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This essay seeks to examine how and why the concentration camp experience under the Nazi regime of Germany managed to change Viktor Frankle's thinking process such as his perspective to reality and worldview. The paper examines how and why does his personal reality shifted in reaction to the context that he was in during the incarceration. Of interest to the paper is how and why the meanings associated with certain objects such as cigarettes, showers and food change due to the experiences just as his understanding of concepts such as happiness, death, humanity, beauty, etc. and his conception of actions such as work, prayer, laughter, etc. changed consequent to the incarceration experiences.
As part of the paper’s thesis, a brief review of Frankle's own "search for meaning" as a survivor of the concentration camp where many people had died and how this search influenced his recollection and interpretation of life events. To understand how the context in which Frankle was and how this context influenced his ideas is not a unique phenomenon. Numerous other philosophers, if not all, have postulated ideas and theories precipitated by their environment and personal experiences (Godfrey-Smith, 2003).
In this understanding, the paper will first contextualize the Frankle’s scenario by reviewing how three other philosophers understand and postulate the process of understanding and interpreting the world based on personal experiences. First, the paper will review what Lakoff and Johnson's book, Metaphors We Live By, and Abercrombie's book, Anatomy of Judgment, postulate concerning the way in which humans perceive and interpret the world based on personal experiences.
For the purposes of this paper, the theories under review are those of Lakoff and Johnson as well as that of Abercrombie. The first two focus on the concept of metaphor in postulating how people comprehend new experiences based on past experiences. Abercrombie on the other hand uses the concept of Schema or assumptions to weave patterns in people’s brains such that the already formed patterns can help in making sense of any new information (Abercrombie, 1990). Both these books, Metaphors We Live By and Anatomy of Judgment are varying versions of how humans construct personal realities. The books are a very sound theoretical base on which to discuss Frankle's Man's search for Meaning. The two books can in fact help in understanding how Frankle's experiences in the Nazi concentration camps helped to construct his view of reality.
First off, the paper shall briefly discuss, Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By. The book is concerned with the ways in which personal experiences and perspectives affect how people perceive and interpret the world. Lakoff and Johnson primarily focus on the concept of metaphor to discuss how humans comprehend new experiences based on their past experiences (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). According to the two authors, poets are not the only ones who rely on metaphors. Whether or not one realizes that he or she lives by metaphors, the fact is every interpretation one makes is based on metaphors learnt earlier (Godfrey-Smith, 2003).
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George Lakoff was a linguist while Mark Johnson was a philosopher and their collaboration shaped the perspective of metaphors (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). Language for instance is a series of metaphors that have gained usage as to refer to certain contexts, experiences, objects and ideas. According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, metaphors help in making people’s personal thoughts interesting and more vivid, besides actually structuring their perception of reality and understanding of the world (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). That is why it is easy to think of marriage simply as a contract agreement and in its understanding, as an arrangement that comes with several expectations (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). Such metaphors as team play, a negotiation, a settlement, a landslide victory, a Russian roulette, an indissoluble merger, a religious sacrament etc, carry different images and expectations since they are metaphors with which people understand the world through (Godfrey-Smith, 2003).
The only ay one can understand a ‘landslide victory’ is by understanding the phenomenon of landslides and that of victory and then combining the two. Without prior understanding of a landslide, one would not know which kind of victory a ‘landslide victory’ is (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). Lakoff and Johnson first demonstrates how pervasive metaphors are in daily life and then proceeds to show how a few metaphors can be highly productive as a schemata on which people understand things and events. Just like language, a few words can be used differently to mean very many things. This concept of metaphors thus underlies language understanding (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).
Essentially therefore, people will express and even understand reality based on the metaphors they know or are familiar with (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). This is very important since as shall be discussed later in the paper, Frankle only puts forth his ideas based on the objects, events and people that he was familiar with in the concentration camp. He talks about guards, about water, about food, about baths etc, things that were very important in the concentration camp. These were thus, the metaphors he was familiar with (Pytell, 2000). In much the same way, a person who lives in a coastal area will understand/express vastness with the sea metaphor, another one who lives near the Amazon juggle will use the jungle as the metaphor understanding/expressing vastness (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).
On the other hand, Jane Abercrombie, a British psychologist, had a different perspective to human understanding, perceptions and realities (Abercrombie, 1990). She projected the theory after years of teaching, lecturing, researching and writing on the same. Her most famous publication, 1989’s Anatomy of Judgment, was a pioneer research carried among architectural, medical and education students (Abercrombie, 1990).
The book was a culmination of her volumes of educational writings, all analyzing the process of learning. Learning she posted was a summation of judgments (schemas) that become useful whenever new information is presented (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). If a child burns her hand with fire for the first time ever, a schema of the experience as related to the object is formed. Whenever again she sees fire, the schema helps interpret it as one that can produce the experience she once experienced (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). If you tell such a girl that you have just been burnt, she will be able to perceive your pain and its cause, based on her own experience (her already formed schema).
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According to Abercrombie, emotions and preconceptions also help influence people’s judgments (Abercrombie, 1990). In what she terms as selective and projective nature of perception and reasoning, Abercrombie (1990) explains why most people only understand and only express what they want to based on the availability of schemas. For instance, people will only listen to what they have experienced or thought of before. People see, hear, think and talk of only what they have schemas for. Abercrombie actually says that, people oppose change so much not because the change itself is threatening but because they do have a schema for the new things being introduced and can therefore not fully understand or comprehend what the changes mean. Most people prefer to maintain what they have already formed adequate schemas for (Abercrombie, 1960).
Frankle's "Man's Search for Meaning"
Man's Search for Meaning, is a 1946 masterpiece written by Viktor Frankle. The bookchronicles some of his experiences while incarcerated at Nazi concentration camps. While being an inmate in a horribly devastating place, a place where thousands died by the day, Frankle initiated a psychotherapeutic method with which he found reason to continue living (Pytell, 2000). According to Frankle, this book was written as an answer to the question "How everyday life in a Nazi concentration camp was reflected in the mind of an average prisoner?" (Frankl, 2006, pp. 56)
The first part of the book constitutes his analysis of personal experiences during the incarceration while the second part introduces his conceived ideas of meaning as a basis for his logotherapy theory (Pytell, 2000). The Library of Congress’ Book of the Month Club conducted a survey in 1991 and found out that, Man's Search For Meaning, topped the list of "the 10 most influential books in the US (Pytell, 2000). By the time Frankle died in 1997, his book had sold over 10 million copies worldwide and was already translated into 24 different languages (Pytell, 2000).
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Victor Frankle was a Jew born in a civil servants’ family in Vienna. From an early age, Frankle had an interest in psychology, having written an impressive paper on philosophical thinking psychology in his initial schooling days even before he attended the University of Vienna for a degree in medicine in 1923 (Frankl, 2006). He later specialized in Psychiatry and Neurology (Frankl, 2006). It is important to note that his experiences during the concentration camps was shaped by this psychiatry background and that the experiences just refined what he had accumulated in years of learning and research (Irvin, 1980). Notably, his most passionate areas of study were depression and suicide, based on the works of Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud (Pytell, 2000).
By 1938 when the Nazi invaded Austria, Frankle had been head of the "suicide pavilion" at the Vienna General Hospital, where he had already treated more than 30,000 women from suicide-prone symptoms (Frankl, 2006). The Nazi however prohibited him from treating Aryan patients in 1938 owing to his Jewish background and identity. He decided to move into private practice soon after. He was later to head the neurological department as a brain surgeon at Rothschild Hospital beginning 1940, the only Vienna hospital admitting Jews at the time (Frankl, 2006). While here, he saved thousands of patients from being euthanized under the Nazi euthanasia program (Irvin, 1980).
For this reason, he, his wife and parents were deported on 25 September 1942 to Theresienstadt concentration camp (Frankl, 2006). At the concentration camp, Frankle worked as the general practitioner, until his immense skills in psychiatry were noticed. Consequently, he was ordered to establish a special psychiatry unit that could help the camp newcomers to overcome their initial grief and shock and grief (Frankl, 2006). The same unit was later to incorporate a suicide watch unit. According to his account, Frankle only maintained his own life by feeling s sense of self worth despite the sufferings meted by the dismal conditions of the camp (Pytell, 2000). Even though he was regarded to as the suicide doctor, he frequently thought of suicide himself (Frankl, 2006).
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It was here that his "Psychotherapeutic Experiences in a Concentration Camp" were formed and experimented on (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). Frankle believed that his ability to fully experience the suffering in an objective manner, he could end it (Frankl, 2006). His final days in the camp were without suffering, having succeeded in overcoming the suffering from within him. Frankle and other doctors such as Regina Jonas and Dr. Leo Baeck helped cure many of the fellow prisoners from suicidal tendencies and despondency (Frankl, 2006). Other accounts have narrated how Frankle transformed the camp’s psychiatric care ward and headed the neurological clinic at block B IV (Irvin, 1980). He established and personally maintained the camp’s mental care and psychic hygiene for sick and depressed inmates (Irvin, 1980). He also gave many lectures while in the camp on such topics as ‘Sleep and Sleep Disturbances’, ‘Medical Care of the Soul’, ‘Body and Soul’, ‘How I Keep my Nerves Healthy’, ‘Social Psychotherapy’ etc (Frankl, 2006).
On 19 October 1944, he was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp and after a few days, he was again moved to Türkheim camp where he spent over 6 months working as a slave-laborer (Frankl, 2006). During that time, his wife and parents had been murdered and Frankle informed. Yet despite all, Frankle was liberated on 27 April 1945 and only his sister among all his relatives and family had survived the Nazis (Frankl, 2006).
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Frankle’s Conception of Reality
In Man's search for Meaning, Frankle postulates an understanding of reality constructed based on his experiences in the concentration camps (Pytell, 2000). First, he identifies three most common psychological reactions that all inmates experienced namely shock during admission to the concentration camp, apathy once they accustomed themselves to camp life and the final stage of depersonalization reactions such as moral deformity, disillusionment and bitterness. From this Frankle concludes that life’s meaning is to be found in every moment of being alive and that as life changes, it never stops gaining new meaning, whether in suffering or in death (Frankl, 2006).
Frankle saw many times that the camp's inmates protected fellow inmates from the fatal authorities to their own demise. From this, Frankle posts that when everyone is in dire need, there is someone willing to help be it a friend, a colleague, a family member or God (Irvin, 1980). Such people demand that one bears the pain and suffering without ever giving up. According to Frankle, a prisoner's mental reactions do not solely result from the dire conditions in his life, but mainly from his freedom of choice in what to make of that suffering (Frankl, 2006). The inner spiritual self subdues the physiological suffering due to having faith in the future. Frankle is emphatic that the moment a prisoner loses such a faith, his life is doomed (Frankl, 2006).
The Effect of Frankle’s Background on his Conception of Reality
It is evident that the concentration camp experience changed Frankle's thinking process as exposed by his perspective of life and the worldview. Just as Abercrombie says in Anatomy of Judgment, the camp experience formed schemas in Frankle’s mind in which he interpreted life from the experiences he had had (Abercrombie, 1960). His personal reality shifted in reaction to the camp context such that he saw life as a changing phenomenon and requiring a change in his thinking. He had to think differently if he was to survive the suffering. Ultimately as explained above, Frankle overcame physiological suffering once his attitude changed from within.
The book primarily expresses meaning using the experiences of the camp, similar to the metaphors theory postulated by Lakoff and Johnson in their book, Metaphors We Live By. Frankle’s experiences became metaphors with which he could express meanings (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). When he talks about such objects as cigarettes, food, showers, guards etc, he is expressing meanings using the metaphors that he had predominantly relied on or thought of during the camp. Indeed, Frankle’s expressions are primarily dominated with these objects.
More importantly, Frankle’s understanding and interpretation of such concepts as happiness, death, humanity, beauty, etc. are all construed from the perspective of a prisoner (Irvin, 1980). His ideas on happiness and how humans can achieve happiness, are all from the perspective of a prisoner. For instance, he says that a prisoner can indeed achieve happiness even while in extreme suffering if he decides to and if his inners spiritual self dares to hope in the future (Frankl, 2006). He does not talk about happiness in workplaces or at home, but while in prison. This means that as Abercrombie postulates, he could only interpret the world through his experiences and his emotions (his formed schemas) (Abercrombie, 1960).
Frankle has a very distinct understanding of such actions as work, prayer, laughter, etc, and all of these are based on the camp experiences. As he notes, Frankle only started to realize the value of such actions while in the camp. These actions take a new meaning given the camp experiences and become the sole preoccupation of his theory (Irvin, 1980). Whatever one does, posts Frankle, it determines one’s own happiness, hope and peace (Frankl, 2006). Frankle sees the importance of laughter and of prayer, and to an extent work, in achieving a balance in the soul and body (Frankl, 2006). That balance is what yields a psychiatric health of every individual. In all his camp lectures, Frankle underscored the value of keeping the mind hygienic and healthy by allowing laughter and prayer to be the avenues of communicating hope in the future (Frankl, 2006). This perspective to actions was predominantly shaped by the camp experiences.
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The preceding sections have helped postulate how Frankle's own "search of meaning" while trying to survive the camp experience influenced his recollection and interpretation of events. For instance, Frankle says that a prisoner's mental reactions do not solely result from the dire conditions in his life, but mainly from his freedom of choice in what to make of that suffering (Frankl, 2006). The inner spiritual self subdues the physiological suffering due to having faith in the future. Frankle is emphatic that the moment a prisoner loses such a faith, his life is doomed (Irvin, 1980).
This is important in that, Frankle was able to overcome his suffering from changing his attitude and perspective to life. It is therefore imperative to say that Frankle survived the experience due to a change of his attitude to life, a renewed interpretation of life’s events and a renewal of understanding to how life works (Irvin, 1980). As Frankle notes, such inner convictions could not be destroyed by the SS, despite what they did to the body. He survived because he attained an understanding of the meaning of life, a meaning he says is to be found not in the past or future, but in every moment of living (Frankl, 2006).
Frankle was able to find meaning while working at extremely harsh conditions and suffering in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He recounts these experiences as the basis of his final achievement of meaning. This is the basis of Frank’s theory of Logotherapy (Irvin, 1980). Uniquely, Frankle own meaning in life, he finally found out, was in helping others find theirs (Frankl, 2006).
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This essay has gone to great lengths seeks to examine how and why the concentration camp experience under the Nazi regime of Germany managed to change Viktor Frankle's thinking process such as his perspective to reality and worldview. The paper has discussed examines how his personal reality shifted in reaction to the camp experiences during the incarceration until he finally found meaning in his life. He realized that he could conquer suffering, no matter how hard the SS tried to exterminate his body, if only he accepted such ability from within.
Frank expresses his meaning and recounts of his experiences in a way that resonates with Lakoff and Johnson's book, Metaphors We Live By, and Abercrombie's book, Anatomy of Judgment, concerning the way in which humans perceive and interpret the world based on personal experiences. As the essay has established, Frankle conceives meanings associated with certain objects such as cigarettes, showers and food change due to the experiences just as his understanding of concepts such as happiness, death, humanity, beauty, etc. and his conception of actions such as work, prayer, laughter, etc. using the incarceration experiences.
Finally, the paper has established that Frankle's own "search for meaning" as a survivor of the concentration camp where many people had died resulted from a change of his interpretation of life events. In his suffering and those of colleagues in the camps, Frankle attained a hallmark conclusion of life’s meaning that even in the most painful, absurd and dehumanized situation, human life has a potential meaning, such that even suffering must be thought of as meaningful.
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