Introduction to Logophilosophy

I’ve noticed a barrier to introducing the philosophy behind logotherapy. On one hand our orientation towards life determines how we relate to life. For the therapist our conception of a human being determines how we relate to a human being. This makes discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of logotherapy an essential task.

On the other hand when an explanation of meaning is incomplete or vague, it leads people down an awful philosophical tangent that takes them away from logophilosophy’s operational value. Logophilosophy is at the heart of what sets logotherapy apart. We cannot appreciate logotherapy’s practical benefits without first understanding its philosophy.

The way to resolve this is to explain logophilosophy in a way that is clear and succinct so that anyone can understand it. Any explanation of logophilosophy has to take people’s presuppositions into account and give an answer that leaves no room for cumbersome philosophical tangents. This post is the first part of an attempt to do this.

What you believe determines how you relate to life

1) If you believe life has unconditional meaning – you will expect to find meaning and you will trust meaning is there even when meaning is beyond your comprehension.

2) If you believe that we are not free from conditions but free to respond to our conditions – you will look for meaning in terms of what life is expecting of you and it will make sense to you that meaning is created through your response to reality. This will make you ask yourself what you can do with this reality using your unique strengths and resources

3) If you believe that the will to meaning is the deepest motivation in a person – you will find ways to elicit and evoke that meaning

That’s all fine and good. What if you don’t believe? (More to come…)

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4 Responses to Introduction to Logophilosophy

  1. Monica says:

    PERSONALISM is the philosophy that has answered many of my questions in life as to what is the being of man. To me it is seems that it’s the “perfect marriage” with logotherapy!

  2. Monica says:

    I must say that I’m catholic, so what I will post below is from a Catholic point of view!
    Personalism in a Nutshell

    By Perry Philias

    Plato in Book X of his dialogue, the Laws, asks the question: What is the fundamental reality of the universe? Is it nature, or is it intelligence? He poses the question in terms of which came first: Did intelligence come first, and after that nature, as the product of intelligence, or did nature come first, with intelligence arising later as a kind of epiphenomenon of natural processes? Plato argues that intelligence had to come first, because intelligence is life; life is self-moving; and only a self-mover (what Aristotle later calls an ‘unmoved mover’) can suitably explain the motion observed in nature.

    This insight and pattern of argument have been fundamental for Christian thought for nearly all of its history. Two important ideas that follow from this insight are, first, that the most fundamental principles of reality are rational, because the fundamental cause is intelligent life, and, second, that the universe is governed by law, because an intelligent being governs and orders something through law.

    When Pope Benedict XVI in his famous address to the faculty at Regensburg spoke of the damage done to Western civilization through the “de-Hellenization” of theology, he was referring precisely to this insight from Plato, and how it has been in stages rejected by theology.

    Now, important as this insight has been, and as vital as it may be for us to reclaim and reaffirm this insight today, still, this way of looking at God has a limitation, because of the contrast on which its formulation depends, namely, the contrast between intelligent life and inanimate material reality. God is conceived of, through the via negativa, according to how he must be different from the material reality which he creates. Note that on this approach the relationship between God and creation is apparently what Martin Buber would call an “I-it” relationship—namely, that between a “person” and “things”.

    If man is regarded, correctly, as “made in the image of God”, then this way of conceiving of God implies a certain way of conceiving of man. Like God, what is distinctive about man is thought to reside in the way in which he is distinct from material reality: thus, this way of conceiving of God has naturally (although not quite rightly) been taken to support dualism. Again, since God when conceived of in this way is situated in an “I-it” relationship, so one might think that man’s dignity consists primarily in his relationship to nature, especially in his mastery over nature through knowledge and technology. Finally, since God as creator is a singular and sovereign cause of the world, then this can seem to serve as the ideal, too, of human personal existence: man should strive for autonomy, and his dependence upon and relationship to others would be a mark of weakness—a sign of how far man falls short of the divine nature, which he strives to approximate because he is made in its image.

    Man’s specific relationship to God on this picture is thought of in terms of rational order and law. Because we belong to the creation over which God is sovereign, we grow close to God by conforming to his ordering of things, especially through becoming good and acquiring the virtues. Juridical concepts become highly important, because we are in good standing or not with God depending upon whether we have observed or disobeyed his law.

    In describing this view inherited from classical philosophy, in such a way as to make apparent some developments of it which cannot be embraced without qualification, I do not wish to be understood as wishing to reject or condemn the view. No, God truly is the sovereign creator of the natural world, who governs it through rationality and law. And although we may find, in ourselves, tendencies to develop this view in distorted ways—tendencies which need to be recognized and corrected for— the alternatives which come from the rejection of this view are uniformly bad and lead unavoidably to horrific consequences.

    It should also be said that this view has not, as a matter of fact, stood alone in Christian thought, but it has always been located within a more basic picture, which has served as such a corrective—a picture of a God who reveals himself successively to man, through a series of “covenants” with his chosen people, culminating in a complete revelation in Christ and a New Covenant. Indeed, it is possible to interpret what is called “personalism” as the development, theologically and philosophically, of the devotional outlook that had sprung from man’s covenant relationship with God.

    Personalism may be understood as the view that the fundamental, or rather most significant, reality of the universe is not “intelligent life”, simply, but rather, “a communion of persons”. The most significant relationship is not the “I-it” relationship between God and the world, but the “I-Thou” of the divine persons in communion with one another. And the most significant principles governing reality are not rationality and law, simply, but rather love and friendship (although these, of course, cannot be inconsistent with reason and law). In our relationship to God, the notion of “gift” is taken to be obviously prior to juridical notions of claim and right, and the most crucial question for us is whether we have corresponded to the gift, not whether we have obeyed the law (although that latter question is not dispensed with—rather, in love it acquires an even more pressing force).

    Historically, personalism involves the generalization, to the human person, of theological insights derived from reflection on the Trinity. For centuries philosophical reflection on the human person, as captured in the formula from Boethius, “an individual substance of rational nature,” was kept distinct from theological reflection on the divine persons: the Trinity was regarded as a kind of singularity (although ‘traces’ of the Trinity could be found in creation). But when in the consciousness of the Church it became clear that Christ as the true Adam is the model of human nature—and therefore that “it is only in the mystery of Christ that the mystery of man becomes manifest,” as Gaudium et spes affirms—then it began to be thought that the character of the person of Christ, who is divine, might be taken to illuminate the human person as well. Whence perhaps the most fundamental idea of philosophical personalism was arrived at, viz. that the human person consists essentially in relationship to others, specifically, in self-gift, so that “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.”

    Clearly, personalism has great implications for what it means to say that man is “imago Dei”. Perhaps the most astonishing consequence is the emphasis that it places on the human body. If one agrees with the traditional Thomistic view of the angels, as each of them unique in species, and therefore necessarily ordered hierarchically—because they are immaterial, and only matter can serve as the “principle of individuation” to allow the existence of two instances of the same form—then human beings are, from a personalistic point of view, placed “above the angels”, insofar as they can image the Trinity in the way that angels cannot. Only among human beings can there be equal persons of the same nature in communion, as is found in the Godhead. This possibility pertains to us precisely in virtue of our being embodied.

    Not surprisingly, since it is the body that makes this astonishing character of human relationship possible, and the body is “for” the person, personalism has as a result looked for characteristics of the human body which point inherently toward human relationality—hence its turning, through the reflections of John Paul II, to the “theology of the body” and, especially, the “spousal significance” of the distinction between male and female.

    This mention of John Paul II invites a question as to the relationship between personalism and the philosophical school of phenomenology, in which John Paul II as a philosopher is often placed. Phenomenology is not so much a method as an attitude in philosophy, an attiude of looking to “what it is like” to live in a certain way and to experience something. Phenomenology recognizes the great importance of empathy and sympathy, as being the gateways—even more than observation and analysis—by which one gains access to another person in relation to us. But phenomenology is one thing and personalism is another. A personalist who was a phenomenologist would need to be more than a phenomenologist (because, as we saw, personalism does not reject but rather completes classical theology and metaphysics), and there are other ways in which a personalist could attend to what is distinctive about human personal existence, besides the attitude taken by phenomenologists—such as a concern with psychology in the ordinary sense, or with “human nature” as it has been attended to by perceptive Catholic writers. (One might say that Flannery O’Connor is certainly a personalist but certainly not a phenomenologist.)

    Personalism implies as many revolutions for human thought in all its different disciplines as did the classical insight into God, and it will take as many centuries for these to be worked out. To give one example: consider how differently the psychology of human development, and epistemology, need to be looked at if we assume that human consciousness is meant to develop not, as Descartes in effect presumes, through its experience of inanimate nature, but rather as embedded and “sheltered” within the communion established by a child’s parents, husband and wife. When cultural critics (such as Charles Taylor) complain that there is no “theistic” framework of analysis in various disciplines which has a salience that can compare with the various “-isms” of the academy (feminism, Marxism, etc.), they have overlooked personalism.

    Personalism has tremendous implications for Catholic devotion and practice as well. To get a sense what these are, simply compare the new Catechism with the “Roman Catechism” written in the aftermath of Trent. The latter is in its way indispensable, and it admittedly has a clarity and rational structure which are not as obvious in the former. Nonetheless, the new Catechism on every page is richer for bringing in the perspective of personalism.

    In personal devotion, some marks of personalism would include: a deeper appreciation of our relatedness to God as marking the foundation of the Christian life (as in the concept of “divine filiation”); a new appreciation of our relatedness to one another (as in an emphasis on the importance of friendships and family, and the obligations these carry with them for a Christian); a deeper recognition of the significance of the body (and thus of a healthy way of living modesty and purity); and an awareness of the necessarily ‘material’ character of our service to God, in view of our embodiedness (as in an appreciation of the dignity of human work, in its social as well as individual dimensions).

    • logogroup says:

      Well, you’ve answered my first question, although I can’t say I exactly understand it. What’s more interesting to me is the second question. What about logotherapy feels compatible with what you believe? How could or does it help you?

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