning as protection and guidance, a way back to pleasure. This meaning can take any form, from a life’s work, to religion, to an acceptance of inadequacy, sometimes even a life of passivity. (Passivity must not be dismissed entirely as a philosophy, even after it has been lost. Many people do go back to a
passive life, if they can find it. Elderly people, for example, often go back to the passivity of
their youth.) Existentialists call this period of new-found meaning their “Leap of Faith”. Kierkegaard refers to the search and chaos as the “Adolescent Stage” and the final acceptance of activity and meaning as the “Adult Stage”. I would venture to say that each of these three authors has reached the “Adult Stage” of their development, or has, at least, gone through the collapse of a passive existence at least once. The knowledge they have of the experience points to a past crisis, and the fact that they remained around long enough to write their books is a testament to their survival. Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe, so we know everything turned out all right. Heh Heh. In “Man’s Search for Meaning” we even see the completion of Frankl’s cycle. From what I know of Tolstoy’s history, he had the same types of dilemmas written about in “Ivan Ilych” and several other short stories. He was Russian Aristocracy and felt extremely guilty about his wealth and the unfair nature of his status. He attempted celibacy (I say attempted because he had many children) and gave up his money to teach peasant children in a small hut. The point is, he saw meaning, and actively followed his own goals. That he changed his life so drastically is neither good or bad, merely a testament to his philosophical change.
I have waxed dictatorial numerous times throughout the above paper, so I write now an afterwarning to the reader. I do not write this paper as a statement, nor even a suggestion, but rather as a question. I propose this as a possibility, a rough belief of my
own that is subject to change. Whatever conclusions about life have been made, bear in mind their transience.
(As to the requirement of Summer Reading, yes, I did read the Art of Loving. However, I found the information within it only barely relevant to the specific above message I wanted to convey. As for my personal opinions of the work, I think Fromm was right on in his social observations, but I found the latter half of the book to be a large amount of Freud-
bashing, and unsupported pontification. In a book speaking of something as timeless and
universal as love, one would have expected something less like a period piece. The male-female love he spoke of was based on a real stereotype, but not necessarily a reality. Overall, I found the book only indirectly congruous with the other two works, and have left it out to exist as an afterthought of the summer reading)