Author Archives: drstephenjcostello

About drstephenjcostello

Dr Stephen J. Costello is a philosopher and logotherapist. He is Director of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland which offers a professional training programme in logotherapy and existential analysis. He also runs The Philosophy Clinic which provides public workshops on practical philosophy as well as Meaning at Work seminars to businesses. Dr Costello is the author of numerous works, his latest one being The Truth about Lying: How Men and Women Lie in Different Ways.

Breaking Down Barriers: Suicide, Suffering, and Self-Transcendence – Stephen J. Costello

Introduction

First of all my thanks to Edel James for inviting me to speak here this evening and apologies I couldn’t be here earlier due to having to see patients for therapy. A few months ago I spoke at a conference on suicide and logotherapy which I organised with Gay and my thoughts on the subject, which I won’t repeat here, are on Youtube if you type in the title of my paper ‘Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything’ followed by my name. The link is also on my website: www.logotherapyireland.com for anyone interested.

So many suicides are committed out of acts of despair or disgust with life; so much seems obvious. They are frequently attributed to depression and other mental disorders and to drug and alcohol abuse. Stress factors such as financial difficulties, family problems or troubles in interpersonal relationships are issues too. Economic factors such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, bullying and prejudice may also trigger suicidal ideation. 15%-40% of people leave a note, as one of my friends did who hanged himself from a tree when he was 19. Genetics seems to account for between 38%-55% of suicidal behaviour. Half of all people who die by suicide are thought to have a major depressive disorder which increases the risk of suicide 20-fold. I have been asked by the charity Aware to give a talk on ‘Depression and the Search for Meaning’ in St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin at 7pm on Wednesday March 13th and I would like to invite anyone interested to come along to this free talk.

20% of suicides have had a previous attempt and the presence of self-harm is related to increased suicide risk. About 25%-40% of those who complete suicide had contact with mental health services in the prior year. Substance abuse is the second most common risk factor after major depression and acute intoxication, especially when combined with the grief of a bereavement or the shock of a severe loss of love. Most people, statistically, who commit suicide are under the influence of sedative-hypnotic drugs when they commit suicide. There is an association between suicidality and physical health problems including chronic pain and cancer – also sleep disturbances and problem gambling. Psychological states must also be mentioned such as hopelessness, lack of pleasure, anxiousness, poor impulse control, social isolation, loss of love. A history of childhood sexual abuse and time spent in foster care are all regarded as risk factors in the aetiology. So we can see from this that it there are many variables present which will require a multidimensional approach by way of an answer, prevention or possible solution.

There is copycat suicide (suicide by contagion), which is known as the Werther Effect after the German philosopher and playwright Goethe’s  book, The Sorrows of the Young Werther, where the greatest risk is in adolescents who romanticise death. Goethe’s work is a collection of letters written by Werther, a young artist of a highly sensitive and passionate temperament, written and sent to his friend Wilhelm. In these letters, Werther gives a very intimate account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim. He is enchanted by the simple ways of the peasants there. He meets Charlotte, a beautiful young girl who is taking care of her siblings following the death of their mother. Despite knowing beforehand that Charlotte is already engaged to a man named Albert, who is in fact eleven years her senior, Werther falls in love with her. Although this causes Werther great pain, he spends the next few months cultivating a close friendship with both of them. His pain eventually becomes so great that he is forced to leave and go to Weimar. When he later returns to Wahlheim he suffers even more than he did before  because Lotte and Albert are now married. Every day serves as a torturous reminder that Lotte will never be able to requite his love. Out of pity for her friend and respect for her husband, Lotte comes to the decision that Werther must not visit her so frequently. He visits her one final time, and they are both overcome with emotion after Werther’s recitation of a portion of Scottish epic poems.  Werther had realized even before this incident that one of them — Lotte, Albert or Werther himself — had to die. Unable to hurt anyone else or seriously consider committing murder, Werther sees no other choice but to take his own life. After composing a farewell letter (to be found after he commits suicide), he writes to Albert asking for his two pistols, under a pretence that he is going ‘on a journey’. Lotte receives the request with great emotion and sends the pistols. Werther then shoots himself in the head, but does not expire until twelve hours after he has shot himself. He is buried under a tree, and the funeral is not attended by clergymen, Albert or by his beloved Lotte.

This theme finds resonance in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a play about love, fate, time, chance and duality, where Romeo, believing Juliet to have died, drinks poison and Juliet, finding him dead, stabs herself with a dagger, causing feuding families to be reconciled as a result. The play ends with the Prince’s elegy: ‘For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet for her Romeo’.

The opposite of the Werther Effect is the Papageno Effect, which draws on coping mechanisms such as those provided by friends to help us through our experiences of the existential vacuum. Papageno is a character in Mozart’s Masonic opera The Magic Flute who, having lost the love of Papagena decides to hang himself, until three child-spirits appear to stop him.

There are rare rational suicides, altruistic suicides, suicide attacks such as suicide bombers, and mass suicide pacts. The leading methods are hanging, which is the most common, pesticide poisoning, and firearms and always this interplay between psycho-physico-social causes and existential and spiritual reasons.

There are many forms of suicide prevention from putting barriers in place on bridges and subway platforms to economic development to treatment programmes for drug and alcohol addiction to logotherapy, which seems to have the highest empirically verifiable rate of non-recidivism. There is little evidence that hotlines or antidepressants help. In terms of epidemiology, about 0.5% to 1.4% of the population take their own lives; it is the tenth leading cause of death in the world and males die three to four times more often by means of suicide than females, with China being the only exception here. It is greatest in those aged between 15 and 29 years of age.

 

Shakespeare

So having set out some statistics by way of introduction and putting the subject in context, let me turn to Shakespeare, whom I have already mentioned as his range of depth and insight on nearly every important issue, including suicide and depression, is unsurpassed. The British Bard pens the famous following lines in Hamlet’s great soliloquy. It is an existential analysis on the meaning of life and death, which may be read as Shakespeare’s own.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life’.
For Shakespeare’s Hamlet, life is a kind of death. Being comes to look a lot like non-being, something like nothing. He suffers blows of fate. Fortune has frowned upon him. Hesitant Hamlet wonders whether death is a kind of sleep with one advantage: that of never having to get up in the morning. But Hamlet fears it too because he doesn’t know if it will bring more nothingness or Heaven. The choice is stark but simple: too endure going on and face one’s fate which will often include much suffering or end it all and take one’s life. That is why Albert Camus, the French philosopher, centuries later, would say that the question of suicide is the most philosophical of all questions as it concerns the very tissue of human existence itself – its worth or waste, its tragedies and triumphs, its tortures and tenderness, its purpose or purposelessness. The person who is contemplating suicide is confronting the very meaning of the question of being. Is it all much ado about nothing?

Macbeth had likewise pondered such perennial matters. After his wife died he is indifferent to his return to dust believing that life holds no meaning. Time marches mechanically on. Life is an illusion and we men merely players, phantasms, ghosts.

 

‘To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing’.

 

The question is: is he right? That is certainly his experience but it is an experience in time not for all time. There is a saying we have all heard: we can’t see the forest for the trees. This sentence is a reminder not to lose sight of the scope; sometimes we need to see the big picture, the view from above. To this end, I would like to analyse an ancient Egyptian text on suicide, to see what it has to say to twentieth-century Ireland which, I believe, is a lot. Examining suicide through a long lens like this moves it out of individuality and particularity into objectivity and universality, thus creating a spiritual space and self-distancing, another, broader perspective and backdrop.

 

An Egyptian Text

The text is the ‘Dispute of a Man, Who Contemplates Suicide, with His Soul’. It is an anonymous text from the Egypt of the First Intermediate Period of 2,000 BC – an early historical reflection on the experiences of life, death, meaning and immortality. The first part is only imperfectly preserved and presents an argument between the Man and his Soul.

The Man is driven to despair by the trials, troubles and tribulations of a disordered age and wants to commit suicide – he desires to cast off a life that has become senseless to him. The Soul militates against the decision. The argument passes through three phases. The first part of the struggle between Man and Soul is concerned with life being a gift of the gods. Since life is not man’s property he cannot throw it away when life becomes a burden; one cannot shorten one’s allotted span. But Man pleads: the disintegration of personal and public order, the lack of meaning that results from this, so exceptional circumstances prevail and thus one may justify the violation of the rule before the gods.

In the second bout, the question of immortality arises. Man attempts to make the decision palatable to his Soul by promising proper burial provisions so that the soul’s sojourn in the Beyond will be pleasant. But the Soul knows nobody has come back from the afterlife to tell the living about the state of the soul in the Beyond. Man proves no less resistant than his Soul.

A third and final bout occurs: man has no peace of mind either through conventional belief or conventional scepticism! The Soul proceeds to attack the core of Man’s misery. Man is in anguish because he takes life too seriously. Why not simply despair? Man should enjoy the pleasures of the moment. ‘Pursue the happy day and forget care’. (This was a common argument at the time and can be seen in, for example, the ‘Song of the Harper’, another ancient text). This counsel sets off a spiritual crisis. Man is incensed by the banality and baseness of the advice and makes his distaste known:

 

‘Behold, my name will reek through thee

More than the stench of bird droppings

On summer days, when the sky is hot’.

 

Before this outburst Soul is silent, its resources exhausted and Man is alone with himself and his decision. The arguments of the Soul attempt to open ways out of an impasse that may induce a solution through suicide. These arguments suffer from a sense of unreality: life is God-given and can’t be thrown away at will; besides, one can’t be sure of a life beyond death so better hold on to what you have and finally, don’t be so serious about the meaning of life, just have a good time like everyone else. A twentieth-century German philosopher, Eric Voegelin, connects the Man of the ‘Dispute’ to contemporary man thus:

‘The situation of the Man in the “Dispute” then, would not differ very much from that of a man in our own time: to live in a society that lives by vulgar clichés of piousness, skepticism, and hedonism is trying enough to make a man look for an oasis of reality – even if, in order to reach it, he will not necessarily resort to the radical means of suicide’78.

 

The document of the ‘Dispute’ is a drama of existence. Its author rises above lamentation to dramatic judgement and action. The Man disengages himself from a disordered society and rejects conformism to become one with himself. The second part of the ‘Dispute’ articulates the experiences of reality and is organised in four sequences of tristichs, which is a poem consisting of three lines, which express Man’s revulsion at becoming a stench to himself by continuing life at the level of corrupt existence; the second sequence characterises life in the mode of unreality; the third one deals with death as liberator from the sickness of life; the fourth one, with the fullness of faith through death. Equivalent symbols may be found in the noetic and revelatory experiences of Plato and St. Paul, though more differentiated. The first line is repeated in each formulation:

‘To whom can I speak today?

One’s fellows are evil;

The friends of today do not love’.

 

The destruction of community among the people through destruction of their spirit is the great theme in this complaint. The love of men in community has disappeared or dissolved and the order emanating from the gods is gone. Everyone is for himself and has, therefore, become evil. This loneliness and lack of love and loss of character are described in the following tristich thus:

‘To whom can I speak today?

Faces have disappeared

Every man has a face downcast toward his fellows’.

 

The divine presence has withdrawn from the self and the people are no longer living in the flow of this Presence. The quiet despair is evident in the following lines:

‘To whom can I speak today?

There is no one contented of heart.

The man with whom one went no longer exists’.

 

Further tristichs dwell on the wickedness of man, on the social dominance of criminality, on ‘the dreary prospect of evil without end’.

What we are witnessing in this person’s experience of being lonely in a crowd; it is a typical experience such as many feel in a modern urbanised ‘society’; the dissolution of society, the disappearance of contentment and the phenomenon of alienation. It is a description of a society in disorder and of a soul in disarray. When this happens ‘man turns away from a life that has become senseless and contemplates suicide’. We may cite two of these suicide phrases:

‘Death faces me today

Like the recovery of a sick man,

Like going out into the open after confinement.

 

Death faces me today

Like the longing of a man to see his home again,

After many years that he was held in captivity’.

 

The man proceeds with metaphors of escape from this reality as a release from sickness and prison, a release from darkness, a returning home, etc. What results from such an escape is judgement in the Beyond. Let me quote the last group of tristichs:

‘Why surely he who is yonder

Will be a living god,

Punishing the sin of him who commits it

 

Why surely he who is yonder

Will stand in the barque of the sun,

Causing the choicest therein to be given temples.

 

Why surely he who is yonder

Will be a man of wisdom,

Not hindered from appealing to Re when he speaks’.

 

‘Re’ or ‘Ra’ is the ancient Egyptian god. It is the judgement in the Beyond, in which the man can participate because he is immortal, when he commits suicide in order to escape from a world from which he has become absolutely alienated and against which death is life. What we have is an analysis of a deficient existence and a disordered society. The truth of existence is the recovery of a sense of the divine order. But in the situation cited above, there is despair, and suicide seems the only sensible route to take. This would bring the man in question into immortality of course, into the company of the sun god which would bring the restoration of the empire of Egypt. Its order is supposed to manifest the ma’at – the divine-cosmic order, while the Pharaoh is supposed to be the mediator of this order to society. At the time of the author’s writing Egypt was in disorder because of the Pharaoh’s malfunctioning. The author of the text is on the brink of the insight that order (personal and social) depends ultimately on ‘Man’s existence in immediacy under God’84.

According to Voegelin, the Western philosopher in the 20th century AD finds himself in substantially the same position as the Egyptian thinker in the 20th century BC, in that both are disturbed by the disorder of the age and are in search of a reality no longer alive in the surrounding images. The arguments around belief and unbelief, order and disorder that are prevalent now were recognised by our predecessors of four thousand years ago.

What is different in the modern variant and which has no counterpart on the Egyptian scene is the ideological objections to doctrinal belief. The term alienation is employed to denote a certain mood of existence; it refers to a remoteness of God and such symbols of life being a prison crop up in the ‘Dispute’. The symbol ‘alienation’ expresses a feeling of estrangement from existence in time because it estranges us from the timeless. We thus become strangers in a world which compels conformity to a deficient mode of existence. Alienation is a mood of existence just as fundamental as anxiety’. In the case of the ‘Dispute’ there was the breakdown of imperial order; in our own time there is the breakdown of the institutions of Church and State. In both cases it’s a spiritual and philosophical crisis of meaning that’s at the heart of our unrest and malaise.

What we have in the language of the cosmological myth of the ‘Dispute’ is a symbolism suggestive of an acute suffering of a soul from alienation and the desire to preserve existence in truth against the pressure to conform to a deficient mode of existence. The mandate in the ‘Dispute’ for man is this: he must attune his existence to the order of the gods. That is the answer proposed. It is the imagery of immortality. Only when we exist in the tension of time and timelessness, in the flow of divine presence, can we hope to acquire meaning and order for our souls and our society. But the logos need not be identified with God, any god, if one happens to be an atheist. The important thing is to find one’s meaning, whatever that may be, and live a life in accordance with passion and purpose. Such a meaningful existence lived out to the full enables us to face our fate and shoulder suffering.

 

Suffering: An Analysis

Severe suffering can prompt suicidal ideation, intention, attempt or the act itself. Suffering, so, is the theme that needs to be addressed. Suffering seems to relate to man’s transcendence in that he goes beyond himself in his suffering in some mysterious way. Certainly suffering is inseparable from our (earthly) existence. Suffering intimidates even as it evokes our compassion, empathy, respect or love. In a spiritual context faith overcomes fear.

Medicine and therapy, particularly logotherapy, treat and try to help people often in their dire distress but the field of suffering is multi-dimensional. Suffering is broader than sickness. We can delineate physical suffering that affects us as a pain in our bodies (somatic), mental suffering which affects us in our minds (psychical) and moral suffering that pertains to the spiritual (noetic). Of course, the psychological accompanies both moral and physical suffering. The human person is a unity. He is whole only when the spiritual dimension of his existence is integrated with somatic and psychical aspects.

In so far as a person experiences evil he becomes a subject of suffering. Suffering is passive (homo patiens) and subjective in its metaphysical essence. There are many manifestations of suffering: sadness, pain, disappointment, discontent, despair. Existence, however, is essentially good; evil is a lack, a limitation, a deprivation, a distortion of good. The reality of suffering is explained through evil. People who suffer, share in the trials and tribulations of their common destinies. Suffering contains within itself the seeds of solidarity, communion even.

The question of suffering – its ‘why?’ – brings us on the quest for suffering’s meaning. We want to know the cause, the reason, the purpose, the point. There is, of course, physical pain in the animal world but the human person suffers in a unique way. The Book of Job in the Old Testament is a story of an old man who loses all his possessions, his children and finally he himself is affected by a serious illness. Three friends tell him he must have done something wrong. Suffering is a punishment for a crime committed. They justify the moral meaning of suffering. Suffering, so, is a justified evil but just Job challenges this presumption, this identification of suffering with punishment for sin. Surely it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a moral fault? There are no reasons for Job’s suffering in the existential vacuum. In this Biblical text the why of suffering is seen as a test. Suffering is seen as being redemptive, as bringing forth goodness. Its why is located in the sublimity of the divine Love (as well as in Its justice). Suffering, thus interpreted, is seen through the order of love – love is the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This is a religious answer, where Original Sin is seen as the cause and death as the cure – and  I confess I cannot give any other reason but that doesn’t mean there must be only a religious solution. Each man must carry his own cross. Yes. Each man endures his own crucifixion. Death is the dissolution of the psychophysical personality of man. The soul, believers assert, survives and subsists in separated form from the body. The spirit as such can never suffer or be sick. We suffer in mind and body but not in spirit. This is Frankl’s psychiatric credo. Behind the illness the person remains intact. Suffering ceases in the eschatological perspective of salvation (Christ, the Man of Sorrows, assumed sufferings into His very Self), as did the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah. The Passion details the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the mocking, the carrying the Cross, the crucifixion, the agony, the dying. Each of us has his private Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha. From his prison the great Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, wrote: ‘Where there is suffering there is holy ground’. Meaningful suffering is suffering for the sake of, for example, a sacrifice. In suffering the person becomes perceptive of values and the world becomes opaque to an other-worldly dimension. Wilde continues: ‘I used to live entirely for pleasure. I shunned sorrow and suffering of every kind.  I hated both. I resolved to ignore them as far as possible, to treat them … as modes of imperfection. … They had no place in my philosophy. During the last few months I have … been able to comprehend some of the lessons hidden in the heart of pain. … Out of Sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is pain’. Those who love a lot suffer much.

All suffering is separation, estrangement, alienation as well as engendering deep insight and possibly profound change. In Christian terms the Passion leads to the Paschal Mystery; in more secular terms we can say Resurrection succeeds Crucifixion. Suffering is a trial, a burden to which humanity is subjected. Suffering can strengthen us as we shoulder it with hope that it doesn’t have the last word, that it will not deprive us of our dignity, for in suffering we find our soul. Think in the Christian Story of the presence of the Mother throughout – from the secret conversation with an angel to the Cross of Crucifixion – from Bethlehem to Calvary; and the consoling presence too of the Beloved Disciple, the one Jesus loved most. Think of Mary’s Presence and Compassion at Her Son’s Passion. It is every mother’s; it is every mother’s son. Suffering has salvific significance seen against this archetypal backdrop. Suffering endured contains with itself the call to courage and moral maturity. The meaning of suffering is not discovered at the merely human level but against a transtemporal dimension of ultimate meaning.

A man lay half dead and half naked after robbers had stolen from him and beaten him. Three travellers saw him on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. A priest passed by. A Samaritan stopped, took him to an Inn and ministered to the man. He was sensitive to this suffering soul. Doesn’t there need to be a Good Samaritan in every nurse and in every neurologist, in every carer and in every contractor, in every teacher and in every therapist? This could realise the (Kantian) Kingdom of Ends – a civilisation of love amid a culture of death.

The secret meaning of suffering lies in its supernatural source, rooted in the mystery of divine Redemption (see Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter of 1984, Salvifici Doloris).

 

Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, founder of logotherapy, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, felt that the cause of suicide was an experience of meaninglessness. Again and again, in every study, it is the frustration of the ‘will to meaning’ that is singled out as the most perspicacious contributing factor in suicidality. It follows from this that any meaning-centred intervention, such as logotherapy, leading to attitudinal change, must be the preferred choice of treatment modality. Frankl asks whether it not conceivable that there is another dimension, a world beyond man’s world, a world in which ‘the question of an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer’ (Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 144). In the absence of that perspective we flounder.

It seems to be vitally important to address the whole person in his or her psycho-physical and spiritual totality/reality. Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy does just that and attempts to draw out of the person his or her meaning potentials (logos), which will offer hope and instil confidence. It is about discovering ways to flourish in all three dimensions of the person and to devote oneself to a cause or to a person in love, to practise self-distancing and self-transcendence so that the focus is always out of ego-absorption. The door to happiness opens outward, as Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, asserted. Frankl highlights three such pathways to meaning: realising creative values, experiential and attitudinal. We can, with the help of logotherapy, transform a personal tragedy into a triumph by employing the defiant power of the human spirit and mobilising that spiritual energy and resource for renewal and healing. As Frankl observed: when we are not able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves. Frankl teaches despairing people that it does not matter what we expect from life but rather what life expects from us. ‘Suffering’ Frankl writes, ‘makes human beings perceptive and the world transparent’. One of the techniques of logotherapy, called dereflection, enables such a change of orientation toward the logos. The self is not his symptoms; the person is not his pathology. The person is more than that, much more, and it is to that core of intactness beyond the illness that logotherapy addresses in its attempt to initiate attitudinal adjustment in the face of seemingly unbearable suffering such as an inoperable cancer. I hope in the near future that my graduating students from the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland will go on to set up logotherapy clinics around the country to help those in deep distress.

Finally, therefore, isn’t the robust realism of Frankl with his ‘tragic optimism’, as he calls it, more acceptable to us that either naive optimism or weary pessimism? For it is a position that recognises both the problematic (suffering, guilt, and death) and the positive (healing, meaning, and forgiveness) aspects of daily living, what Frankl calls the ‘tragic’ and ‘triumphant’ triads respectively. The great Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, writes: ‘Suffering is the thread from which the stuff of joy is woven. Never will the optimist know joy …. Under the species of pain the substance of joy is there, already’.

Depressions and difficulties are like clouds darkening our day but they pass; above them undiminished shines the sun, on the meaning-horizon (logos) of life.

Let the last word on this theme go to G. K. Chesterton who, in his book Orthodoxy, opines: ‘Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind: praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

92 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 118.

Conference Consensus Paper Exploring the Nature and Development of Purpose in Youth – Dr Stephen Costello

I. Executive Summary

Life-course plans and commitments begin to take shape in youth; yet little is known about these commitments, or purposes. While research suggests having a purpose in one’s life benefits young people, few researchers have investigated what purpose looks like, how it develops, or how it helps guide youth in positive directions. A conference, which brought together people from different disciplines and backgrounds with unique perspectives on purpose, was held in March 2003. The goal was to explore the concept of purpose from a variety of academic viewpoints, all in some way relevant to the topic. We defined purpose as a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self. The daylong working conference produced a deeper understanding of purpose, its role, its sources and supports, its forms and types, and its origins. The following essay includes an explanation of the working definition of purpose along with points of consensus generated during the conference. This document draws on conference participants’ expertise and intuitions about how their own research sheds light on purpose.

II. Background

Youth is a period during which individuals develop important life plans and commitments; yet very little is known about how youth develop these commitments, or purposes. How does purpose develop in young people, and how might it be fostered? Is there a distinction between constructive purposes and those that are destructive, and if so how can we help youth develop the former? What are the supports and obstacles, both internal and external, to purpose? These are all questions that invite investigation and which may help parents, communities, schools, and teachers better assist their children and youth to develop positively.

Our interest in these questions comes at a time when many people are concerned about the direction youth are heading, and whether it is toward positive or negative ends. This document is a report of a conference on purpose, held at Stanford University in March 2003, which was intended to build consensus and gather insights from scholars across fields who are interested in human development. These insights in turn will inform a research program on youth purpose, which will be undertaken at Stanford University but which will be part of a much larger project on purpose to be pursued by other researchers. We believe that the concerns about youth expressed here, although not new, are quite timely and warrant a special focus. Specific aspects of contemporary society, such as the proliferation of technology, recent news stories about young people engaged in destructive causes, or the thirst that many young people exhibit to make a difference in the world, make the challenge unique to our time, and suggest the development of youth purpose as a fitting subject of inquiry.

Practitioners and scholars have also identified purpose as an important asset in young people’s development. For instance, identity theorists have marked adolescence as the period in the life-span when people first begin to dedicate themselves to systems of belief that reflect compelling purposes. However, this dedication does not always occur; some people never find anything to believe in beyond self-preservation or self-advancement. Psychologists have observed that when young people find nothing to dedicate themselves to while growing up, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to acquire motivating belief systems later in life (Erikson, 1968; Marcia, 1980). The result is a sense of “drift” that can lead to personal as well as social pathologies. Research has shown that the personal effects of purposelessness may include self-absorption, depression, addictions, and a variety of psycho-somatic ailments; and the social effects may include deviant and destructive behavior, a lack of productivity, and an inability to sustain stable interpersonal relations (Damon, 1995).

Our interest in youth purpose, however, is also triggered by a conviction that it plays a powerfully generative role in development. It is likely that purpose during youth leads to a number of desired outcomes, such as pro-social behavior, moral commitment, achievement, and high self-esteem. Theory and research on the emergence of moral identity during adolescence is consistent with this hypothesis (Damon and Gregory, 1997), but direct evidence remains scarce because the necessary studies have not yet been done. In fact, purpose has been seldom explored in the academic research literature.

One reason for the scarcity of research on youth purpose has been a historical focus on studying young peoples’ deficits, rather than their strengths. The field of child and adolescent development has been slow to recognize the importance of purpose. Youth behavior, according to the major theories, is driven by a combination of factors of the following sort: genetic disposition; gender; congenital and birth effects; macro-level social, historical, and economic conditions; cultural practices; early experiences with caregivers; birth order; sibling and peer relations; neighborhood and community composition; and schooling. Fortunately, a recent shift in academy psychology and youth development-and one that makes our present time particularly amenable to the investigation of youth purpose-has opened the doors for scholars to explore the positive rather than the negative sources of human motivation (see Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Today’s scholars in the positive psychology and positive youth development fields reject the once prominent idea that young people’s goals and values arise from basic drives such as hunger and sex, or from defense mechanisms such as sublimation and reaction formation. People can and do choose goals and values that promote higher purposes, such as purposes of creativity, morality, and spirituality. It is now time to study how young people come to choose and commit to these goals and values.

III. Stanford University Center on Adolescence Youth Purpose Project

The Stanford University Center on Adolescence is engaged in a multi-year study of youth purpose. Research efforts began with a comprehensive literature review of purpose tools and concepts. This review helped solidify an understanding of the way other researchers conceive of purpose and the role purpose plays in human development. In the fall of 2003, the Stanford team will begin an empirical investigation of youth purpose. First, the team will conduct a nationwide survey of approximately 400 youth between 12-22 years of age. The survey will be distributed to youth from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different regions of the country, and different city types. Based on the results, a subset of youth (approximately 40) will be interviewed regarding purpose. Finally, a subset of the interviewees (approximately 10) will be selected for in-depth case studies.

Before delving into the empirical research, however, a conference was held to glean insights regarding purpose from other scholars. In March of 2003 fourteen researchers and specialists from a variety of fields gathered to participate in a working conference entitled, “Exploring the Nature and Development of Purpose in Youth.” The interdisciplinary conference included faculty from psychology, religion, anthropology, and education departments. This conference helped the research team develop the appropriate survey and interview protocols and think about purpose from a variety of perspectives. What follows is a report of the findings from that conference.

IV. Conference Participants

Twelve researchers attended the conference as presenters. These scholars were invited because each had conducted research that provides insights into purpose, and which could inform future research on the topic. These attendees are featured below. Dr. Peter Benson is president of Search Institute, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a non-profit research organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of children and adolescents. Dr. Benson’s research on developmental assets for children and youth identifies a sense of purpose as an important part of young peoples’ positive identity development, which along with other assets, helps them thrive. Benson’s research also explores the role of communities in helping youth develop purpose and other assets.

Dr. William Damon is Professor of Education at Stanford University and Director of the Center on Adolescence. Dr. Damon’s current research explores how young people develop character and a sense of moral purpose in work, family, and community relationships. He also examines how young people can approach careers with an emphasis on creative innovation, excellence, and social responsibility.

Dr. Robert Emmons is Professor of Psychology at the University of California-Davis. Dr. Emmons’ research is at the interface of personality psychology and religion. His research on personal strivings is relevant to the investigation of the kinds of purposes young people and adults may choose, and what types of concerns are most important to them. Dr Emmons’ research illuminates religion and spirituality as a source of purpose.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia. His research interests lie in the area of morality and emotions, and how both vary across cultures. Haidt looks at moral emotions, such as elevation and awe. These positive emotions may accompany, initiate, or support the development of purpose, while negative emotions, such as disgust, may turn people away from unworthy purposes.

Dr. Lene Jensen is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and is a faculty member at the Life Cycle Institute. Dr. Jensen’s research focuses on the relationship between morality and worldviews among children, adolescents, and adults and looks at how people’s moral evaluations, reasoning, and emotions are both diverse and common across cultures. Dr. Jensen’s work describes possible sources of youth purpose across different societies.

Dr. Richard M. Lerner holds the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science at Tufts University in Boston, MA. Dr. Lerner investigates the fused relations between individuals and contexts and how these relationships affect human development. His approach is useful for investigating how relationships between youth and their environments can have a reciprocal affect: some environments may help youth develop positive purposes, and these youth may in turn create purpose-enhancing environments.

Dr. Dan P. McAdams is Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Professor of Psychology, and Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. He is also the Director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives. Dr. McAdams has conducted a research program on generative adults-people who are creative and productive in their middle age. The concept of generativity is very close to the notion of purpose and sheds light on how purpose might develop in adolescence.

Dr. Daniel Perlstein is Assistant Professor of Education at the University of California-Berkeley. Dr. Perlstein is an educational historian who has written about the relationship between democratic ideals and the governance, political organization, and pedagogy of public schools, and has a specific interest in racial equality and social justice within the American school system. His work focuses on historical social movements as sources of purpose for youth during the 1960’s.

Dr. Robert Roeser is Assistant Professor of Education at Stanford University. His research focuses on how school impacts young people’s psychological and academic adjustment. He has a particular interest in how academic achievement motivation and psychological adjustment are related in the school context and across development. This research provides insight into how schools and classrooms might be structured in order to help youth develop positive purposes. Dr. Roeser’s understanding of Eastern philosophy and religion also sheds light on how these philosophies view purpose and its development across the lifespan.

Dr. Richard A. Shweder is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Human Development at the University of Chicago. He has conducted research on moral reasoning, emotional functioning, gender roles and the moral foundations of family life practices in the Hindu temple town of Bhubaneswar on the East Coast of India. Dr. Shweder’s work illuminates what purpose may look like across cultures, and the different forms it can take in different societies.

Dr. Margaret Beale Spencer is Professor of Education and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Director of the Center for Health, Achievement, Neighborhood Growth, and Ethnic Studies (CHANGES) and Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development (ISHD) Program and the W.E.B. DuBois Collective Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Spencer’s research addresses resiliency, identity, and competence formation processes in youth of all ethnicities, but particularly among youth of color and those from low-resource families. Dr. Spencer’s scholarship sheds light on how minority adolescents, and those from low-income areas, develop purpose.

Dr. Linda M. Wagener is Associate Dean of the School of Psychology and Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, and Co-Director of its Center for Research in Child and Adolescent Development. Dr. Wagener’s interest is in exploring the relationship between moral and spiritual development and adolescent well-being. Her work is helpful in demonstrating how moral values and spirituality can serve as sources of youth purpose.

In addition to the 12 presenters, 20 participant observers (teachers, religious scholars, doctoral students, John Templeton Board of Advisor members, and other professionals working in youth related fields) also attended the conference and contributed to the discussion. Participant observers included:

  • Judy Anderson, Guest of the John Templeton Foundation
  • Kendall Cotton Bronk, Doctoral student at the Stanford University School of Education
  • Kathy Davis, Administrator at the Stanford University Center on Adolescence
  • Dr. Charles Harper, Executive Director at the John Templeton Foundation
  • Mary Hurlbut, Student at Stanford University
  • Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University
  • Dr. Pamela King, Assistant Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Dr. Barnaby Marsh, Director of Venture Philanthropy Strategy and New Programs Development at the John Templeton Foundation
  • Jenni Menon, Doctoral student at the Stanford University School of Education
  • Michael Reagan, Member of the Board of Advisors at the John Templeton Foundation
  • Kim Roots, Editor at Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology
  • Dr. Kimon Sargeant, Director of Research & Programs in the Human Sciences, Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science
  • Dr. Arthur J. Schwartz, Vice President of Human Sciences at the John Templeton Foundation
  • Dr. John M. Templeton Jr., President at the John Templeton Foundation
  • Dr. Josephina Templeton, Spouse of Dr. John Templeton, Jr.
  • Heather Wax, Features Editor at Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology
  • Mary Worlton, Director of Character Education and 6th Grade Teacher at Loyola Elementary School in Los Altos, CA
  • Dr. Everett Worthington, Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University

V. Preparations for the Purpose Conference

In preparation for the conference, presenters were sent a working definition of purpose, which had been formulated at Stanford. Providing a definition was necessary because research on purpose has not always used the construct in similar ways. Indeed, many times this term has been used differently within the same work, nor has anyone attempted to draw boundaries between the related terms “purpose” and “meaning.” The proposed definition contained important distinctions between these two words, distinctions that have been implicit in the way that researchers have used the two terms, and that also are consistent with our common-language understanding of these terms. For an operational definition of purpose to which all presenters could refer, the following was offered:

Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self.

This definition was chosen because it highlights the following points:

  1. Purpose is a goal of sorts, but it is more stable and far-reaching than low-level goals such as “to get to the movie on time” or “to find a parking place in town today.”
  2. Purpose is a part of one’s personal search for meaning, but it also has an external component, the desire to make a difference in the world, to contribute to matters larger than the self.
  3. Unlike meaning alone (which may or may not be oriented towards a defined end), purpose is always directed at an accomplishment towards which one can make progress. This accomplishment may be material or non-material, external or internal, reachable or non-reachable: its necessary characteristic is not its concreteness but the sense of direction that it provides in creating an objective for purpose.

This preliminary definition is important in order to set a common point from which those concerned with youth purpose can build knowledge and consensus. It is around this definition that the scholars mentioned in this article organized their discussions of youth purpose.

Presenters were given the following 4 questions and asked to address one of them in a 15-minute presentation at the working conference. These questions were pertinent because they lie at the heart of what purpose is and provide a starting point for studying it:

  1. What kinds of purposes tend to inspire young people, either here and now (21st Century USA), or in any other historical and cultural contexts?
  2. What role does purpose play in human development (during youth, adulthood, any and all segments of the life-span)?
  3. How (and through what kinds of biological, cultural, educational, familial, spiritual, or any other kinds of influences) do young people discover purposes?
  4. Are noble purposes acquired in the same manner as ignoble ones – and, indeed, is this a distinction that is important, and possible, to make?

Lene Jensen and Richard Shweder spoke about the kinds of purposes that inspire young people (question 1). The second question, looking at the role of purpose in young peoples’ lives, was addressed by Robert Emmons, Peter Benson, and Dan McAdams. Jonathan Haidt, Margaret Beale Spencer, and Robert Roeser discussed how youth discover purpose (question 3). Richard Lerner, Daniel Perlstein, and Linda Wagener presented on the fourth question, which explored the possibility of distinguishing between noble and ignoble purposes. A moderated large group discussion followed each presentation. Points of consensus emerged from the presentations and the discussions that followed. These points are outlined below.

VI. Points of Consensus from the Conference

Purpose in Historical and Cultural Contexts

The first question, about different kinds of purpose, spawned discussion around rites of passage, divine plans, callings, and the difference between purpose in traditional and more modern cultures. In reality, traditional and modern cultural practices may overlap in any society; there is likely a large diversity the world over in the way these practices are manifested across families, communities, and larger groups. However, here we make a demarcation between the traditional and the modern for the sake of simplicity. We refer to “traditional” as age-old practices common in societies throughout history, but which may also be continued into contemporary times in some communities. These practices may be present in tribal societies and non-western, communal cultures, for instance. By “modern,” we refer to more individual-oriented practices, dominant in contemporary, liberal democratic societies, such as the United States.

In traditional cultures, rites of passage tell youth what their roles are going to be in life and invest those roles with purpose.
One of the key ways that traditional societies have imbued youth with a sense of their communal role is through adolescent rites if passage. Rites of passage are common in traditional cultures, and they often differ by gender. For girls, rites of passage often take place around the time of menarche and emphasize a girl’s future role as mother and wife. Krobo adolescent girls in Ghana spend a three-week period of seclusion, during which time they are taught various ways of becoming a woman. Following this period of isolation they dress up and attend an “outdooring” ceremony where they publicly demonstrate various skills, such as dancing. Relatives, and perhaps more importantly, prospective suitors, attend the community-wide celebration.

For boys, the timing of adolescent rites of passage in traditional cultures is more variable, but most ceremonies involve tests of courage strength, and endurance. Rites of passage mark a boy’s entrance into adulthood where he will fulfill what David Gilmore calls the Three Ps of Male Adulthood: provide, protect, and procreate.

Rites of passage reveal that purpose in these cultures is closely tied to roles, which in turn are tied to gender. Purpose often centers on one’s responsibility to family and community, and in many cultures these communal responsibilities are further tied to spiritual, divine, or supernatural conceptions.

Purposes in traditional cultures are expected and shared by all members.
The nature of any community is that the people within them, although often diverse in their approaches, share certain views of life and reality. These may be either implicit or explicit. While sharing this theme, many modern and traditional cultures may differ on the degree of explicit agreement about these purposes, however. One point of view, for instance, is to view modern pluralistic societies as particularly challenged to develop shared purposes, at least relative to more traditional societies.

From this perspective, purpose in traditional cultures seems natural and inevitable. The rites of passage and purposes that go along with them are expected and shared by all members in traditional cultures. An individual’s purposes may vary based on his or her role within the society, however, relative to modern cultures; those within traditional cultures have generally shared an understanding of the structure of their society. All people have a role to fulfill within that society. Individuals fulfill their purpose by fulfilling their role, based on their age, gender, family position, profession, or other characteristics. For example, the first son of a healer might be expected by the others in his village to someday become a healer himself. His wife, on the other hand, might be expected to care for children. These purposes, while varying from person to person, are clearly understood by all who live in that culture, and can be contrasted with modern societies whose youth face a greater diversity of worldviews to choose from and available messages to adopt.

For traditional cultures personal and other-focused purposes are aligned.
Many traditional societies subscribe to the idea of inherited qualities of excellence. According to this belief of natural telos, the unequal distribution of goods is a part of God’s divine plan. The expectation in the community is that each person should have the opportunity to realize the full potential of his or her natural endowment, whatever those endowments may be. It is also their expectation that the fruits of products realized by each person fulfilling his of her unique nature will be valued and esteemed by everyone in society. In this way a balance between the moral qualities of self-improvement and the moral qualities of community is achieved.

In these cultures it is seen as moral to live up to the obligations and duties associated with one’s roles. Duty, hierarchy, and interdependence are positive qualities in this perspective.

Self-perfection in these cultures is often viewed as a master moral motive. In India, for example, self-perfection includes living up to the beliefs associated with one’s position in society. In trying to achieve self-perfection a person is at once advancing his or her own moral career and advancing the goals of the society. Improving the self has indirect social benefits because the role structure is interdependent. If all people try to self-perfect, even if they are motivated by a concern for their own moral career, there is a benefit to the collectivity. Living up to one’s own telos means the divine plan will be realized.

In Native American culture a similar notion was connected with rights of passage. Both girls and boys in these communities would undergo a Vision Quest Rite, in which they spent time in isolation and meditation. The aim was to encounter the divine, acquire knowledge or wisdom, and to discover and live in the divine will. Ideally the experience would provide an understanding of the path one was intended to walk. It was believed that the success of one’s vision was related to the personal virtues that one possessed. Thus, the virtue of humility before the divine and the consequent opening of oneself to new knowledge during the experience was considered to be key to a successful quest. By exercising virtue in the quest, personal power would be obtained in such a way that an individual would become a blessing to the community, especially the poor, young, and weak (Zirlott, 1999, pp. 216-220).

For liberal secular democratic societies, such as the United States, self-oriented goals and other-oriented purposes tend to conflict.
In these cultures the idea that everyone has a peculiar and distinctive nature that they need to realize competes with a strong emphasis on equal and like prospects for all. In these societies, meaning tends to focus on the self. Social institutions, such as the media, promote an autonomous sense of life meaning. Billboards and advertising slogans read, “An intelligent world: Autonomy;” Ericsson, a cellular phone company declares, “Make yourself heard;” Acura’s slogan is, “The true definition of Luxury. Yours;” the US Army is now, “An Army of One;” and Burger King jingles, “We do it your way.” Messages about autonomy and self-focused goals pervade American culture. Unlike traditional cultures, American and other liberal democratic cultures fail to offer an easy way of balancing personal intentions with social purposes. An exception to this rule can often be found in religious communities.

A “calling” in the Christian sense is one way in which personal aims and social purposes align.
The Christian idea of a calling blends the focus on the self, the divine, and the community. It entails the notion that an individual has been blessed by God with a special vocation, and that the individual has a responsibility to use his or her gifts to benefit and help others.

Rites of passage in the contemporary United States focus less on community, spiritual, and family roles and more on gaining self-confidence and self-knowledge.
The Washington Ethical Society recently started a yearlong coming of age program, not unlike the rites of passage celebrated by traditional cultures. Youth participate in various activities and at the conclusion complete their own “vision quest,” during which time youth are secluded in the Virginia mountainside. Following this isolation period a celebration is held.

This program emphasizes the self and the personal purpose of gaining self-knowledge and self-confidence for their own sake. The program director notes, “I really see changes in the young people who go through the program. By the end of the year they come out with a very strong sense of themselves.” This contrasts sharply with the communal role of purpose in traditional cultures.

Youth in contemporary Western cultures receive diverse messages about purpose, and are encouraged to select their own.
Youth in America receive a multiplicity of messages about purpose. Unlike traditional cultures, no one purpose is either expected or shared by adult community members. Some messages conflict. For example, female youth receive messages from a variety of sources (schools, churches, family, the media, etc.) that say they should grow up to be successful, competitive professionals, while also being nurturing, caring mothers. While there are many influences that affect young people’s choices, youth are ultimately responsible for selecting their life paths.

Young people in Western cultures embrace a variety of purposes.
Arnett, Ramos, and Jensen (2001) asked a socio-economically diverse sample of 140 people in their 20s two questions that shed light on purpose. Question 1 asked, “When you get to the end of your life, what would you like to be able to say about your life, looking back on it?” and question 2 inquired, “What values and beliefs do you think are the most important to pass on to the next generation?”

Responses to these questions were coded in terms of Rick Shweder’s three ethics of autonomy, community, and divinity. Very briefly, the ethic of autonomy tends to capture values, virtues, ends, and means that focus on the individual. The ethic of community focuses on values, virtues, etc., that center on family and social purposes or social groups, and the ethic of divinity focuses on spiritually based groups or spiritual considerations.

Results suggest that most responses fall into the ethic of autonomy category. Discussing the first question and what he would like to say about his life when he gets to the end of it, one 24-year-old man said demonstrating the ethic of autonomy, “Probably that I had a good time, because if I’m having a good time, I’m happy, and that’s pretty much what I’ve gathered that everybody wants to do is live a happy life. You know it’s not going to be free from grief at all times, but I’d say just that I had fun. I’m a fun seeker.”

Participants also spoke quite a bit about community purposes. They especially talked about family relationships, close personal relationships, and to some extent, ties to the broader society. A 27-year-old man said this is what he would like to be able to say about his life when he gets to the end, “That I made everybody happy in my family and did everything they would have liked to see me doing.” Responses in the divinity category were relatively rare.

In India, and other cultures that believe in reincarnation, time scale is an important aspect of purpose.
For cultures that believe in immortal souls, the present and future are seamlessly linked together. One’s current situation is thought of in terms of his or her actions and behaviors in the past. In such a timescale the first 5 years of life may seem trivial compared to where one’s soul has been and the kind of moral career that must be taken into account. The present course of action has karmic consequences, as people reap what they sow in the future. Such beliefs are a recipe for incredible acts of efficacy and control because actions taken today may have ramifications far into the future. For example, young brides in India move into an extended family household and essentially enter boot camp. As the lowest rank in the hierarchy they serve the other family members. To a Western observer it appears as though the young woman is being victimized and exploited, but Indian women realize it is only a matter of time before they move up in the hierarchy.

The Role of Purpose in Human Development

Responses to question two, what role does purpose play in human development, generated discussion around the likeness between purpose and generativity, disillusionment as a result of not achieving one’s purpose, and purpose as an indicator of positive youth development.

Generative adults strive to have a positive impact on the world around themselves, as do purposeful youth.
Generativity is a psychosocial stage of mid-life development where healthy adults exhibit a concern for promoting the well-being of future generations. Generative adults are concerned with providing for, protecting, and passing on wisdom to future generations. They seek to have a positive impact in the long term, leaving a legacy of the self that continues to be fruitful after one’s active years have passed. Empirical research findings on generativity shed light on purpose.

Scholars interested in learning about generativity use a methodology that may prove useful for illuminating purpose.
To study a sample of generative adults, researchers administer a number of measures which rank subjects from high to low on a generativity scale. Participants from different points on the scale are then interviewed. Interviews reveal narrative identities, or the way the adults think about themselves and their history. Interviews are not important for their veracity, but instead for seeing how subjects make meaning out of their experiences, and how they make narrative sense of who they were, who they are today, and who they may be in the future.

The life stories of highly generative American adults reveal themes that seem likely to emerge from narratives of purposeful youth.
In relaying the tale of their lives, highly generative adults tend to open their stories with two themes. The first is one of early advantage; I had something that other people did not have. In some cases these adults were taken aside by role models and told they had promise. In other cases they had special relationships with people who helped them discover their own unique abilities. The second theme is the idea that whereas I was blessed, others suffered. Generative adults demonstrate a precocious sensitivity to others’ pain.

As the narratives continue, themes of progress emerge. For highly generative adults there is a sense of linearity; things move upward, onward, forward. Setbacks occur but rather than being insurmountable, they serve as opportunities for learning and growth. Highly generative adults learn from the challenges in their lives.

When asked to project into the future, highly generative adults talk about goals and strivings. Unlike other adults, they have plans that involve growth, expansion, and improvement.

Highly generative adults often talk about their life’s work in terms of a calling.
These adults feel they have special talents that they are compelled to use for the benefit of others. Being generative is not always easy; it can involve sacrifices for one’s children, for one’s community, or for one’s country. Despite this, these adults feel a duty to live their lives the way they do.

Highly generative adults also talk about a moral steadfastness that less generative adults do not mention. Often they will say such things as, “In my teenage years I got my values straight.” Typically these adults talk about consolidating their value system, often connected to religion and often during adolescence. This moral steadfastness undergirds and supports highly generative adults’ purpose in life and their generativity.

Generative adults tend to fare better psychologically than other adults.
A growing body of research on generative adults suggests these adults are healthier than other adults. They are more likely to be involved in civic activities, more connected to their families, churches, political groups, etc. Generative adults have an efficacious sense of the self and an optimistic lens through which they view the world. They tend to believe that bad things can serve as learning opportunities and that good things will generally follow.

Just as generativity is a sign of mid-life well being, purpose is an indicator of positive youth development.
Purpose can serve as a useful tool for parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other practitioners who work with youth for identifying positive youth development. While it can be fairly easy to spot youth who fail to thrive (by drug use, alcohol consumption, truancy, etc.), identifying children who are on the right track can be more challenging. Dr. Benson has identified purpose as a developmental asset that clusters with hope, meaning, efficacy, a positive view of the future, and an interest in spirituality. Purpose is an empowerment asset, which is a set of assets that relate to being embedded in caring communities. Some of the particular assets in this category are the sense that one lives in a community where young people are valued, are given useful roles to play in creation of community, and are given the opportunity to serve.

Purpose is also associated with thriving.
Based on research on closely related topics, it is likely that purpose predicts resiliency, academic achievement, and preservation of one’s own health. Youth with purpose are likely to make healthy decisions about their body, not because a nurse or pediatrician tells them to, but because they take responsibility for their own health. Theoretical and empirical literature also links purpose to spirituality, which is a virtue in adolescence, pushing young people in positive directions.

Purpose helps ward off poor mental health.
It serves as a protective factor and is most strongly related to prevention of depression and attempted suicide.

When young people aspire to a great purpose, but lack the means to achieve it, disillusionment can follow.
Purpose, by and large, plays a positive role in the lives of young people, but under certain circumstances it can lead to disillusionment. One can imagine a group of young people who harbor lofty social goals, but lack the opportunity to realize those goals. For these young people, grasping the failure to act on their purpose could lead to disappointment.

How Do Young People Discover Purpose?

Themes and concerns emerging from a discussion of the third question, how do young people discover purposes, clustered around what sources and supports, both internal external, sustain purpose across individual and community experiences, and how the absence of these supports might thwart purpose.

Role models, heroes, and participation in mentoring groups provide youth with resources and opportunities to discover and commit to purposes.
Youth need to have access to role models and mentors in order to find purpose. Mentors, teachers, parents, and other people in the community who work with youth are all potential sources of purpose. Often, these individuals can help stimulate young people’s thinking about issues, scaffold them, and assist them in maintaining a focus on purposes they have chosen. A lack of access to role models who exhibit purpose is an obstacle; without narratives or role models, young people struggle to envision purpose. They cannot see how they can help other people or their communities. Good mentors therefore help kids to develop a sense of agency and a sense of control over their own lives, which helps them progress toward fulfilling their purpose. Young people also need exposure to heroes, who they can strive to emulate.

To these ends, youth may discover and find support for purpose through mentoring, service clubs, and church groups. Such groups provide social interactions and models of behavior for youth that inspire. Through these groups and through role models, youth gain access to rich narratives that are both implicit and explicit, embodied in the life examples of mentors and through the foundational texts and philosophies of these groups. These groups also provide a context for participation through occasions of service where purposes can be practiced. One view suggests that purpose is a potential that already exists within the individual: contexts for participation allow purpose to be catalyzed and brought into the sphere of action. Church groups can be places where youth cultivate devotional practices and discipline which may help young people commit to and sustain a purpose. School can also serve as a promising source and support of purpose for young people when it successfully empowers them.

Youth need virtues and skills in order to follow through on their purposes.
There are also specific virtues and skills that youth need in order to sustain a commitment to the purpose they choose. Young people need to be engaged if they are to live a purposeful life. Purposeful youth must be adept at identifying problems and skilled at coming up with creative solutions that they can enact. Short attention spans and a lack of persistence intuitively tend to work against sustaining a social purpose. Without the virtues and skills of intention, attention, devotion, and wisdom purpose is not likely to thrive. Young people need to be able to establish an objective, which requires intention; design and act on a creative solution, which requires wisdom; and maintain the attention and devotion to see a project through. Because of this, contexts that provide opportunities to youth for training in such virtues and skills are the most promising.

Environments that are rich in support and encouragement are optimal for the development of purpose.
Young people need to be able to trust the world around them and they need to believe they live in a society that values them. An unsafe environment is likely to inhibit the growth of purpose, as will negative stereotypes about young people. If youth are taught to believe they are social problems rather than social resources, purpose will be less likely to emerge.

In environments where adequate support and encouragement is not forthcoming, or in environments where youth do not feel safe, purpose is thwarted. For example, young people need to be free to live their lives as children and adolescents; too much pressure placed on youth to prematurely take on adult roles makes the development of purpose difficult. Similarly, overindulgence and a lack of responsibility and challenge may result in apathy and a sense of drift, both of which are antithetical to purpose.

Purpose develops in the context of inspiring ideologies, and is supported and initiated by moral emotions.
At the root of any purpose is a philosophy, idea, belief, or ideology. Purpose cannot develop in a vacuum, for young minds need inspiring material with which to construct their commitments. Having access to compelling sets of beliefs about life and about themselves creates foundations on which youth develop purpose. Ideologies are critical sources of purpose. Young people need to have contact with ideologies that empower, enlighten and inspire.

There is some evidence that intense moral emotions such as awe, admiration, and gratitude may help initiate the development of purpose. Emotions such as these may help the seeds of purpose to sprout, while the social and moral supports and influences can facilitate progress toward a goal. A sense of moral identity can support this development and create a more lasting contribution to its growth.

Evidence for the power of emotions comes from studying historical and more contemporary figures who have had changing emotional experiences, which inspired them to commit to new purposes. In the Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic, the warrior Arjuna undergoes an emotional conversion when the god Krishna allows him access to gaze upon the realities of the universe. In this experience, Arjuna is overcome with fear, trembling, and awe, and from that moment forward becomes a dedicated servant of Krishna, successfully winning the battle against his enemies. The sociologist Max Weber also described how charismatic individuals, like Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Hilter, and Mandela stirred the emotions of their followers, making them commit to their causes (Keltner & Haidt, 2003, pp 298-299). Some research also suggests that training in gratitude is effective in fostering purpose: young people who kept lists of things they were grateful for were more successful in achieving their goals and felt a greater sense of wanting to help others (Emmons & Crumpler, 2000).

Equally inspiring may be negative moral emotions, such as disgust and anger, created by unpleasant experiences. Adults who are generative, for instance, sometimes reflect more often than non-generative adults on negative experiences that might have affected them. They are sensitive to the suffering of others, and they construct narratives in which they see themselves as comparatively fortunate. Similarly, adult moral exemplars have been inspired to social purposes because they were outraged or unsatisfied with the state of the world, and set out to change it.

Shared purpose is essential for creating a sense of community.
A community, by definition, is a group of people with a shared purpose. Businesses, for example, build community by creating mission statements and corporate visions that keep employees moving in the same direction. The military educates its new recruits to collective purpose in order to achieve military objectives. Terrorists groups such as Hamas and al Qaeda use a common focus to unify groups of people into communities. All of these examples illustrate how shared purpose is at the heart of community. In each case, the stronger the shared purpose, the stronger the sense of community.

These examples also demonstrate that purpose has meaning to the world beyond the individual. For this reason future research will want to discover how individual purpose relates to shared purpose across communities of people, and society will need to grapple with how and when to build shared vision and a sense of the common good. In a pluralistic society negotiating such an undertaking will be a challenge. Additionally, we will want to ask, “How is the development of the individual’s sense of purpose connected to the community’s sense of purpose?”

The organizational and community development literatures offer two potential starting points. The first is a body of literature which explores how people working in the same place come to common ground. The community development literature similarly expresses the theme of building the common good within communities. These are both potential sources of knowledge of how shared purpose can be acquired.

It also appears that communities themselves can create or build shared purpose. William Damon, in his book entitled The Youth Charter (1997) discusses ways in which communities can instill common, social goals in its young people.

Noble Versus Ignoble Purpose

A fourth theme emerged around distinctions between noble and ignoble purposes and how they are acquired.

Distinguishing between noble and ignoble purposes is possible.
The fourth question discussed at the conference revealed a number of insights into making distinctions between positive and less noble purposes. Participants discussed whether there is a difference between noble and ignoble purpose, between purposes that are constructive and those that reflect a desire to destroy, and what their developmental trajectories might be. Most agreed that there are a number of ways that noble and ignoble purposes are distinguishable. In fact, people constantly make such distinctions. Four common approaches in the sciences and humanities show how people have done this. Each approach has its strengths and limitations and each generates important questions.

Before discussing these approaches however, it is fair to site an alternate opinion to the one discussed here. There are indeed some thinkers who feel it is impossible to distinguish between purposes that are noble and those that are ignoble. Some arguments along this line state that purpose is a social construction and that the designation of purpose as noble or ignoble is a matter of interpretation, varying according to one’s cultural or individual perspective. According to a purely relativistic view, a classification of purpose depends totally on social and political history and on one’s construal of the social structure. While this view has its merit for understanding how historical, environmental, and personal transformations affect purpose and for describing how understandings of the good can appropriately evolve over time, a more general consensus is that a distinction is in fact possible. Most agree that there are differences between noble and ignoble purposes and that distinctions can be drawn between them.

Noble and ignoble purposes can be defined by what is adaptive and functional according to empirical investigation.
Empirical investigation is one way of defining which purposes are noble or ignoble. For example, through investigative methods, social scientists can show that certain purposes are associated with more positive developmental outcomes, like psychological health and well-being, whereas other purposes are associated with psychological distress. This is a common approach used by psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists. As we note above, very little empirical research has directly addressed purpose to date so there is much work needed to be done in this area.

It should be acknowledged, however, that it seems possible for noble purposes to lead to psychological disillusionment in some situations. For example, we can imagine that African-Americans fighting for equal rights in the middle of this century likely experienced psychological distress when confronted with fierce opposition from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Consensus within communities or subcultures can determine which purposes are noble or ignoble.
Through consensus of the majority of the people of a community or subculture, one decides what purposes are noble. An example of this is found in a recent movie called Dogtown and Z-Boys. The film follows the punk rockers of the 1970’s skateboard movement. Set in Southern California, it is about a group of surfer kids with spare time on their hands and a love of skateboarding. The area in which they lived was stricken by a severe drought and consequently, many of the swimming pools in their community were empty. These youth were not well invested in school or in other purposes that might normally be considered noble. Instead, they decided that swimming pools were a great place to try skateboarding. Through this subculture arose the noble purpose of developing skateboarding into a world-class sport. The results of these teenagers’ sense of purpose can be seen today in the prevalence of sports like snow boarding, which is now an Olympic competition, and in public skate parks.

A problem with this approach is that often times the values and the purposes defined as noble within a particular sub culture contrast with purposes defined by a different subculture or the larger majority culture or look different across time. This point raises a very important concern: how can communities create a shared sense of purpose, so that purposes function to unite rather than to divide? Indeed, if purpose is to be understood both as meaningful to the self and as serving the common good, then developing common purpose within and across levels of social organization is a prime exigency of our time.

We can know which purposes are noble or ignoble by appealing to our own reason.
By contrast, another approach is by appealing to reason and theory. According to this view, human beings can use theory and reason in order to distinguish the noble and moral from the ignoble and immoral; and these can in turn be tested empirically. This method has its roots in moral philosophy.

One rendition finds expression in the writings of the classical philosopher, Aristotle. In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that human beings have the potential ability to recognize virtuous goals and to act in accordance with them. Aristotle was also considered one of the first empiricists, as he believed that people could test out their theories by turning to what they observe in the world, and through reasoning about this information, arrive at what is true. The flip side of Aristotle’s argument about human nature is that human beings also have the potential to feel attracted to and follow less positive purposes, so that their reasoning might not always align with what is true. Still, reason and systematic empirical investigation are important and helpful tools that people can use to discern noble and ignoble purposes.

The usefulness of these tools is shown in how scientists have applied modern renditions of Aristotle’s view. Virtue ethics, or Neo-Aristotelianism, presents the argument that we can come to understand virtue by observing it in people who demonstrate virtuous qualities (Hursthouse, 1991). Scientific studies of people who have displayed a commitment to a purpose throughout their lives describe what noble purposes look like. From this research, observing the virtues of exemplars can evidence what is moral. By looking at people who are exemplars of noble and ignoble purposes we can in turn learn about what might be distinct about different kinds of purpose. For instance, one such study used values of humility and alignment between means and ends evidenced by exemplars to choose moral exemplars, then these exemplars were interviewed to see what these two noble characteristics looked like (Colby & Damon, 1992).

Distinctions between purposes are possible through appeals to higher sources of authority.
Finally, one can appeal to a higher source of authority in order to understand one’s purpose. This is the method that has been used in many religious communities, where individuals appeal to God and religious texts as a source of guidance. In this case, a sense of “calling” will define noble versus ignoble purposes. The idea of a calling unites one’s sense of personal purpose with higher purposes. While this method has often been used in religious traditions, it is also present historically in appeals to political and philosophical ideologies, which can also take on the quality of a religious-like calling for individuals.

The problem with this approach, when taken alone, is also evident. What if an individual’s sense of calling is destructive and the higher source of authority to which he or she appeals either in reality or through interpretation has damaging ends? There are many examples throughout the history of humanity that illustrate this problem, such as destructive movements that have been followed in the name of nationalism, religion, or other ideologies. However, there are also many examples of people who have used their sense of calling towards social and community betterment. Appeal to authority has therefore been a viable way by which people have chosen to distinguish between the noble and ignoble, although it must be used with caution.

The approaches featured here reveal a consistent perspective that it may be possible to distinguish between noble and ignoble purposes, however, making a distinction is not a simple task, nor is it foolproof or absolute. It is likely that using one or more of these approaches at a time may be the most reliable way to distinguish purposes. At the same, it is important to recognize that each method has weaknesses.

Teaching for Purpose

A final theme that emerged across questions was the transmission of purpose.

Purpose may be best learned in private spheres.
In most cultures what is “good” is defined in the private rather than the public sphere. Children primarily learn right from wrong from their families and churches rather than from larger institutions such as schools and the media. This suggests inspiring purpose should begin at home and in more “private” realms.

However, the distinction between noble and ignoble purposes is important; parents can serve as sources of both kinds of purpose. Some parents have inspired young people to raise money to provide safe drinking water to people in Africa, while others, such as the D.C. sniper, have taught their children to kill. Transmission of noble and ignoble purposes likely follows the same path.

The need for positive role models, mentors, and purposeful narratives underscores the need to set an example for purpose. “Virtue isn’t taught, it’s caught.” Therefore, one of the most important steps adults can take to inspire purpose is to lead purposeful lives themselves.

Certain times in the life course present a natural opportunity for reflecting on purpose.
Simply allowing youth to reflect on their lives is likely to stir up thoughts about purpose. Certain times or milestones in young people’s lives naturally lead to reflection. For example, nearly all college applicants must submit some kind of statement of purpose to prospective universities. Perhaps additional opportunities for reflection should be encouraged.

VII. Conclusion

Points of agreement about purpose exist. Research, theory, and intuition across disciplines suggest answers to the questions around cultural differences in purpose, the role purpose plays in human development, sources and supports for purpose, how to distinguish between noble and ignoble purpose, and how to educate for purpose. In this document, built from the consensus of experts working on related topics, we have come closer to understanding what purpose looks like and how it may imbue young peoples’ lives with meaning, helping them navigate the ups and downs of life, and contribute positively to the world around themselves. Yet, we have just scratched the surface. Clearly there are many significant issues and pressing questions to address with empirical and theoretical research. It seems likely that purpose will be an important and fruitful field of research for years to come.

Saturday with Socrates: Philosophy, Therapy and Mental Wellbeing – Stephen J. Costello

 

Philosophy as Therapy: A Logotherapeutic Reading of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy.

 

Three Words in the Title               

There are three signifiers we must first consider in the title of this conference: ‘philosophy’, ‘therapy’ and ‘wellbeing’. A philosopher, such as I am, always begins by defining his terms so we can continue with the conversation. Philosophy (philos sophia) is literally translated as the ‘love of wisdom’. When I was a student in UCD’s Philosophy Department I recall this definition being given: ‘Philosophy is the search or the quest through reflection on experience for a fundamental or ultimate understanding of all of reality and especially of man’. Philosophy ponders on the perennial questions of human existence through rational reflection rather than revelatory faith, thus distinguishing it from theology, questions such as: Does God exist, what is art, how can we know, how should we act – issues of importance in ethics, epistemology, ontology and aesthetics, to name but a few. Philosophy is critical and systematic. The philosophy of an individual refers to his basic beliefs or attitudes. There are some basic attitudes required in order to think. Examples of attitudes that some philosophers recommend include:

1 – Astonishment (Kierkegaard): unless one is astonished, for example about the difference of ideas on a same subject, one does not think. The poet and the philosopher, Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, have this in common: they are moved by the mystery to marvel at being.

2 – Ignorance (Socrates/Plato): Unless one is conscious of one’s own ignorance, one’s lack, one does not think and cannot hear any new idea.

3 – Suspension of judgment (Descartes): Unless one puts aside momentarily one’s own opinions and axiology, one will have a hard time reading or listening, and understanding a new or foreign theory.

4 – Authenticity (Sartre): Unless one dare say what he has to say, because he worries about other’s opinion or his own conscience, he cannot know what he thinks and is caught up in bad faith (mauvaise foi).

5 – Sympathy (Edith Stein): If one does not trust others to a minimum degree and have sympathy with the human situation, one cannot hear their differences and objections and therefore cannot self-correct.

6 – Criticism (Hegel): Unless one is questioning or criticising one’s own ideas or other’s ideas (the work of “negativity”) one is indulging in mere opinion (doxa).

7 – Autonomy (Kant): Unless one dares to know and think by oneself, one maintains oneself in a state of infantilism.

From its founding by Protagoras and Plato philosophy always opposed itself to sophistry as philosophy was interested in sophia and not just in rhetoric. The philosopher is not a saint or a sage; he is a lover of sophia and aletheia, of wisdom and truth. He is a peripatetic or traveller in the land of Being, wondering why there is something and not nothing. To this extent the philosopher’s fundamental attitude is that of wonder. To quote Plato: ‘To wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Indeed philosophy has no other origin’. Aristotle adds: ‘It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophise’. Viktor Frankl defined his logotherapy as a meaning-centred spiritual therapy or intervention that worked on attitudinal adjustment: this is philosophy as therapy or philosophical therapy.

So now we come to the second signifier: therapy. Therapy literally means ‘curing’ or ‘healing’. It is the attempted remediation of a health problem, hence the phrase ‘mental health’, which first comes from Plato. Indeed Plato viewed philosophy as a form of therapy. This practical understanding of philosophy as therapeia can be seen particularly in the stoics and has resurfaced in modern times with the work of Wittgenstein and Viktor Frankl to name but two. Psychotherapy addresses psychological problems, aiming to augment the client’s experiences of wellbeing. In ancient Greek psyche meant ‘soul’ so it is primarily a talking treatment involving one’s soul but psychology (literally a logos of the psyche) has long since abandoned its proper subject matter, as it seems to be more interested in statistics than in soul, more interested in the laboratory than the oratory. Psychotherapy has also lost its own soul because, in the main, psychotherapy brings to consciousness or mind instinctual factors whereas logotherapy deals with one’s spiritual aspirations not just one’s psychological aspects. Man is more than psyche, Frankl tells us; man is spirit. So one aim of logotherapy is to rid psychotherapy and psychology of their psychologism. Yes, man is more than psyche but he is also less. Man is soma (body), psyche (mind or soul) but also noös (spirit); this is his tri-dimensional ontology (philosophical anthropology). We are called, in Platonic fashion, to integrate these dimensions of our being. The aim: to achieve wellbeing.

This brings us to the third signifier: well-being refers to a positive condition or subjective state of contentment, to a sense of serenity or happiness (eudaimonia) even. Martin Seligman, the founder of so-called ‘Positive Psychology’ lists the ingredients of wellbeing in his book Flourish thus: a) positive emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects), b) engagement, c) relationships, d) meaning, and e) achievement. He offers exercises to enhance flourishing and to create and maintain positive mental attitude. But it was Plato, as I said, who first explicated the idea of mental health in his book The Republic, so let’s now turn to him briefly.

 

Plato on Mental Health

The primary model of mental health in the West was proffered by Plato who founded psychology. Plato, whom Freud calls ‘divine’, in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, divides the soul (self) into three parts, which will echo centuries later with Freud’s conscious, preconscious and unconscious map of the mind in his first topographical model and in his id, ego, superego in his second, as well as with Frankl’s existential philosophy which construes man as body, mind and spirit. Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis (remembrance) is a forerunner of the unconscious. Plato stresses the spiritual dimension of the person which Frankl labels the noölogical, where health resides. Harmony, for Plato as for Frankl, consists in the integration and unity of the disparate parts of the human personality, with all three elements performing their proper function (ergon). Justice is defined by Plato as inner harmony in Book Five of The Republic. It is man’s real concern and not to do with outward actions but rather with inner events and interests. He likens such self-mastery to a musical score with all three notes on a scale (high, middle and low) being in tune. So too with man: when he orders his soul to the Good (Agathon), to meaning, then the elements of his being will be in concord and unison, ‘fully one instead of many’, as Plato puts it (Plato, p. 221), a unitas multiplex as Frankl calls us following Thomas, a unity in muliplicity and diversity. Disorder is inner strife, an internal civil war (see Plato ibid.). Justice, by contrast, is health, happiness and harmony, in other words, order. As Plato puts it: such excellence (arête) ‘is a kind of mental health’ (p. 222), as we engage in an anamnetic quest for the origins and end of our being, from shadows in the Cave to sunlight exemplified by the Good, and occasioned by the opening of the soul to the divine ground of being Itself, which Frankl calls ‘ultimate meaning’, which is beyond the complete comprehension of mortal man. Mental health, so, would be the absence of a mental disorder, a kind of psycho-spiritual resilience. It is a pity that Plato’s model of mental health and Frankl’s development of it is not taught to our mental health professionals, who have no knowledge of this ancient philosophical pedigree and precursor to modern psychiatric practice. Frankl retrieves and renews this ancient Platonic philosophical tradition with the redeployment of Socratic dialogue in his logotherapy or ‘healing through reason’ but reason understood not in a narrow way as logic or calculation but as openness to perceive and receive reality. Logos is deeper than logic.

 

Philosophy as Therapy

Epicurus: ‘As for diseases of the mind, against them Philosophy is provided of remedies, being, in that respect, justly accounted the medicine of the mind’. Philosophical practice is more about dialogue than diagnosis, and empathy than expertise. Practical philosophy can be employed in client counselling, group facilitation and organisational consulting – from crèches to cruise lines, from primary schools to prisons, from retirement homes to rehabilitation and remedial clinics. Philosophy offers clarification and consolation with its focus on getting to the essence of things, the nub of the matter, calmly. Its aim, as Wittgenstein tells us, is to produce thoughts that are at peace. It opposes itself or rather offers itself as an alternative to both psychiatry and psychological therapy because it is not just about solving problems or offering solutions than it is about creating the conditions for flourishing. The psychotherapist, unlike the psychiatrist, will at least have undergone years of personal therapy himself before he practises but he or she invariably lacks the philosophical formation that comes from serious and systematic scholarly study of the insights and ideas of the great philosophers, for example, Plato and Pascal, Socrates and Seneca, Epictetus and Emerson, Descartes and Dennett, Hegel and Heidegger, Spinoza and Sartre. How many here know that Spinoza, the 17th century rationalist has given a detailed taxonomy of the emotions in his Ethics or know that Kierkegaard gave the world the first classification of anxiety before the DSM in his The Concept of Dread or know that Heidegger brilliantly analyses the mood of boredom in his existentialist thought? None of this is taught either in psychology or psychotherapy. I recall meeting a therapist on a flight of stairs as we both prepared to go into our consulting rooms and asked her what type of therapist she was, to which she replied ‘a person-centred one’. I thought every therapist was a person-centred one! I asked her what was her philosophy of the person? She looked blankly then angrily at me and turned on her heel! But doesn’t every psychotherapeutic practice presuppose a philosophical anthropology? In academic departments of what goes by the name of psychology, Shakespeare isn’t taught despite Freud exclaiming that all of psychoanalysis is but a reflection on the plays of the great British bard. And what of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche – the greatest psychologists of morals of modern times? Philosophers, with their intimate knowledge of the history of ideas stretching back for more than 2,000 years as distinct from psychology’s one hundred, are placed as perhaps few others are to offer a hearing and space to those who seek it out to help suffering and acting persons with matters of living and dying.

All this is not to say there are no problems with philosophical counselling in that one might say that they in turn should pay some attention to a nosology of mental illness and be up to date with psychological studies. It seems to me that Viktor Frankl, that great philosophical therapist, who was both philosopher and psychiatrist, offers a way with his logotherapy and existential analysis that draws on the best of all these disciplines without making a category mistake and collapsing into reductionism.

Existential analysis concerns itself with the givens of human existence:  freedom, responsibility, death, happiness, meaning and meaninglessness. It emphasises the four dimensions of human existence: the physiological, the psychological, the personal/spiritual and the social, in order to give a fuller picture of the person. Existential psychiatrists such as Medard Boss, Ludwig Binswanger, Igor Caruso, Rollo May and Viktor Frankl look to the philosophers for their inspiration and insights into the human condition. Boss, in his Daseinsanalysis, combined Freud with Heidegger. May drew on Kierkegaard. Binswanger was influenced by Martin Buber. R. D. Laing studied Sartre and Viktor Frankl was indebted to Max Scheler but who in their trainings in therapy bother to read the primary sources?

Epictetus tells us that the philosopher’s school is a clinic. To be a philosopher does not involve having subtle or sophisticated thoughts but adopting a way of life. Pierre Hadot’s seminal work, Philosophy as a Way of Life is exemplary in the way it shows that ancient philosophy was the site of spiritual exercises as well as a therapeutics of the passions. For example, the spiritual exercises in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are practised, asserts Hadot, according to a method as rigorous as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The philosophy that is being offered to us acts on our spirit little by little like a medical treatment. So philosophy was understood as a living praxis, whose aim was to form more than to inform, to transform. Socratic dialogues in particular were intended as spiritual exercises whereby we give attention to ourselves – the famous adage being ‘know thyself’. Philosophy was intellectual, practical and spiritual – the ancient consolation. For example, the premeditation on future evils that may occur and the need to keep present in one’s mind and memory edifying examples that epic and history entrust to us. Philosophy had a tripartite structure: physics whose object is God as cause of being, logic which has God as norm of thought and ethics which has God as rule of life. This becomes in Augustine the Trinity of the Father, as principle of being, the Son as intellect and the Spirit as love. The unity of the three parts of philosophy reflects the reciprocal intensity of the divine Persons. Christianity was seen to be the philosophy, but a philosophy of lived praxis. Just as a carpenter doesn’t say ‘listen to my discourse about carpentry’ but builds a house, so too was philosophy to be practised. As Epicurus said: ‘Our only occupation should be the cure of ourselves’. Philosophy consisted of concrete exercises rather than a conceptual edifice. The philosopher was a philosopher because of his existential attitude, and for his practise of meditation, dialogue with oneself, examination of conscience etc. Slowly these spiritual exercises would become separated from philosophy and enter the monastic tradition which presented itself as a way of life in conformity with the divine Logos. Philosophy became more of a conceptual construction, a system and servant of theology. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises are a Christianised version of this earlier Greco-Roman tradition. We have the Greek Christian term of askesis which isn’t an asceticism exactly but rather a disciplining of desire. Subsequent Christian spiritual exercises have to be seen in the context of Hellenistic and Roman schools of philosophy. The aim is to become free from fear and anxiety and disordered desires (inordinate attachments). Each school of antiquity (Stoicism and Epicureanism etc) had its own therapeutic method which aimed to transform the self; a metamorphosis was the object, a Platonic perigagoe, or metanoia (conversion in the Christian sense), a dëcreation or unselfing.  Attention (prosoche) was the fundamental stoic spiritual attitude. It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind. It is to live in the present and to be aware of one’s actions. By concentrating on the miniscule moment attention increases vigilance and allows us to accede to cosmic consciousness; by making us attentive to the infinite value of each instant. To this end a review of the day is recommended and to find out what depends on us and what is outside of our control, to discover, as Franl puts it, areas of freedom and areas of fate. Such spiritual exercises as reading, journal keeping, reflecting, examining one’s conscience, etc, are required for the cure of the soul, the care of the self. It is to open up the walls of the world to see the divine delight for we are born once only – twice is not permitted us. To philosophise, as Socrates taught us, is to learn how to dialogue. And meditation is the practise of dialoguing with oneself. Many of Plato’s dialogues depict the figure of Socrates as being ‘lost in thought’. It is both a therapeutic procedure as much as a spiritual exercise to look at one’s individuality and passions from the perspective of universality, objectivity and eternity. To look at one’s life through the long lens, therefore. The attentive person who lives meaningfully and mindfully is attuned to the order of his being, and to the flow within it of the divine Presence. Such attention brings peace to a perturbed mind. Attention to self and others is the philosopher’s fundamental attitude and the attitude also of the monk; but action and theory go hand in hand. Ignatius wished for his companions that they be contemplatives in the midst of the bustle and busyness of the world. Attention to the present is acceptance of the divine desire. As Iris Murdoch writes: ‘Pay attention; teach it to children’. To be attentive is to be anchored in oneself and to be accepting. As Epictetus writes: ‘Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen and your life will be serene’. This is to obey Socrates’ call, which is a summons to love. As Nietzsche noted: ‘the deepest insights spring from love alone’. Goethe similarly opined: ‘we learn only from those we love’. For Frankl, the salvation of man is in and through love. Like Boethius, Socrates was in love with a source of other-wordly ultimate attraction; their eyes, like Plato’s, were firmly fixed on the Beyond. To view the world as a totality as Wittgenstein tells us is to view it sub specie aeterinatis – under the auspices of eternity.  Marcus Aurelius puts it all in perspective when he asks: ‘what’s in a name? A mere noise, a faint echo. How many do not even know your name and how many will soon forget it? Soon you will have forgotten everything; soon too everything will have forgotten you’. So with this in mind the two pitfalls to be avoided are a weary pessimism and a naive optimism. Frankl advocates the case for a ‘tragic optimism’ – this is position is one of robust realism. Such an approach allows for the tragic triad of guilt, suffering and death but also the triumphant triad of healing, meaning and forgiveness. Paradoxically, by living in the present instant and paying attention to the moment we are living in the hit et nunc of eternity. By delimiting our desires we activate an inner resilience and achieve a joyous cheerfulness but one that is based on sorrow. Living each day as if it were the last but also as if it were the first. Life is a gradual process of disillusionment – everything can be taken from one, everything except one’s inner mental attitude. This is, in Frankl’s words, the last of the human freedoms. Cultivating a cosmic consciousness is to soar on angel’s wings and to see with the eyes of the eagle on the sometimes sad human scene. Heraclitus informs us that the Logos holds sway always and Goethe writes: ‘Throughout all things the Eternal pursues its course. Hold on to Being with delight’. This holding on to life is to remain steadfast, to keep on course, to act out well the part that has been given us. Happiness is harmony with the universe, with the Logos that steers through all things. Such an attitude permits true perception and ultimate peace. This is the properly human dimension which Frankl calls the noetic or noological dimension of being.

Biological psychiatry scomotises this personal dimension in its somatologism. It reduces man to a biological being, to his nervous system and neuro-transmitters but we are biopsychospiritual beings. Psychiatry has, in the main, followed Freud’s lead with his dream expressed in the Project that mental problems would eventually be explained in terms of physical ones. The idea here is that every mental disease is caused by a brain disease. This is where modern psychiatry has gone so very wrong, so wide off the mark. For there is no such thing as a mental disease; all disease is organic. Most of the many so-called mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have never been shown to be caused by any brain disease, and yet the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatrists who prescribe their pills for every ill are still committed to this erroneous medical model – to the myth of mental illness, to coin a phrase from the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. And why, you might ask? Just the usual reasons: Power and profit. Psychiatrists may know biology but none of them is required as part of his formal training to undergo any personal psychotherapy which is mind-boggling to me. I guess they must have no problems. For years now we have been living in a pharmocracy where the medical model of reductionism has prevailed and is all pervasive in our discourse around mental health and illness. I can tell them there is more insight to be gleaned into the dynamics of anxiety in the pages of Kierkegaard then in the morphology of the DSM’s reduction of this mood to a ‘generalised anxiety disorder’. Surely we need to distinguish between ontological and psychological forms of anxiety at the very outset? If we take another example: depression. Not all sadness is depression and not all depression can be reduced to somatogenic depressive disorders; some are endogenous to be sure and some depressions are reactive, in other words, psychogenic in aetiology but Frankl was the first psychiatrist to distinguish noogenic neuroses where the reason is spiritual. A subtle classification is so necessary because while medication would be appropriate for a biochemical depression meditation is far more fitting for a spiritual one. An existential distress is not the same as a mental disorder. To take one final disturbing example, ADHD: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The symptoms include: being easily distracted, fidgeting, day-dreaming, struggling to follow instructions, having difficulty focussing on one task, dashing around, being in constant motion, impulsive, and experiencing an impatience in waiting for things they want. I can say for certain that they describe me on a good day! Thankfully I haven’t been diagnosed with it and put on Ritalin, the drug of choice. I am not denying by the way that ADHD exists but we simply have to distinguish between ‘normal’ (dare I say it?) boredom and ADHD, between creative day-dreaming and ADHD. Psychiatrists are far too quick in labelling and prescribing without therapeutic talk, in search of the quick fix. In 1987 ADHD was voted into existence by the American Psychiatric Association. Just ten years earlier they had removed homosexuality from its list of disorders. In that same year of 1987 half a million American children were diagnosed with ADHD. It 1996 it had risen to 5.2 million (10% of all schoolchildren in the States). The cure is Ritalin whose side-effects are nightmarish. The production and sales for this drug have skyrocketed. Good for psychiatry, bad for children. There is not one shred of medical evidence that ADHD is caused by any specific brain disease. Is anyone asking why are children having trouble paying attention at school? ADHD is one possible answer but there are others: no motivation, no discipline, diet, boredom, no meaning, indifferent parents etc. Szasz accused psychiatry of social control and scientism; Foucault the philosopher makes the same point. As Szasz puts it: ‘If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia’. ‘Mental illnesses’ are really problems in living, he contends. They are often ‘like a’ disease, which makes the medical metaphor understandable, but in no way validates it as an accurate description or explanation. Psychiatry is a pseudo-science that parodies medicine by using medical sounding words invented especially over the last 100 years. Drugs can’t cure the underlying issue, they simply contain it. Of course we need psychiatry but not to the extent that we have it. We also need practical philosophy, bibliotherapy, logotherapy, psychotherapy. These are all stripes on a tiger’s back – none of them is the tiger itself. Death is the only real cure. Finally, we need to say something about the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis, albeit briefly. Frankl, who personally knew Freud and respected him, builds on him. Frankl adds the height dimension to Freud’s depth dimension. Freud himself acknowledged, in a letter to Binswanger, that he was only working in the basement of the house of being but once the basement is built we can’t forget to roof it. Frankl says that the seat left vacated by Freud should be left permanently empty, that no one can measure up to him, that he, Frankl, is merely a dwarf standing on the shoulder of the giant. But it just so happens that the dwarf can see further than the giant himself. This respect for the Master didn’t stop Frankl from being critical of psychoanalysis which for him was too time consuming, expensive and didn’t deliver on therapeutic outcomes. He faults the Freudian assumption that shorter therapy does brings only short-term results. Analysis may bring awareness to the patient but it does little by way of adding the dimension of action. Logotherapy and existential analysis, by contrast, is analytic and therapeutic and contains within its clinical riches a repertoire of techniques that have proven to be efficacious. As someone who trained initially in psychoanalysis I have found the psychoanalytic practitioner’s condescending attitude towards other forms of intervention worrying to say the least. There are many theoretical problems with psychoanalysis as well not least Freud’s reductionism that can be witnessed in, for example, reducing conscience to the superego, God the Father to a sublimated father-image, love to sex etc. In reducing the higher dimensions of the psyche to the lower Freud commits a category mistake. (Jung, in contradistinction, elevated the lower into the higher thus committing subtle rather than gross reductionism; for example, if Freud pathologised religion, Jung psychologised it). Furthermore, Frankl would reject Freud’s bifurcation between consciousness and ‘the unconscious’ arguing instead that they form a psychic continuum. However, Frankl asserts that there is a dimensional barrier between instincts and spirit. In accepting that the unconscious is not only instinctual but also rational or spiritual, Frankl departs significantly from Freudian psychoanalysis. But analysis is not just psychoanalysis. One feature I want to briefly spend some time on by way of a final look at psychoanalysis is the Freudian assumption that the ‘cause’ must always be looked for. Throughout the corpus of his writings Freud assumes that psychoanalysis alone is curative with its emphasis on ‘causes of’ unlike therapy which is cosmetic by nature with its focus more on ‘reasons for’. This arrogant attitude is inherited by Freudians to this day and needs to be addressed head on.

C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychologist, obverted the usual scientific paradigm of cause and effect in his analytical psychology. Cause-and-effect refers to the philosophical concept of causality, in which an action or an event will produce or provoke a certain response to the action in the form of another event. Science usually proceeds by way of straightforward cause and effect. Jung hypothesised that there was an acausal connecting principle at work, which he termed ‘synchronicity’. Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner. So, some events may be grouped by cause, others by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not, analytical psychology avers, have an explanation in terms of cause and effect. Jung coined the term to describe ‘temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events’ or simply ‘meaningful coincidence’. Jung felt it proved the existence of the so-called archetypes of the collective unconscious. The Jungians believe that life does not consist in a series of random or chance events but rather are expressions of a deeper order and logic (the undus mundus). In analytical psychology, new age mysticism meets with astrology and contemporary movements in modern science. There have been many critiques offered by way of response to Jung from philosophers as diverse as Marin Buber, Viktor Frankl and Ken Wilber but let’s just focus on Freudian psychoanalysis and its relationship to existential analysis on this precise point.

In Freudian psychoanalysis the focus is regressive, returning to man’s childhood in order to uncover the supposed cause that created the neurotic symptom. In theology St. Thomas Aquinas argues that God is the first cause of the universe; He is the uncaused cause who caused all other things to be but He Himself is in need of no cause as He is a necessary Being rather than a contingent creature such as we are.

Psychoanalysis looks for causes of such and such (in the past) rather than reasons for such and such (in the present). Existential analysis, by contrast, focuses more on present existential reasons for behaviour than frequently imaginary past causes. Viktor Frankl has a threefold view of causality: biological (somatogenic), mental/psychological (psychogenic) and spiritual (noögenic). But logotherapy employs various therapeutic techniques that work efficiently and effectively without always necessarily identifying the underlying initial causes of neurotic behaviour. Knowing or discovering the cause of something is not essential in existential analytic and logotherapeutic practice. When a building is on fire, isn’t it better to put out the fire first then find out (if you wish to) what caused it (assuming there is one cause and/or that it is discoverable at all)? This philosophical position pits Frankl against Freud, with the latter feeling that the only way to remove the symptom is to understand the cause that produced it and raise that to consciousness. Who’s right? Or, better put, which perspective on this subject is the more compelling or convincing, rather than ‘correct’?

There are some illnesses that are only triggered by the mental not caused or even conditioned by the mental; an example would be psychosomatic illnesses. There is, moreover, a confusion between cause and effect; sometimes there is a reversal of relationships. In some cases it is not that the complexes and unconscious conflicts cause the illness or problem but rather that they are the effect of the problem in the present. When discussing the example of endogenous depression in his work, On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders, Frankl argues: ‘Now what is the case when a reef appears at low tide? No one will say that the reef is the cause of the low tide, but rather, through the ebbing tide it is merely exposed …. Thus it is valid to say: just as little as the reef is caused by the ebbing tide, is a psychosis caused by a psychological trauma, a complex or a conflict’.

We need to distinguish between causes (causing/causation) and triggering mechanisms (triggering). Psychotic illness (such as an endogenous depression) may be triggered by psychological complications or factors. Triggering, in a way, is a secondary cause, though not the only cause – more of a condition. To condition something doesn’t mean to effect or cause something. We philosophers distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions.  The primary cause is a sufficient condition, while triggering is not only not a sufficient condition but also not a necessary condition. It’s a possible condition.

Fear of heights is an example that will bring out the distinction between reason and cause. The fear here could be traced back to the fear or anxiety due to insufficiency of education or equipment (in these two cases there would be a ‘fear of heights’) or oxygen (an ‘illness of heights’). The former has a reason, the latter a cause. The one is something psychological, and the other something somatic. This distinction between psychological reasons and biological causes is brought out in two further examples from Frankl: an onion is no reason for crying, but it can be the cause of the secretion of tears. Conversely, tickling is no reason for laughing (joking would be a reason), but rather the cause that releases a laugh reflex.

During an ebb of joy in the life of a person, some psychic traumas become evident although these traumas need not be the cause for the missing joy of life. If we take all the three dimensions of human beings into account (body, mind and spirit), this suggests that there are many and direct connections that go beyond the simple cause and effect schema. When someone is unhappy and drinks some whiskey or takes some drugs he becomes less unhappy and the whiskey or drugs are the cause of it. However, the reason for being unhappy persists – it has not been eradicated. Similarly, smoking can cause lung cancer but that’s not the reason why people smoke. There may be a predisposition to addiction or peer pressure or whatever. Exploring reasons and basic motivations is as important as exposing causes of illness. Blows of fate have no cause but provide sufficient reasons for disturbed conditions of serious physical and psychic illness and suffering.

In a discussion in Plato Not Prozac the author, Lou Marinoff, who practices philosophical counselling,  argues that this cause and effect model is in fact a fallacy which philosophers call post hoc ergo propter hoc. This means because one event happened before another, the earlier caused the later one (endemic in Freudian thinking). Of course, in some cases this may be true. But it is not necessarily or always true. If you were hit as a child, to take one of Marinoff’s examples, and you have difficulties in controlling your temper, you can’t conclude that the one caused the other. Perhaps it did but it may well be irrelevant. Even if it were causal there may be other contributing factors. Marinoff asks: ‘Did your mother’s rages teach you to be explosive when you’re angry? Or was it your father’s coldness? Both? Neither?’

Casting back looking for causes in one’s past to explain current present problems is further problematic because there may be connections you can’t see. Plus, memory isn’t perfect. Moreover, what good would finding the causes of your current discomfort or distress do you? Marinoff again: ‘Knowing you have a cavity doesn’t stop your pain – getting it filled does’. Some people will feel better knowing the cause of their symptoms but that doesn’t mean the symptoms will disappear. Knowing the cause of one’s psychic pain and having no way to reduce it will make some people feel even worse. The problem with the psychological therapies is that they mimic the medical model and, as the psychologist Abraham Maslow, pointed out, if the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, a lot of things start looking like nails.

There are vast resources in the 2000 year history of philosophy (which isn’t even a school subject) especially in the Stoics and the Epicureans that can really help us how to live. Epicurus: ‘Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering’. Philosophy unlike psychiatry is liberating not limiting, creative not constrictive, and offers real insights not just information. Gerd Achenbach might have opened the first philosophy clinic in 1981 in Germany but practical philosophy is an ancient idea with roots in the divine Plato. It is perhaps the world’s second oldest profession whose time has come again! And with Dr Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy we have the best of philosophy, I would argue, with the best of therapy. As Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician-philosopher put it: illnesses arise from nature but their cure comes only from the spirit.

 

Logotherapy

The subtitle of Prof Viktor Frankl’s very first book, penned in a concentration camp, The Doctor and the Soul, is ‘From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy’, implying from the very outset that there is some difference between these two disciplines. Logotherapy is a therapy which starts from man’s spirit; it recognises and respects man’s psycho-physico-spiritual unity. Frankl labels it ‘a psychotherapy in spiritual terms’ (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 29). The aim of logotherapy initially was not to supplant but to supplement psychotherapy. Frankl tells us that psychoanalysis is its indispensable foundation (see The Will to Meaning, p. 10). However, over the years logotherapy developed into its own independent system, and few logotherapists are rooted in Freud and in existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Max Scheler, as Frankl was. Indeed, in 1984 at the first Argentine Congress on Logotherapy, according to Omar Lazarte, people present remember Frankl saying that he supported himself on two pillars (see Lazarte, ‘Reflections on Viktor E. Frankl’s Anthropology’, Existential Psychotherapy of Meaning, 2009, p. 181) – Freud and Heidegger.

Frankl delineates the differences between logotherapy and psychotherapy thus: ‘Psychotherapy endeavours to bring instinctual facts to consciousness. Logotherapy, on the other hand, seeks to bring to awareness the spiritual realities (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 43). Logotherapy indeed is specifically designed to help and ‘handle those suffering over the philosophical problems with which life confronts human beings’ (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 46). Logotherapy, unlike, nearly all of the psychotherapies, with the exception of psychosynthesis, takes explicit account of the spiritual sphere which Frankl calls the noetic or noölogical.

Unity of course does not designate wholeness which involves the integration of somatic, psychic and the spiritual aspects of the human person. ‘Without the spiritual as its essential ground, this wholeness cannot exist’ (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 34). The spiritual self emerges from unconscious depths.

Logotherapy is the clinical application of Frankl’s existential analytic approach. Already in 1926 logotherapy ‘had extended beyond the scope of psychotherapy beyond the psyche, beyond the psychological dimension to include the noölogical dimension, or the logos’ (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 67). So Franklian psychology, in its clinical praxis, is both a therapy and an analysis; it is a logo- not a psycho-therapy just as it is an existential analysis rather than psycho-analysis. Franklian existential analysis differs quite radically from the existential analysis of Boss and Binswanger, Caruso and May, in that it draws in its philosophical dimensions more from Max Scheler’s phenomenology and philosophical anthropology, as evidenced especially in logotherapy’s tri-dimensional ontology, rather than in the Heideggerianism of the other schools of continental existential analysis.

So let us be clear: logotherapy is not a psychotherapy; it is a noetic therapy. It is a noölogy rather than a psychology and is best considered, I would argue, as a philosophical form of praxis. Didn’t the great Eric Voegelin, that Platonic scholar par excellence, not tell us that Frankl, in modern times, was revitalising the older Platonic tradition of philosophy as a therapeia with his ‘Socratic dialogue’? (see Eric Voegelin, 1990, Published Essays 1966-1985, pp. 278-9). Many commentators place logotherapy within the humanistic and integrative school but logotherapy is existential, personalist and, with its explicit reference to transcendence, it may also be construed as a trans-personal theory and therapy.

Peter Sarkany’s seminal paper, ‘Outlines of Viktor Emil Frankl’s Religious Philosophy’ is instructive in this regard and my analysis agrees in the main with his. In it Sarkany argues that logotherapy and existential analysis is rooted in the philosophical dimension and that its theory of personality is transpersonal (Sarkany, p. 168). In another article, ‘An Outline of the Philosophical Care of the Soul: Phenomenology, Existential-Analytic Logotherapy and Philosophical Counselling’, Sarkany outlines the case made superbly by Pierre Hadot in his Philosophy as a Way of Life that logotherapy be considered as a philosophical therapy which has as its principal aim the cure or ‘care of the soul’, as Frankl puts it. This Platonic concern for ‘care of the self or soul’ ruptures in the Middle Ages and in Modernity but is alive and well in the twentieth-century in the work of Wittgenstein, Jan Patocka, Jaeger, Foucault, Hadot and others. Logotherapy has much in common with this older philosophical tradition which views philosophy not only as a noetic therapy but also as a practical system of spiritual exercises which were developed by the Stoics and others and which find their way into logotherapy as dereflection, Socratic dialogue and attitude modification.

The new movement of ‘philosophical counselling’ which started in 1981 by Gerd Achenbach in Cologne and which continues to be practised by others such as Lou Marinoff, are heirs to this tradition too. Logotherapy returns us to the therapeutic tradition of classical Greek philosophy. Care of the soul is practised primarily, though not exclusively, through Socratic dialogue. Logotherapy and existential analysis is a kind of philosophical ministry. Sarkany observes: ‘logotherapy can be perceived and practised as a kind of philosophical counselling’ (Sarkany, p. 132). It is Frankl who has realised with his logotherapy the ancient dreams of healing by reason and has fulfilled their therapeutic ambitions. However, logotherapy goes beyond philosophical counselling in that Frankl has also developed and incorporated into his practice a psychiatric classification of the neuroses and psychoses, as evinced in his On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. More than anything, though, logotherapy is a practical philosophy, a way of living meaningfully and mindfully.

There is another thinker who argues similarly and that is Reinhard Zaiser and I would like to draw briefly on his paper, ‘Working on the noetic dimension of man: philosophical practice, logotherapy and existential analysis’, where he asserts that we can discover the ancient spiritual exercises in contemporary logotherapy and he makes the point that most philosophical practitioners are actually doing logotherapy.

He begins by stating that philosophical practice and logotherapy have a lot in common in that both are working with similar methods on the noetic dimension of man. Zaiser calls Frankl ‘a pioneer of philosophical practice’ (Zaiser, p. 83). Zaiser writes: ‘In principle, the spiritual exercises by the ancient philosophers are nothing more than the methods of logotherapy: Socratic dialogue, modification of attitudes, paradoxical intention, dereflextion, existential analysis of dreams, and mystagogy’ (Zaiser, p. 83). Zaiser also reads Lady Philosophy in Boethius’ description of her in his The Consolation of Philosophy as a logotherapist. So now we discuss Boethius and his famous best-selling book.

 

Boethius

Boethius was a prominent 6th century philosopher, public figure and exceptional Greek scholar under the Gothic emperor Theodoric. Born in Rome, he was a member of an ancient and aristocratic family who fell from favour and was imprisoned in Pavia. His father had attained to the consulship, as would Boethius’ two sons. His family exerted huge influence. He married Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, Prefect of Rome and Head of the Senate. Boethius himself was a senator by the age of 25 but was imprisoned by King Theodoric the Great who thought he was conspiring with the Eastern Roman Empire. He was executed in 524.

While waiting for his brutal execution, he penned The Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, happiness and attitude. It is a dialogue of alternating prose and poetry (39 poems to be exact) between the ailing prisoner and his ‘nurse’ Philosophy, whose instruction in the nature of fortune and happiness bring him to health and enlightenment. From time to time it reads like a logotherapeutic session. He regarded the hour of his greatest happiness as being when he was in prison and he heard that his two sons were appointed consuls together. But though actively engaged in politics, Boethius considered philosophy to be his summum vitae solamen. He was also a Christian who wrote a number of treatises and tracts in theology and may be seen as a forerunner of the scholastics.

 

The Consolation of Philosophy

The Consolation of Philosophy is, as the title says, a type of consolation – a moral meditation and medication. The book talks a lot about illness, remedy and cure. It was a hugely popular work in mediaeval Europe and Boethius’ ideas suffuse the thought of both Chaucer and Dante, with Dante setting Boethius among the twelve lights in the heaven of the Sun. Dante tells us that the words of Boethius provided him with his greatest consolation after the death of Beatrice. The Consolation of Philosophy combines poetic intensity with brilliant philosophical insight in a light and lyrical manner. While drawing on medical metaphor it is primarily a meditation and moral medication that is being offered by Boethius’ therapist, as he is bid to reconsider his conception of happiness.

Boethius stands at the crossroads of the Classical and Mediaeval worlds. The title of his work says it all – it is less about argument than it is about the consolation that philosophy can bring generally and in the face of death particularly. Boethius’ book restores and celebrates a Platonic tradition of dialoguing – it is somewhat akin to Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, which similarly discusses Socrates’ final hours before his own execution by hemlock in 399. Boethius’ book tells of Philosophy, personified throughout, as descending to Boethius from on high and leading him by various paths to God Himself. The schema is Platonic and mirrors Plato’s description in Book VII of the Republic of the soul’s ascent in the famous allegory of the Cave – from seeing shadows to seeing the sun as a metaphor for the Form of the Good. We may also compare the book to Sir Thomas Moore’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, which was also written in prison and under the threat of execution. Boethius’ bitter experiences led him, in the work we are here considering, into a re-description and re-examination of the nature of happiness. In its conversational commentary and tone it is akin to the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Augustine. It is a philosophical rather than theological consolation, so there is no talk of the Trinity or Paradise or the Incarnation etc. He draws a distinction between faith and reason. The Boethian doctrine of salvation is the ascent of the individual by means of philosophical introspection to the knowledge of God; it is close to Neoplatonic philosophy and post-Augustinian Christianity.

The method of Boethius’ execution varies in the sources; he was perhaps killed with an axe or a sword, or blugeoned to death. According to another version a rope was attached round his head and tightened till his eyes bulged out, then his skull was cracked.

Boethius is recognized as a martyr for the Catholic faith by the Roman Martyrology, his feast day being October 23rd. He was declared a saint by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1883, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained the relevance of Boethius to contemporary Catholics by linking his teachings to an understanding of divine Providence.

Turning now to the text itself. We see Boethius in a state of much distress and deep despair – from happy youth to hapless age. As the first poem opens: ‘Foolish the friends who called me happy then/Whose fall shows how my foothold was unsure’ (Boethius, 1969, p. 35). As Boethius is giving vent to his sorrow and anger, he becomes aware of a woman standing over him, with an awe-inspiring appearance and burning eyes. On the bottom of her gown there is embroidered two Greek letters: Pi and Theta, which correspond to the two kinds of philosophy, practical (Pi) and contemplative (Theta). Pi is praxis; theta is theory (teoria). The former includes moral philosophy and ethics, the latter metaphysics, theology and physics. Philosophy is defined, so, as both theory and practice on her gown. This nurse who comforts the imprisoned Boethius can be considered, as my logotherapy colleague and theologian Reinhard Zaiser has pointed out, as I said, the first female logotherapist and existential analyst, helping her noetically depressed patient change his attitude toward his suffering and thus his life. Boethius is describing and drawing on the ancient philosophical practice of Platonic therapeia.

Lady Logotherapist consoles Boethius by discussing the transitory nature of fame and wealth (“no man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune”), and the ultimate superiority of things of the mind, which she calls the “one true good” and which Frankl labels the noetic core of the spiritual person. She contends that happiness comes from within, and that one’s virtue is all that one truly has, because it is not imperilled by the vicissitudes of fortune, what Frankl calls ‘the blows of fate’. In The Consolation, Boethius answered religious questions without reference to Christianity, relying solely on natural philosophy and the Classical Greek tradition. He believed in the correspondence between faith and reason. The truths found in Christianity would be no different from the truths found in philosophy. It is, thus, a work written by a Platonist who happens also to be a Christian: it is not a Christian work. The philosophical message of the book fits in rather well with the religious piety of the Middle Ages. Readers were encouraged not to seek worldly goods such as money and power, but to seek internalised virtues instead. For Frankl, the very pursuit of these material things is that which thwarts their attainment. Evil had a purpose, to provide a lesson to help change for good. Because God ruled the universe through Love, prayer to God and the application of Love would lead to true happiness. The book is heavily influenced by Plato and his dialogues. Found within The Consolation are themes that have echoed throughout the Western canon: the female figure of wisdom that informs Dante (a kind of archetype of the Wise Old Woman), the ascent through the layered universe that is shared with Milton, the reconciliation of opposing forces that find their way into Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, and the Wheel of Fortune so popular and prevalent throughout the Middle Ages. It is a fusion of allegorical tale, Platonic dialogue, and lyrical poetry.

Lady Philosophy, as Logotherapist, tells her patient that it is a time for healing not lamenting. When he turns to look at his physician (the piece is replete with medical metaphors) he discovers it was his nurse in whose house he has been cared for since childhood – Philosophy. He gains some consolation from knowing that many illustrious philosophers suffered similar fates: Anaxagoras was banished from Athens, Zeno was tortured, while Socrates was put to death. While Boethius displays his grief, Philosophy remains unperturbed, stoic like in silence, and says that Boethius is full of grief and alternating between fits of rage, wrath, anguish and disturbing passions and so in need of a cure. The cause of his illness is that he has forgotten his true nature and Philosophy, as analyst, attempts to restore his health so that treacherous passions become dispelled in the resplendent light of truth. He is told to banish grief as his mind is clouded and bound in chains. Frankl would similarly suggest we need to move from reacting to responding. At the level of the instincts we are driven, but at the level of spirit we are drawn. We are pushed by the past but pulled by the future. Through free choice and responsibility we are ultimately deciding beings, suffering and acting persons. Lady Logotherapist tells him she prefers ‘gentler medicines’ (p. 49) but no less potent. She tells him that in ‘discovering his state of mind’ she can cure him (see p. 50). She bids him let go of his emotional distractions and concentrate on the meaning of the moment and the ‘purpose of things’ (p. 51) in true logotherapeutic fashion. The best hope of restoring her patient to health is to help him attune his life to the divine Logos and order his life to the mysterious meaning of his present suffering. ‘In dark clouds/Hidden/The stars can shed/No light’. The mind is clouded where grief holds sway.

In Book II (there are five in all), Lady Philosophy who, we are told, falls silent for a while like an analyst to let her patient speak, says that she has discovered and diagnosed the nature of his condition – that he has been pining for his former good fortune and this has catapulted him into the slough of despondency. She puts some maieutic questions to Boethius: what type of happiness is it which is destined to pass away? Philosophy reveals that change and inconstancy is Fortune’s normal behaviour and that Fortune has lured and enticed him with a false happiness that is ephemeral. Just as a farmer entrusts his seed to the fields, he balances the bad years against the good and so should he have done. Things change quickly on the wheel of chance and in one short hour one can see ‘happiness from utter desolation grows’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 56). Wealth, honours, fame and power are all under Fortune’s jurisdiction. In life there are both fruit and flowers, cloud and cold – inconstancy is Fortune’s very essence and sometimes ‘the overthrow of happy realms’ is carried out ‘by the random strokes of Fortune’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 58) and the mind of man is plummeted in a ‘deep seated melancholy’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 59). Philosophy says that this is not a cure for Boethius’ condition but an application to help soothe his grief and console his heart. Philosophy reminds him of how fortunate he has been in so many ways, having enjoyed the blessings of a wife and two consular sons etc. Lady Logotherapist bids him ‘not dwell on it’ (ibid.). It is sound therapeutic advice summed up unwittingly by Queen Elizabeth when she visited Ireland: bow to the past but don’t be bound by it. If we can’t change our situation, Frankl for his part tells us, we are challenged to change ourselves. Boethius is suffering because of his ‘misguided belief’ (p. 61) and it is his beliefs or attitudes that Lady Logotherapist is seeking to changing in Boethius’ existential analytic session. She admonishes him gently thus:

 

‘You are a happy man, then, if you know where your true happiness lies, since when the chief concern of mortal men is to keep their hold on life, you even now possess blessings which no one can doubt are more precious than life itself. So dry your tears. Fortune has not yet turned her hatred against all your blessings’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 62).

 

Philosophy continues:

 

‘But I can’t put up with your dilly-dallying and the dramatization of your care-worn grief-stricken complaints that something is lacking from your happiness. No man is so completely happy that something somewhere does not clash with his condition. It is the nature of human affairs to be fraught with anxiety…. Some men are blessed with both wealth and noble birth, but are unhappy because they have no wife. Some are happily married but without children … Some again have been blessed with children only to weep over their misdeeds. No one finds it easy to accept the lot Fortune has sent them…. Remember, too, that all the most happy men are over-sensitive. They have never experienced adversity and so unless everything obeys their slightest whim they are prostrated by every minor upset, so trifling are the things that can detract from the complete happiness of a man at the summit of fortune…. No one is so happy that he would not want to change his lot if he gives in to impatience. Such is the bitter-sweetness of human happiness…. It is evident, therefore, how miserable the happiness of human life is; it does not remain long with those who are patient, and doesn’t satisfy those who are troubled’ (Boethius, ibid., pp. 62-63).

 

Philosophy reveals the secret of happiness: that it lies within. She observes:

 

‘Why then do you mortal men seek after happiness outside yourselves, when it lies within you? …. I will briefly show you what complete happiness hinges upon. If I ask you whether there is anything more precious to you than your own self, you will say no. So if you are not in possession of yourself you will possess something you would never wish to lose and something Fortune could never take away. In order to see that happiness can’t consist in things goverend by chance, look at it this way. If happiness is the highest good of rational nature and everything that can be taken away is not the highest good – since it is surpassed by what can’t be taken away – Fortune by her very mutability can’t hope to lead to happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 63).

 

Such a happiness, based on chance and which comes to an end at death, is unreliable as Fortune changes all the time. This is a false happiness but Philosophy says to Boethius she knows he is convinced that the human mind cannot die and so others have sought happiness actually through death and even suffering (actualising attitudinal values in relation to part of Frankl calls ‘the tragic triad’ of human existence). She proclaims: ‘It seems that the happiness which cannot make men unhappy by its cessation, cannot either make them happy by its presence’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 64). Ultimately it is fear that prevents us from being happy. Frankl would ask us this: rather than fighting or fleeing from fear, what would happen if we actually and actively wished to have happen the things we feared most, as desire cancels out fear. He found with this logotherapeutic technique he could cure lots of people suffering from various anxieties and phobias. He called it ‘paradoxical intention’.

Philosophy then proceeds to show up how barren and poor riches really are: from precious stones to the beauty of the countryside, the sea, the sun, the stars and sky and moon, flowers and fine clothes etc., none of which belong to man. Life is full of plenty as well as poverty, pearls as well as perils. And he who has much, wants much. Philosophy poetically exclaims: ‘O happy was that long lost age/ Content with nature’s faithful fruits’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 68).

Like riches, power, fame and high office, Fortune is not worth pursuing either and is of no intrinsic good or value. However long a life of fame and fortune is, ‘when compared with unending eternity it is shown to be not just little, but nothing at all’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 74). A philosopher (someone who deserves the title) practises virtue and seeks out heaven in freedom and despises earthly affairs. Fortune may seem to bring happiness but deceives man with her smiles. As Fortune is capricious, wayward and inconstant so also is human happiness – ‘how fragile a thing happiness is’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 76). Frankl stresses that it is meaning we should seek rather than the pursuit of happiness which leads more often than not to ego-absorption rather than self-transcendence. Boethius is encouraged to attend to the beauty of the countryside in his mind’s eye – to look upon the sea, the stars, the sky, the sun (Frankl does likewise) and practice virtue and ethical values as he prepares to leave the existential vacuum.

‘The world in constant change

Maintains a harmony,

And elements keep peace

Whose nature is to clash’.

 

Here he is told to get in touch with the profound unity of his being, which is the integration of psyche and soma but more: to unify also the noetic part of his personality structure. This will produce the harmony and wholeness for which he is unconsciously seeking and lead to ultimate health. ‘The centre must hold’ as Iris Murdoch tells us, perhaps by way of response to Yeats’ ‘things fall apart, the Centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’.

 

Book II ends with Philosophy crying:

‘Love promulgates the laws

For friendship’s faithful bond.

O happy race of men

If Love who rules the sky

Could rule your hearts as well!’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 77).

 

Book III begins by Philosophy telling Boethius that she is trying to bring him to his true destination, which is true happiness. She criticises him thus: ‘Your mind dreams of it … but your sight is clouded by shadows of happiness and [you] cannot see reality’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 78). Boethius begs her to show him the nature of true happiness, which Philosophy promises to do. She tells him that ‘all are striving to reach one and the same goal, namely, happiness, which is a good which once obtained leaves nothing more to be desired. It is the perfection of all good things and contains in itself all that is good’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 79). And, like Frankl, she asserts that perfect good does not, as some suppose, reside in wealth or respect, in fame, enjoyment, in power, position, popularity (whose ‘acquisition is fortuitous and its retention continuously uncertain’) (Boethius, ibid., p. 89) or pleasure. All men desire happiness and are looking for it in all these pursuits but they will not find it in these, though some people through the possession of these, snatch at a false appearance of happiness. But nothing satisfies greed – it is insatiable and once dead ‘his fickle fortunes him forsake’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 84). Philosophy says of the pursuit of bodily pleasures that it is ‘full of anxiety and its fulfilment full of remorse’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 90) and if bodily pleasure can produce happiness, why then the animals are very happy because their whole life is directed to the fulfilment of their bodily needs and requirements. All these paths to happiness are side-tracks. The distinction between pleasure and happiness here accords with the logotherapeutic perspective in that Frankl views pleasure as somatic and happiness as psychical. Joy as spiritual happiness would be noetic (see my book The Ethics of Happiness, for a fuller treatment of the subject).

If you want to hoard money you have to take it by force; if you want high office you will have to grovel to those who bestow it; if you want to outdo others in honour you will have to humiliate yourself by begging; if you want power you will have to expose yourself to risks and plots; if you want fame you will find yourself on a hard road and worn with care; if you decide to lead a life of pleasure some others will pour scorn on you and see you as a slave of the body. All these things are puny as is man himself when compared to an elephant in size, a bull in strength, a tiger in speed. ‘Look up at the vault of heaven … and stop admiring things that are worthless’ (Boethius, ibid.). Beauty is ephemeral too. The point here is that the mind should concentrate more on the eternal than the evanescent.

 

‘The sleek looks of beauty are fleeting and transitory, more ephemeral than the blossom in spring. If, as Aristotle said, we had the piercing eyesight of the mythical Lynceus [one of the Argonauts who could see in the dark and discover hidden treasure] and could see right through things, even the body of an Alcibiades [an Athenian military leader of the fifth century, whom we will encounter later on; he was famous for his wealth and beauty and notorious of the use he made of them, as the footnote tells us], so fair on the surface, would look thoroughly ugly once we had seen the bowels inside’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 92).

 

These things ‘are not the way to happiness and cannot by themselves make people happy’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 93).

The supreme good is happiness but it is not, as Eudoxus or Epicurus believed, to be found in pleasure. Man is a drunkard who cannot find his way home. Happiness is, rather, a state of self-sufficiency with no wants. True ‘and perfect happiness is that which makes a man self-sufficient, strong, worthy of respect, glorious and joyful’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 96). Nothing in the mortal state of things can furnish such a state of complete happiness – they are only shadows of the truly good. Only an imperfect happiness exists in perishable goods, which means ‘that there can be no doubt that a true and perfect happiness exists’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 99). God is filled with supreme and perfect goodness. And the perfect good is true happiness, so it follows that true happiness is to be found in God. This is Philosophy’s conclusion. ‘God is the essence of happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 101). And ‘supreme happiness is identical with supreme divinity’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 102), a position Aquinas will adopt. Through the possession of happiness people become happy and since happiness is divinity it is through the possession of divinity that a person becomes happy. ‘Each happy individual is therefore divine’ (ibid.). Heaven is man’s true homeland and ‘God is happiness itself’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 110). Boethius’ tragic melody and tearful melancholy is over and he addresses Philosophy thus: ‘The conclusion of this highest of arguments has made me very happy, and I am even more happy because of the words you used. I am now ashamed of the stupidity of all my railing’ (Boethius, ibid., pp. 111-12). This is the ultimate attitudinal adjustment.

But in Book IV, Boethius admits that the greatest cause of his sadness is the realisation that evil exists and the wicked go unpunished and virtue unrewarded. Philosophy, as logotherapist, answers thus: all men desire the good, and happiness is the good itself and both good and bad men strive to reach the good and men become good by acquiring goodness so they obtain what they are looking for. But if the wicked obtained what they want – that is goodness – they could not be wicked. Both groups want it but only one attains it so it demonstrates the power of the good and the weakness of the bad.  They desire good through the things that give them pleasure but they don’t obtain it, ‘because evil things cannot reach happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 123). Philosophy says simply: ‘Goodness is happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 124) and the punishment of the wicked is their very wickedness. Someone who ‘robs with violence and burns with greed’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 125) is like a wolf; someone who is wild and restless and is forever engaged with lawsuits is like a dog yapping; the person who lies in ambush in order to steal is like a fox; the person of quick temper is like a lion; the timid coward is like a hind; the lazy person is like an ass; the fickle person is like a bird with ever-changing interests; the person wallowing in impure lusts and filth is like a sow. ‘So what happens is that when a man abandons goodness and ceases to be human, being unable to rise to a divine condition, he sinks to the level of being an animal’ (Boethius, ibid.).

So the good are happy while the bad are unhappy and they are more unhappy, according to Philosophy, if they go unpunished. When the wicked receive their punishment they receive something good since the punishment itself is good because of its justice. ‘So the wicked are much more unhappy when they are unjustly allowed to go scot free, than when a just punishment is imposed on them’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 129). Punishment must alternate between a penal severity and a purifying mercy. The wicked are used to the dark and haven’t yet come into the light. Further, Philosophy opines that those who commit an injustice are more unahppy than those who suffer it. Plato had said that it was better to suffer injustice than to do it. The guilt of the wicked could be cut back by punishment ‘like a malignant growth’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 131) and wickedness is compared to ‘a disease of the mind’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 132). Health means goodness and wickedness sickness (a Platonic motif).

Philosophy, (and Boethius too), brings this dialogue to an end by saying that evil is necessary for some good. We think of the sufferings of Job. Philosophy/Logotherapy addresses Boethius thus: ‘Providence stings some people to avoid giving them happiness for too long, and others she allows to be vexed by hard fortune to strengthen their virtues of mind by the use and exercise of patience’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 139).

The Consolation of Philosophy concludes with these words of Lady Logotherapy’s: ‘Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 169). The logotherapeutic session has ended with words of hope and meaning that motivate and strengthen Boethius’ inner resolve and noetic resilience and helps him face his fate without flinching. As Frankl remarks in his Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips’.

 

Thank you.

 

 

Saturday with Socrates: Philosophy, Therapy and Mental Wellbeing – Stephen J. Costello, Ph.D.

Philosophy as Therapy: A Logotherapeutic Reading of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy.

May 4th, 2013, United Arts Club

 

Three Words in the Title

There are three signifiers we must first consider in the title of this conference: ‘philosophy’, ‘therapy’ and ‘wellbeing’. A philosopher, such as I am, always begins by defining his terms so we can continue with the conversation. Philosophy (philos sophia) is literally translated as the ‘love of wisdom’. When I was a student in UCD’s Philosophy Department I recall this definition being given: ‘Philosophy is the search or the quest through reflection on experience for a fundamental or ultimate understanding of all of reality and especially of man’. Philosophy ponders on the perennial questions of human existence through rational reflection rather than revelatory faith, thus distinguishing it from theology, questions such as: Does God exist, what is art, how can we know, how should we act – issues of importance in ethics, epistemology, ontology and aesthetics, to name but a few. Philosophy is critical and systematic. The philosophy of an individual refers to his basic beliefs or attitudes. There are some basic attitudes required in order to think. Examples of attitudes that some philosophers recommend include:

1 – Astonishment (Kierkegaard): unless one is astonished, for example about the difference of ideas on a same subject, one does not think. The poet and the philosopher, Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us, have this in common: they are moved by the mystery to marvel at being.

2 – Ignorance (Socrates/Plato): Unless one is conscious of one’s own ignorance, one’s lack, one does not think and cannot hear any new idea. 

3 – Suspension of judgment (Descartes): Unless one puts aside momentarily one’s own opinions and axiology, one will have a hard time reading or listening, and understanding a new or foreign theory.

4 – Authenticity (Sartre): Unless one dare say what he has to say, because he worries about other’s opinion or his own conscience, he cannot know what he thinks and is caught up in bad faith (mauvaise foi).    

5 – Sympathy (Edith Stein): If one does not trust others to a minimum degree and have sympathy with the human situation, one cannot hear their differences and objections and therefore cannot self-correct.

6 – Criticism (Hegel): Unless one is questioning or criticising one’s own ideas or other’s ideas (the work of “negativity”) one is indulging in mere opinion (doxa). 

7 – Autonomy (Kant): Unless one dares to know and think by oneself, one maintains oneself in a state of infantilism.

From its founding by Protagoras and Plato philosophy always opposed itself to sophistry as philosophy was interested in sophia and not just in rhetoric. The philosopher is not a saint or a sage; he is a lover of sophia and aletheia, of wisdom and truth. He is a peripatetic or traveller in the land of Being, wondering why there is something and not nothing. To this extent the philosopher’s fundamental attitude is that of wonder. To quote Plato: ‘To wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Indeed philosophy has no other origin’. Aristotle adds: ‘It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophise’. Viktor Frankl defined his logotherapy as a meaning-centred spiritual therapy or intervention that worked on attitudinal adjustment: this is philosophy as therapy or philosophical therapy.

So now we come to the second signifier: therapy. Therapy literally means ‘curing’ or ‘healing’. It is the attempted remediation of a health problem, hence the phrase ‘mental health’, which first comes from Plato. Indeed Plato viewed philosophy as a form of therapy. This practical understanding of philosophy as therapeia can be seen particularly in the stoics and has resurfaced in modern times with the work of Wittgenstein and Viktor Frankl to name but two. Psychotherapy addresses psychological problems, aiming to augment the client’s experiences of wellbeing. In ancient Greek psyche meant ‘soul’ so it is primarily a talking treatment involving one’s soul but psychology (literally a logos of the psyche) has long since abandoned its proper subject matter, as it seems to be more interested in statistics than in soul, more interested in the laboratory than the oratory. Psychotherapy has also lost its own soul because, in the main, psychotherapy brings to consciousness or mind instinctual factors whereas logotherapy deals with one’s spiritual aspirations not just one’s psychological aspects. Man is more than psyche, Frankl tells us; man is spirit. So one aim of logotherapy is to rid psychotherapy and psychology of their psychologism. Yes, man is more than psyche but he is also less. Man is soma (body), psyche (mind or soul) but also noös (spirit); this is his tri-dimensional ontology (philosophical anthropology). We are called, in Platonic fashion, to integrate these dimensions of our being. The aim: to achieve wellbeing.

This brings us to the third signifier: well-being refers to a positive condition or subjective state of contentment, to a sense of serenity or happiness (eudaimonia) even. Martin Seligman, the founder of so-called ‘Positive Psychology’ lists the ingredients of wellbeing in his book Flourish thus: a) positive emotion (of which happiness and life satisfaction are all aspects), b) engagement, c) relationships, d) meaning, and e) achievement. He offers exercises to enhance flourishing and to create and maintain positive mental attitude. But it was Plato, as I said, who first explicated the idea of mental health in his book The Republic, so let’s now turn to him briefly.

 

Plato on Mental Health

The primary model of mental health in the West was proffered by Plato who founded psychology. Plato, whom Freud calls ‘divine’, in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, divides the soul (self) into three parts, which will echo centuries later with Freud’s conscious, preconscious and unconscious map of the mind in his first topographical model and in his id, ego, superego in his second, as well as with Frankl’s existential philosophy which construes man as body, mind and spirit. Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis (remembrance) is a forerunner of the unconscious. Plato stresses the spiritual dimension of the person which Frankl labels the noölogical, where health resides. Harmony, for Plato as for Frankl, consists in the integration and unity of the disparate parts of the human personality, with all three elements performing their proper function (ergon). Justice is defined by Plato as inner harmony in Book Five of The Republic. It is man’s real concern and not to do with outward actions but rather with inner events and interests. He likens such self-mastery to a musical score with all three notes on a scale (high, middle and low) being in tune. So too with man: when he orders his soul to the Good (Agathon), to meaning, then the elements of his being will be in concord and unison, ‘fully one instead of many’, as Plato puts it (Plato, p. 221), a unitas multiplex as Frankl calls us following Thomas, a unity in muliplicity and diversity. Disorder is inner strife, an internal civil war (see Plato ibid.). Justice, by contrast, is health, happiness and harmony, in other words, order. As Plato puts it: such excellence (arête) ‘is a kind of mental health’ (p. 222), as we engage in an anamnetic quest for the origins and end of our being, from shadows in the Cave to sunlight exemplified by the Good, and occasioned by the opening of the soul to the divine ground of being Itself, which Frankl calls ‘ultimate meaning’, which is beyond the complete comprehension of mortal man. Mental health, so, would be the absence of a mental disorder, a kind of psycho-spiritual resilience. It is a pity that Plato’s model of mental health and Frankl’s development of it is not taught to our mental health professionals, who have no knowledge of this ancient philosophical pedigree and precursor to modern psychiatric practice. Frankl retrieves and renews this ancient Platonic philosophical tradition with the redeployment of Socratic dialogue in his logotherapy or ‘healing through reason’ but reason understood not in a narrow way as logic or calculation but as openness to perceive and receive reality. Logos is deeper than logic.

 

Philosophy as Therapy

Epicurus: ‘As for diseases of the mind, against them Philosophy is provided of remedies, being, in that respect, justly accounted the medicine of the mind’. Philosophical practice is more about dialogue than diagnosis, and empathy than expertise. Practical philosophy can be employed in client counselling, group facilitation and organisational consulting – from crèches to cruise lines, from primary schools to prisons, from retirement homes to rehabilitation and remedial clinics. Philosophy offers clarification and consolation with its focus on getting to the essence of things, the nub of the matter, calmly. Its aim, as Wittgenstein tells us, is to produce thoughts that are at peace. It opposes itself or rather offers itself as an alternative to both psychiatry and psychological therapy because it is not just about solving problems or offering solutions than it is about creating the conditions for flourishing. The psychotherapist, unlike the psychiatrist, will at least have undergone years of personal therapy himself before he practises but he or she invariably lacks the philosophical formation that comes from serious and systematic scholarly study of the insights and ideas of the great philosophers, for example, Plato and Pascal, Socrates and Seneca, Epictetus and Emerson, Descartes and Dennett, Hegel and Heidegger, Spinoza and Sartre. How many here know that Spinoza, the 17th century rationalist has given a detailed taxonomy of the emotions in his Ethics or know that Kierkegaard gave the world the first classification of anxiety before the DSM in his The Concept of Dread or know that Heidegger brilliantly analyses the mood of boredom in his existentialist thought? None of this is taught either in psychology or psychotherapy. I recall meeting a therapist on a flight of stairs as we both prepared to go into our consulting rooms and asked her what type of therapist she was, to which she replied ‘a person-centred one’. I thought every therapist was a person-centred one! I asked her what was her philosophy of the person? She looked blankly then angrily at me and turned on her heel! But doesn’t every psychotherapeutic practice presuppose a philosophical anthropology? In academic departments of what goes by the name of psychology, Shakespeare isn’t taught despite Freud exclaiming that all of psychoanalysis is but a reflection on the plays of the great British bard. And what of Dostoevsky and Nietzsche – the greatest psychologists of morals of modern times? Philosophers, with their intimate knowledge of the history of ideas stretching back for more than 2,000 years as distinct from psychology’s one hundred, are placed as perhaps few others are to offer a hearing and space to those who seek it out to help suffering and acting persons with matters of living and dying.

            All this is not to say there are no problems with philosophical counselling in that one might say that they in turn should pay some attention to a nosology of mental illness and be up to date with psychological studies. It seems to me that Viktor Frankl, that great philosophical therapist, who was both philosopher and psychiatrist, offers a way with his logotherapy and existential analysis that draws on the best of all these disciplines without making a category mistake and collapsing into reductionism. 

            Existential analysis concerns itself with the givens of human existence:  freedom, responsibility, death, happiness, meaning and meaninglessness. It emphasises the four dimensions of human existence: the physiological, the psychological, the personal/spiritual and the social, in order to give a fuller picture of the person. Existential psychiatrists such as Medard Boss, Ludwig Binswanger, Igor Caruso, Rollo May and Viktor Frankl look to the philosophers for their inspiration and insights into the human condition. Boss, in his Daseinsanalysis, combined Freud with Heidegger. May drew on Kierkegaard. Binswanger was influenced by Martin Buber. R. D. Laing studied Sartre and Viktor Frankl was indebted to Max Scheler but who in their trainings in therapy bother to read the primary sources?

            Epictetus tells us that the philosopher’s school is a clinic. To be a philosopher does not involve having subtle or sophisticated thoughts but adopting a way of life. Pierre Hadot’s seminal work, Philosophy as a Way of Life is exemplary in the way it shows that ancient philosophy was the site of spiritual exercises as well as a therapeutics of the passions. For example, the spiritual exercises in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are practised, asserts Hadot, according to a method as rigorous as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The philosophy that is being offered to us acts on our spirit little by little like a medical treatment. So philosophy was understood as a living praxis, whose aim was to form more than to inform, to transform. Socratic dialogues in particular were intended as spiritual exercises whereby we give attention to ourselves – the famous adage being ‘know thyself’. Philosophy was intellectual, practical and spiritual – the ancient consolation. For example, the premeditation on future evils that may occur and the need to keep present in one’s mind and memory edifying examples that epic and history entrust to us. Philosophy had a tripartite structure: physics whose object is God as cause of being, logic which has God as norm of thought and ethics which has God as rule of life. This becomes in Augustine the Trinity of the Father, as principle of being, the Son as intellect and the Spirit as love. The unity of the three parts of philosophy reflects the reciprocal intensity of the divine Persons. Christianity was seen to be the philosophy, but a philosophy of lived praxis. Just as a carpenter doesn’t say ‘listen to my discourse about carpentry’ but builds a house, so too was philosophy to be practised. As Epicurus said: ‘Our only occupation should be the cure of ourselves’. Philosophy consisted of concrete exercises rather than a conceptual edifice. The philosopher was a philosopher because of his existential attitude, and for his practise of meditation, dialogue with oneself, examination of conscience etc. Slowly these spiritual exercises would become separated from philosophy and enter the monastic tradition which presented itself as a way of life in conformity with the divine Logos. Philosophy became more of a conceptual construction, a system and servant of theology. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises are a Christianised version of this earlier Greco-Roman tradition. We have the Greek Christian term of askesis which isn’t an asceticism exactly but rather a disciplining of desire. Subsequent Christian spiritual exercises have to be seen in the context of Hellenistic and Roman schools of philosophy. The aim is to become free from fear and anxiety and disordered desires (inordinate attachments). Each school of antiquity (Stoicism and Epicureanism etc) had its own therapeutic method which aimed to transform the self; a metamorphosis was the object, a Platonic perigagoe, or metanoia (conversion in the Christian sense), a dëcreation or unselfing.  Attention (prosoche) was the fundamental stoic spiritual attitude. It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind. It is to live in the present and to be aware of one’s actions. By concentrating on the miniscule moment attention increases vigilance and allows us to accede to cosmic consciousness; by making us attentive to the infinite value of each instant. To this end a review of the day is recommended and to find out what depends on us and what is outside of our control, to discover, as Franl puts it, areas of freedom and areas of fate. Such spiritual exercises as reading, journal keeping, reflecting, examining one’s conscience, etc, are required for the cure of the soul, the care of the self. It is to open up the walls of the world to see the divine delight for we are born once only – twice is not permitted us. To philosophise, as Socrates taught us, is to learn how to dialogue. And meditation is the practise of dialoguing with oneself. Many of Plato’s dialogues depict the figure of Socrates as being ‘lost in thought’. It is both a therapeutic procedure as much as a spiritual exercise to look at one’s individuality and passions from the perspective of universality, objectivity and eternity. To look at one’s life through the long lens, therefore. The attentive person who lives meaningfully and mindfully is attuned to the order of his being, and to the flow within it of the divine Presence. Such attention brings peace to a perturbed mind. Attention to self and others is the philosopher’s fundamental attitude and the attitude also of the monk; but action and theory go hand in hand. Ignatius wished for his companions that they be contemplatives in the midst of the bustle and busyness of the world. Attention to the present is acceptance of the divine desire. As Iris Murdoch writes: ‘Pay attention; teach it to children’. To be attentive is to be anchored in oneself and to be accepting. As Epictetus writes: ‘Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen and your life will be serene’. This is to obey Socrates’ call, which is a summons to love. As Nietzsche noted: ‘the deepest insights spring from love alone’. Goethe similarly opined: ‘we learn only from those we love’. For Frankl, the salvation of man is in and through love. Like Boethius, Socrates was in love with a source of other-wordly ultimate attraction; their eyes, like Plato’s, were firmly fixed on the Beyond. To view the world as a totality as Wittgenstein tells us is to view it sub specie aeterinatis – under the auspices of eternity.  Marcus Aurelius puts it all in perspective when he asks: ‘what’s in a name? A mere noise, a faint echo. How many do not even know your name and how many will soon forget it? Soon you will have forgotten everything; soon too everything will have forgotten you’. So with this in mind the two pitfalls to be avoided are a weary pessimism and a naive optimism. Frankl advocates the case for a ‘tragic optimism’ – this is position is one of robust realism. Such an approach allows for the tragic triad of guilt, suffering and death but also the triumphant triad of healing, meaning and forgiveness. Paradoxically, by living in the present instant and paying attention to the moment we are living in the hit et nunc of eternity. By delimiting our desires we activate an inner resilience and achieve a joyous cheerfulness but one that is based on sorrow. Living each day as if it were the last but also as if it were the first. Life is a gradual process of disillusionment – everything can be taken from one, everything except one’s inner mental attitude. This is, in Frankl’s words, the last of the human freedoms. Cultivating a cosmic consciousness is to soar on angel’s wings and to see with the eyes of the eagle on the sometimes sad human scene. Heraclitus informs us that the Logos holds sway always and Goethe writes: ‘Throughout all things the Eternal pursues its course. Hold on to Being with delight’. This holding on to life is to remain steadfast, to keep on course, to act out well the part that has been given us. Happiness is harmony with the universe, with the Logos that steers through all things. Such an attitude permits true perception and ultimate peace. This is the properly human dimension which Frankl calls the noetic or noological dimension of being.

Biological psychiatry scomotises this personal dimension in its somatologism. It reduces man to a biological being, to his nervous system and neuro-transmitters but we are biopsychospiritual beings. Psychiatry has, in the main, followed Freud’s lead with his dream expressed in the Project that mental problems would eventually be explained in terms of physical ones. The idea here is that every mental disease is caused by a brain disease. This is where modern psychiatry has gone so very wrong, so wide off the mark. For there is no such thing as a mental disease; all disease is organic. Most of the many so-called mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have never been shown to be caused by any brain disease, and yet the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatrists who prescribe their pills for every ill are still committed to this erroneous medical model – to the myth of mental illness, to coin a phrase from the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. And why, you might ask? Just the usual reasons: Power and profit. Psychiatrists may know biology but none of them is required as part of his formal training to undergo any personal psychotherapy which is mind-boggling to me. I guess they must have no problems. For years now we have been living in a pharmocracy where the medical model of reductionism has prevailed and is all pervasive in our discourse around mental health and illness. I can tell them there is more insight to be gleaned into the dynamics of anxiety in the pages of Kierkegaard then in the morphology of the DSM’s reduction of this mood to a ‘generalised anxiety disorder’. Surely we need to distinguish between ontological and psychological forms of anxiety at the very outset? If we take another example: depression. Not all sadness is depression and not all depression can be reduced to somatogenic depressive disorders; some are endogenous to be sure and some depressions are reactive, in other words, psychogenic in aetiology but Frankl was the first psychiatrist to distinguish noogenic neuroses where the reason is spiritual. A subtle classification is so necessary because while medication would be appropriate for a biochemical depression meditation is far more fitting for a spiritual one. An existential distress is not the same as a mental disorder. To take one final disturbing example, ADHD: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The symptoms include: being easily distracted, fidgeting, day-dreaming, struggling to follow instructions, having difficulty focussing on one task, dashing around, being in constant motion, impulsive, and experiencing an impatience in waiting for things they want. I can say for certain that they describe me on a good day! Thankfully I haven’t been diagnosed with it and put on Ritalin, the drug of choice. I am not denying by the way that ADHD exists but we simply have to distinguish between ‘normal’ (dare I say it?) boredom and ADHD, between creative day-dreaming and ADHD. Psychiatrists are far too quick in labelling and prescribing without therapeutic talk, in search of the quick fix. In 1987 ADHD was voted into existence by the American Psychiatric Association. Just ten years earlier they had removed homosexuality from its list of disorders. In that same year of 1987 half a million American children were diagnosed with ADHD. It 1996 it had risen to 5.2 million (10% of all schoolchildren in the States). The cure is Ritalin whose side-effects are nightmarish. The production and sales for this drug have skyrocketed. Good for psychiatry, bad for children. There is not one shred of medical evidence that ADHD is caused by any specific brain disease. Is anyone asking why are children having trouble paying attention at school? ADHD is one possible answer but there are others: no motivation, no discipline, diet, boredom, no meaning, indifferent parents etc. Szasz accused psychiatry of social control and scientism; Foucault the philosopher makes the same point. As Szasz puts it: ‘If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia’. ‘Mental illnesses’ are really problems in living, he contends. They are often ‘like a’ disease, which makes the medical metaphor understandable, but in no way validates it as an accurate description or explanation. Psychiatry is a pseudo-science that parodies medicine by using medical sounding words invented especially over the last 100 years. Drugs can’t cure the underlying issue, they simply contain it. Of course we need psychiatry but not to the extent that we have it. We also need practical philosophy, bibliotherapy, logotherapy, psychotherapy. These are all stripes on a tiger’s back – none of them is the tiger itself. Death is the only real cure. Finally, we need to say something about the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis, albeit briefly. Frankl, who personally knew Freud and respected him, builds on him. Frankl adds the height dimension to Freud’s depth dimension. Freud himself acknowledged, in a letter to Binswanger, that he was only working in the basement of the house of being but once the basement is built we can’t forget to roof it. Frankl says that the seat left vacated by Freud should be left permanently empty, that no one can measure up to him, that he, Frankl, is merely a dwarf standing on the shoulder of the giant. But it just so happens that the dwarf can see further than the giant himself. This respect for the Master didn’t stop Frankl from being critical of psychoanalysis which for him was too time consuming, expensive and didn’t deliver on therapeutic outcomes. He faults the Freudian assumption that shorter therapy does brings only short-term results. Analysis may bring awareness to the patient but it does little by way of adding the dimension of action. Logotherapy and existential analysis, by contrast, is analytic and therapeutic and contains within its clinical riches a repertoire of techniques that have proven to be efficacious. As someone who trained initially in psychoanalysis I have found the psychoanalytic practitioner’s condescending attitude towards other forms of intervention worrying to say the least. There are many theoretical problems with psychoanalysis as well not least Freud’s reductionism that can be witnessed in, for example, reducing conscience to the superego, God the Father to a sublimated father-image, love to sex etc. In reducing the higher dimensions of the psyche to the lower Freud commits a category mistake. (Jung, in contradistinction, elevated the lower into the higher thus committing subtle rather than gross reductionism; for example, if Freud pathologised religion, Jung psychologised it). Furthermore, Frankl would reject Freud’s bifurcation between consciousness and ‘the unconscious’ arguing instead that they form a psychic continuum. However, Frankl asserts that there is a dimensional barrier between instincts and spirit. In accepting that the unconscious is not only instinctual but also rational or spiritual, Frankl departs significantly from Freudian psychoanalysis. But analysis is not just psychoanalysis. One feature I want to briefly spend some time on by way of a final look at psychoanalysis is the Freudian assumption that the ‘cause’ must always be looked for. Throughout the corpus of his writings Freud assumes that psychoanalysis alone is curative with its emphasis on ‘causes of’ unlike therapy which is cosmetic by nature with its focus more on ‘reasons for’. This arrogant attitude is inherited by Freudians to this day and needs to be addressed head on.

C. G. Jung, the Swiss psychologist, obverted the usual scientific paradigm of cause and effect in his analytical psychology. Cause-and-effect refers to the philosophical concept of causality, in which an action or an event will produce or provoke a certain response to the action in the form of another event. Science usually proceeds by way of straightforward cause and effect. Jung hypothesised that there was an acausal connecting principle at work, which he termed ‘synchronicity’. Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner. So, some events may be grouped by cause, others by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not, analytical psychology avers, have an explanation in terms of cause and effect. Jung coined the term to describe ‘temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events’ or simply ‘meaningful coincidence’. Jung felt it proved the existence of the so-called archetypes of the collective unconscious. The Jungians believe that life does not consist in a series of random or chance events but rather are expressions of a deeper order and logic (the undus mundus). In analytical psychology, new age mysticism meets with astrology and contemporary movements in modern science. There have been many critiques offered by way of response to Jung from philosophers as diverse as Marin Buber, Viktor Frankl and Ken Wilber but let’s just focus on Freudian psychoanalysis and its relationship to existential analysis on this precise point.

            In Freudian psychoanalysis the focus is regressive, returning to man’s childhood in order to uncover the supposed cause that created the neurotic symptom. In theology St. Thomas Aquinas argues that God is the first cause of the universe; He is the uncaused cause who caused all other things to be but He Himself is in need of no cause as He is a necessary Being rather than a contingent creature such as we are.

            Psychoanalysis looks for causes of such and such (in the past) rather than reasons for such and such (in the present). Existential analysis, by contrast, focuses more on present existential reasons for behaviour than frequently imaginary past causes. Viktor Frankl has a threefold view of causality: biological (somatogenic), mental/psychological (psychogenic) and spiritual (noögenic). But logotherapy employs various therapeutic techniques that work efficiently and effectively without always necessarily identifying the underlying initial causes of neurotic behaviour. Knowing or discovering the cause of something is not essential in existential analytic and logotherapeutic practice. When a building is on fire, isn’t it better to put out the fire first then find out (if you wish to) what caused it (assuming there is one cause and/or that it is discoverable at all)? This philosophical position pits Frankl against Freud, with the latter feeling that the only way to remove the symptom is to understand the cause that produced it and raise that to consciousness. Who’s right? Or, better put, which perspective on this subject is the more compelling or convincing, rather than ‘correct’?

            There are some illnesses that are only triggered by the mental not caused or even conditioned by the mental; an example would be psychosomatic illnesses. There is, moreover, a confusion between cause and effect; sometimes there is a reversal of relationships. In some cases it is not that the complexes and unconscious conflicts cause the illness or problem but rather that they are the effect of the problem in the present. When discussing the example of endogenous depression in his work, On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders, Frankl argues: ‘Now what is the case when a reef appears at low tide? No one will say that the reef is the cause of the low tide, but rather, through the ebbing tide it is merely exposed …. Thus it is valid to say: just as little as the reef is caused by the ebbing tide, is a psychosis caused by a psychological trauma, a complex or a conflict’.

We need to distinguish between causes (causing/causation) and triggering mechanisms (triggering). Psychotic illness (such as an endogenous depression) may be triggered by psychological complications or factors. Triggering, in a way, is a secondary cause, though not the only cause – more of a condition. To condition something doesn’t mean to effect or cause something. We philosophers distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions.  The primary cause is a sufficient condition, while triggering is not only not a sufficient condition but also not a necessary condition. It’s a possible condition.

Fear of heights is an example that will bring out the distinction between reason and cause. The fear here could be traced back to the fear or anxiety due to insufficiency of education or equipment (in these two cases there would be a ‘fear of heights’) or oxygen (an ‘illness of heights’). The former has a reason, the latter a cause. The one is something psychological, and the other something somatic. This distinction between psychological reasons and biological causes is brought out in two further examples from Frankl: an onion is no reason for crying, but it can be the cause of the secretion of tears. Conversely, tickling is no reason for laughing (joking would be a reason), but rather the cause that releases a laugh reflex.

During an ebb of joy in the life of a person, some psychic traumas become evident although these traumas need not be the cause for the missing joy of life. If we take all the three dimensions of human beings into account (body, mind and spirit), this suggests that there are many and direct connections that go beyond the simple cause and effect schema. When someone is unhappy and drinks some whiskey or takes some drugs he becomes less unhappy and the whiskey or drugs are the cause of it. However, the reason for being unhappy persists – it has not been eradicated. Similarly, smoking can cause lung cancer but that’s not the reason why people smoke. There may be a predisposition to addiction or peer pressure or whatever. Exploring reasons and basic motivations is as important as exposing causes of illness. Blows of fate have no cause but provide sufficient reasons for disturbed conditions of serious physical and psychic illness and suffering.

In a discussion in Plato Not Prozac the author, Lou Marinoff, who practices philosophical counselling,  argues that this cause and effect model is in fact a fallacy which philosophers call post hoc ergo propter hoc. This means because one event happened before another, the earlier caused the later one (endemic in Freudian thinking). Of course, in some cases this may be true. But it is not necessarily or always true. If you were hit as a child, to take one of Marinoff’s examples, and you have difficulties in controlling your temper, you can’t conclude that the one caused the other. Perhaps it did but it may well be irrelevant. Even if it were causal there may be other contributing factors. Marinoff asks: ‘Did your mother’s rages teach you to be explosive when you’re angry? Or was it your father’s coldness? Both? Neither?’

Casting back looking for causes in one’s past to explain current present problems is further problematic because there may be connections you can’t see. Plus, memory isn’t perfect. Moreover, what good would finding the causes of your current discomfort or distress do you? Marinoff again: ‘Knowing you have a cavity doesn’t stop your pain – getting it filled does’. Some people will feel better knowing the cause of their symptoms but that doesn’t mean the symptoms will disappear. Knowing the cause of one’s psychic pain and having no way to reduce it will make some people feel even worse. The problem with the psychological therapies is that they mimic the medical model and, as the psychologist Abraham Maslow, pointed out, if the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, a lot of things start looking like nails.

There are vast resources in the 2000 year history of philosophy (which isn’t even a school subject) especially in the Stoics and the Epicureans that can really help us how to live. Epicurus: ‘Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering’. Philosophy unlike psychiatry is liberating not limiting, creative not constrictive, and offers real insights not just information. Gerd Achenbach might have opened the first philosophy clinic in 1981 in Germany but practical philosophy is an ancient idea with roots in the divine Plato. It is perhaps the world’s second oldest profession whose time has come again! And with Dr Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy we have the best of philosophy, I would argue, with the best of therapy. As Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician-philosopher put it: illnesses arise from nature but their cure comes only from the spirit.

 

Logotherapy

The subtitle of Prof Viktor Frankl’s very first book, penned in a concentration camp, The Doctor and the Soul, is ‘From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy’, implying from the very outset that there is some difference between these two disciplines. Logotherapy is a therapy which starts from man’s spirit; it recognises and respects man’s psycho-physico-spiritual unity. Frankl labels it ‘a psychotherapy in spiritual terms’ (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 29). The aim of logotherapy initially was not to supplant but to supplement psychotherapy. Frankl tells us that psychoanalysis is its indispensable foundation (see The Will to Meaning, p. 10). However, over the years logotherapy developed into its own independent system, and few logotherapists are rooted in Freud and in existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Max Scheler, as Frankl was. Indeed, in 1984 at the first Argentine Congress on Logotherapy, according to Omar Lazarte, people present remember Frankl saying that he supported himself on two pillars (see Lazarte, ‘Reflections on Viktor E. Frankl’s Anthropology’, Existential Psychotherapy of Meaning, 2009, p. 181) – Freud and Heidegger.

Frankl delineates the differences between logotherapy and psychotherapy thus: ‘Psychotherapy endeavours to bring instinctual facts to consciousness. Logotherapy, on the other hand, seeks to bring to awareness the spiritual realities (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 43). Logotherapy indeed is specifically designed to help and ‘handle those suffering over the philosophical problems with which life confronts human beings’ (Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, p. 46). Logotherapy, unlike, nearly all of the psychotherapies, with the exception of psychosynthesis, takes explicit account of the spiritual sphere which Frankl calls the noetic or noölogical.

Unity of course does not designate wholeness which involves the integration of somatic, psychic and the spiritual aspects of the human person. ‘Without the spiritual as its essential ground, this wholeness cannot exist’ (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 34). The spiritual self emerges from unconscious depths.

Logotherapy is the clinical application of Frankl’s existential analytic approach. Already in 1926 logotherapy ‘had extended beyond the scope of psychotherapy beyond the psyche, beyond the psychological dimension to include the noölogical dimension, or the logos’ (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 67). So Franklian psychology, in its clinical praxis, is both a therapy and an analysis; it is a logo- not a psycho-therapy just as it is an existential analysis rather than psycho-analysis. Franklian existential analysis differs quite radically from the existential analysis of Boss and Binswanger, Caruso and May, in that it draws in its philosophical dimensions more from Max Scheler’s phenomenology and philosophical anthropology, as evidenced especially in logotherapy’s tri-dimensional ontology, rather than in the Heideggerianism of the other schools of continental existential analysis.

So let us be clear: logotherapy is not a psychotherapy; it is a noetic therapy. It is a noölogy rather than a psychology and is best considered, I would argue, as a philosophical form of praxis. Didn’t the great Eric Voegelin, that Platonic scholar par excellence, not tell us that Frankl, in modern times, was revitalising the older Platonic tradition of philosophy as a therapeia with his ‘Socratic dialogue’? (see Eric Voegelin, 1990, Published Essays 1966-1985, pp. 278-9). Many commentators place logotherapy within the humanistic and integrative school but logotherapy is existential, personalist and, with its explicit reference to transcendence, it may also be construed as a trans-personal theory and therapy.

Peter Sarkany’s seminal paper, ‘Outlines of Viktor Emil Frankl’s Religious Philosophy’ is instructive in this regard and my analysis agrees in the main with his. In it Sarkany argues that logotherapy and existential analysis is rooted in the philosophical dimension and that its theory of personality is transpersonal (Sarkany, p. 168). In another article, ‘An Outline of the Philosophical Care of the Soul: Phenomenology, Existential-Analytic Logotherapy and Philosophical Counselling’, Sarkany outlines the case made superbly by Pierre Hadot in his Philosophy as a Way of Life that logotherapy be considered as a philosophical therapy which has as its principal aim the cure or ‘care of the soul’, as Frankl puts it. This Platonic concern for ‘care of the self or soul’ ruptures in the Middle Ages and in Modernity but is alive and well in the twentieth-century in the work of Wittgenstein, Jan Patocka, Jaeger, Foucault, Hadot and others. Logotherapy has much in common with this older philosophical tradition which views philosophy not only as a noetic therapy but also as a practical system of spiritual exercises which were developed by the Stoics and others and which find their way into logotherapy as dereflection, Socratic dialogue and attitude modification.

The new movement of ‘philosophical counselling’ which started in 1981 by Gerd Achenbach in Cologne and which continues to be practised by others such as Lou Marinoff, are heirs to this tradition too. Logotherapy returns us to the therapeutic tradition of classical Greek philosophy. Care of the soul is practised primarily, though not exclusively, through Socratic dialogue. Logotherapy and existential analysis is a kind of philosophical ministry. Sarkany observes: ‘logotherapy can be perceived and practised as a kind of philosophical counselling’ (Sarkany, p. 132). It is Frankl who has realised with his logotherapy the ancient dreams of healing by reason and has fulfilled their therapeutic ambitions. However, logotherapy goes beyond philosophical counselling in that Frankl has also developed and incorporated into his practice a psychiatric classification of the neuroses and psychoses, as evinced in his On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders. More than anything, though, logotherapy is a practical philosophy, a way of living meaningfully and mindfully.

There is another thinker who argues similarly and that is Reinhard Zaiser and I would like to draw briefly on his paper, ‘Working on the noetic dimension of man: philosophical practice, logotherapy and existential analysis’, where he asserts that we can discover the ancient spiritual exercises in contemporary logotherapy and he makes the point that most philosophical practitioners are actually doing logotherapy.

He begins by stating that philosophical practice and logotherapy have a lot in common in that both are working with similar methods on the noetic dimension of man. Zaiser calls Frankl ‘a pioneer of philosophical practice’ (Zaiser, p. 83). Zaiser writes: ‘In principle, the spiritual exercises by the ancient philosophers are nothing more than the methods of logotherapy: Socratic dialogue, modification of attitudes, paradoxical intention, dereflextion, existential analysis of dreams, and mystagogy’ (Zaiser, p. 83). Zaiser also reads Lady Philosophy in Boethius’ description of her in his The Consolation of Philosophy as a logotherapist. So now we discuss Boethius and his famous best-selling book.

 

Boethius

Boethius was a prominent 6th century philosopher, public figure and exceptional Greek scholar under the Gothic emperor Theodoric. Born in Rome, he was a member of an ancient and aristocratic family who fell from favour and was imprisoned in Pavia. His father had attained to the consulship, as would Boethius’ two sons. His family exerted huge influence. He married Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, Prefect of Rome and Head of the Senate. Boethius himself was a senator by the age of 25 but was imprisoned by King Theodoric the Great who thought he was conspiring with the Eastern Roman Empire. He was executed in 524.

While waiting for his brutal execution, he penned The Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, happiness and attitude. It is a dialogue of alternating prose and poetry (39 poems to be exact) between the ailing prisoner and his ‘nurse’ Philosophy, whose instruction in the nature of fortune and happiness bring him to health and enlightenment. From time to time it reads like a logotherapeutic session. He regarded the hour of his greatest happiness as being when he was in prison and he heard that his two sons were appointed consuls together. But though actively engaged in politics, Boethius considered philosophy to be his summum vitae solamen. He was also a Christian who wrote a number of treatises and tracts in theology and may be seen as a forerunner of the scholastics.

 

The Consolation of Philosophy

The Consolation of Philosophy is, as the title says, a type of consolation – a moral meditation and medication. The book talks a lot about illness, remedy and cure. It was a hugely popular work in mediaeval Europe and Boethius’ ideas suffuse the thought of both Chaucer and Dante, with Dante setting Boethius among the twelve lights in the heaven of the Sun. Dante tells us that the words of Boethius provided him with his greatest consolation after the death of Beatrice. The Consolation of Philosophy combines poetic intensity with brilliant philosophical insight in a light and lyrical manner. While drawing on medical metaphor it is primarily a meditation and moral medication that is being offered by Boethius’ therapist, as he is bid to reconsider his conception of happiness.

Boethius stands at the crossroads of the Classical and Mediaeval worlds. The title of his work says it all – it is less about argument than it is about the consolation that philosophy can bring generally and in the face of death particularly. Boethius’ book restores and celebrates a Platonic tradition of dialoguing – it is somewhat akin to Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, which similarly discusses Socrates’ final hours before his own execution by hemlock in 399. Boethius’ book tells of Philosophy, personified throughout, as descending to Boethius from on high and leading him by various paths to God Himself. The schema is Platonic and mirrors Plato’s description in Book VII of the Republic of the soul’s ascent in the famous allegory of the Cave – from seeing shadows to seeing the sun as a metaphor for the Form of the Good. We may also compare the book to Sir Thomas Moore’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, which was also written in prison and under the threat of execution. Boethius’ bitter experiences led him, in the work we are here considering, into a re-description and re-examination of the nature of happiness. In its conversational commentary and tone it is akin to the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Augustine. It is a philosophical rather than theological consolation, so there is no talk of the Trinity or Paradise or the Incarnation etc. He draws a distinction between faith and reason. The Boethian doctrine of salvation is the ascent of the individual by means of philosophical introspection to the knowledge of God; it is close to Neoplatonic philosophy and post-Augustinian Christianity.

The method of Boethius’ execution varies in the sources; he was perhaps killed with an axe or a sword, or blugeoned to death. According to another version a rope was attached round his head and tightened till his eyes bulged out, then his skull was cracked.

Boethius is recognized as a martyr for the Catholic faith by the Roman Martyrology, his feast day being October 23rd. He was declared a saint by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1883, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explained the relevance of Boethius to contemporary Catholics by linking his teachings to an understanding of divine Providence.

            Turning now to the text itself. We see Boethius in a state of much distress and deep despair – from happy youth to hapless age. As the first poem opens: ‘Foolish the friends who called me happy then/Whose fall shows how my foothold was unsure’ (Boethius, 1969, p. 35). As Boethius is giving vent to his sorrow and anger, he becomes aware of a woman standing over him, with an awe-inspiring appearance and burning eyes. On the bottom of her gown there is embroidered two Greek letters: Pi and Theta, which correspond to the two kinds of philosophy, practical (Pi) and contemplative (Theta). Pi is praxis; theta is theory (teoria). The former includes moral philosophy and ethics, the latter metaphysics, theology and physics. Philosophy is defined, so, as both theory and practice on her gown. This nurse who comforts the imprisoned Boethius can be considered, as my logotherapy colleague and theologian Reinhard Zaiser has pointed out, as I said, the first female logotherapist and existential analyst, helping her noetically depressed patient change his attitude toward his suffering and thus his life. Boethius is describing and drawing on the ancient philosophical practice of Platonic therapeia.

            Lady Logotherapist consoles Boethius by discussing the transitory nature of fame and wealth (“no man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune”), and the ultimate superiority of things of the mind, which she calls the “one true good” and which Frankl labels the noetic core of the spiritual person. She contends that happiness comes from within, and that one’s virtue is all that one truly has, because it is not imperilled by the vicissitudes of fortune, what Frankl calls ‘the blows of fate’. In The Consolation, Boethius answered religious questions without reference to Christianity, relying solely on natural philosophy and the Classical Greek tradition. He believed in the correspondence between faith and reason. The truths found in Christianity would be no different from the truths found in philosophy. It is, thus, a work written by a Platonist who happens also to be a Christian: it is not a Christian work. The philosophical message of the book fits in rather well with the religious piety of the Middle Ages. Readers were encouraged not to seek worldly goods such as money and power, but to seek internalised virtues instead. For Frankl, the very pursuit of these material things is that which thwarts their attainment. Evil had a purpose, to provide a lesson to help change for good. Because God ruled the universe through Love, prayer to God and the application of Love would lead to true happiness. The book is heavily influenced by Plato and his dialogues. Found within The Consolation are themes that have echoed throughout the Western canon: the female figure of wisdom that informs Dante (a kind of archetype of the Wise Old Woman), the ascent through the layered universe that is shared with Milton, the reconciliation of opposing forces that find their way into Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, and the Wheel of Fortune so popular and prevalent throughout the Middle Ages. It is a fusion of allegorical tale, Platonic dialogue, and lyrical poetry.

Lady Philosophy, as Logotherapist, tells her patient that it is a time for healing not lamenting. When he turns to look at his physician (the piece is replete with medical metaphors) he discovers it was his nurse in whose house he has been cared for since childhood – Philosophy. He gains some consolation from knowing that many illustrious philosophers suffered similar fates: Anaxagoras was banished from Athens, Zeno was tortured, while Socrates was put to death. While Boethius displays his grief, Philosophy remains unperturbed, stoic like in silence, and says that Boethius is full of grief and alternating between fits of rage, wrath, anguish and disturbing passions and so in need of a cure. The cause of his illness is that he has forgotten his true nature and Philosophy, as analyst, attempts to restore his health so that treacherous passions become dispelled in the resplendent light of truth. He is told to banish grief as his mind is clouded and bound in chains. Frankl would similarly suggest we need to move from reacting to responding. At the level of the instincts we are driven, but at the level of spirit we are drawn. We are pushed by the past but pulled by the future. Through free choice and responsibility we are ultimately deciding beings, suffering and acting persons. Lady Logotherapist tells him she prefers ‘gentler medicines’ (p. 49) but no less potent. She tells him that in ‘discovering his state of mind’ she can cure him (see p. 50). She bids him let go of his emotional distractions and concentrate on the meaning of the moment and the ‘purpose of things’ (p. 51) in true logotherapeutic fashion. The best hope of restoring her patient to health is to help him attune his life to the divine Logos and order his life to the mysterious meaning of his present suffering. ‘In dark clouds/Hidden/The stars can shed/No light’. The mind is clouded where grief holds sway.

            In Book II (there are five in all), Lady Philosophy who, we are told, falls silent for a while like an analyst to let her patient speak, says that she has discovered and diagnosed the nature of his condition – that he has been pining for his former good fortune and this has catapulted him into the slough of despondency. She puts some maieutic questions to Boethius: what type of happiness is it which is destined to pass away? Philosophy reveals that change and inconstancy is Fortune’s normal behaviour and that Fortune has lured and enticed him with a false happiness that is ephemeral. Just as a farmer entrusts his seed to the fields, he balances the bad years against the good and so should he have done. Things change quickly on the wheel of chance and in one short hour one can see ‘happiness from utter desolation grows’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 56). Wealth, honours, fame and power are all under Fortune’s jurisdiction. In life there are both fruit and flowers, cloud and cold – inconstancy is Fortune’s very essence and sometimes ‘the overthrow of happy realms’ is carried out ‘by the random strokes of Fortune’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 58) and the mind of man is plummeted in a ‘deep seated melancholy’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 59). Philosophy says that this is not a cure for Boethius’ condition but an application to help soothe his grief and console his heart. Philosophy reminds him of how fortunate he has been in so many ways, having enjoyed the blessings of a wife and two consular sons etc. Lady Logotherapist bids him ‘not dwell on it’ (ibid.). It is sound therapeutic advice summed up unwittingly by Queen Elizabeth when she visited Ireland: bow to the past but don’t be bound by it. If we can’t change our situation, Frankl for his part tells us, we are challenged to change ourselves. Boethius is suffering because of his ‘misguided belief’ (p. 61) and it is his beliefs or attitudes that Lady Logotherapist is seeking to changing in Boethius’ existential analytic session. She admonishes him gently thus:

 

 ‘You are a happy man, then, if you know where your true happiness lies, since when the chief concern of mortal men is to keep their hold on life, you even now possess blessings which no one can doubt are more precious than life itself. So dry your tears. Fortune has not yet turned her hatred against all your blessings’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 62).

 

Philosophy continues:

 

‘But I can’t put up with your dilly-dallying and the dramatization of your care-worn grief-stricken complaints that something is lacking from your happiness. No man is so completely happy that something somewhere does not clash with his condition. It is the nature of human affairs to be fraught with anxiety…. Some men are blessed with both wealth and noble birth, but are unhappy because they have no wife. Some are happily married but without children … Some again have been blessed with children only to weep over their misdeeds. No one finds it easy to accept the lot Fortune has sent them…. Remember, too, that all the most happy men are over-sensitive. They have never experienced adversity and so unless everything obeys their slightest whim they are prostrated by every minor upset, so trifling are the things that can detract from the complete happiness of a man at the summit of fortune…. No one is so happy that he would not want to change his lot if he gives in to impatience. Such is the bitter-sweetness of human happiness…. It is evident, therefore, how miserable the happiness of human life is; it does not remain long with those who are patient, and doesn’t satisfy those who are troubled’ (Boethius, ibid., pp. 62-63).

 

Philosophy reveals the secret of happiness: that it lies within. She observes:

 

‘Why then do you mortal men seek after happiness outside yourselves, when it lies within you? …. I will briefly show you what complete happiness hinges upon. If I ask you whether there is anything more precious to you than your own self, you will say no. So if you are not in possession of yourself you will possess something you would never wish to lose and something Fortune could never take away. In order to see that happiness can’t consist in things goverend by chance, look at it this way. If happiness is the highest good of rational nature and everything that can be taken away is not the highest good – since it is surpassed by what can’t be taken away – Fortune by her very mutability can’t hope to lead to happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 63).

 

Such a happiness, based on chance and which comes to an end at death, is unreliable as Fortune changes all the time. This is a false happiness but Philosophy says to Boethius she knows he is convinced that the human mind cannot die and so others have sought happiness actually through death and even suffering (actualising attitudinal values in relation to part of Frankl calls ‘the tragic triad’ of human existence). She proclaims: ‘It seems that the happiness which cannot make men unhappy by its cessation, cannot either make them happy by its presence’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 64). Ultimately it is fear that prevents us from being happy. Frankl would ask us this: rather than fighting or fleeing from fear, what would happen if we actually and actively wished to have happen the things we feared most, as desire cancels out fear. He found with this logotherapeutic technique he could cure lots of people suffering from various anxieties and phobias. He called it ‘paradoxical intention’.

            Philosophy then proceeds to show up how barren and poor riches really are: from precious stones to the beauty of the countryside, the sea, the sun, the stars and sky and moon, flowers and fine clothes etc., none of which belong to man. Life is full of plenty as well as poverty, pearls as well as perils. And he who has much, wants much. Philosophy poetically exclaims: ‘O happy was that long lost age/ Content with nature’s faithful fruits’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 68).

            Like riches, power, fame and high office, Fortune is not worth pursuing either and is of no intrinsic good or value. However long a life of fame and fortune is, ‘when compared with unending eternity it is shown to be not just little, but nothing at all’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 74). A philosopher (someone who deserves the title) practises virtue and seeks out heaven in freedom and despises earthly affairs. Fortune may seem to bring happiness but deceives man with her smiles. As Fortune is capricious, wayward and inconstant so also is human happiness – ‘how fragile a thing happiness is’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 76). Frankl stresses that it is meaning we should seek rather than the pursuit of happiness which leads more often than not to ego-absorption rather than self-transcendence. Boethius is encouraged to attend to the beauty of the countryside in his mind’s eye – to look upon the sea, the stars, the sky, the sun (Frankl does likewise) and practice virtue and ethical values as he prepares to leave the existential vacuum.

            ‘The world in constant change

Maintains a harmony,

And elements keep peace

  Whose nature is to clash’.

 

Here he is told to get in touch with the profound unity of his being, which is the integration of psyche and soma but more: to unify also the noetic part of his personality structure. This will produce the harmony and wholeness for which he is unconsciously seeking and lead to ultimate health. ‘The centre must hold’ as Iris Murdoch tells us, perhaps by way of response to Yeats’ ‘things fall apart, the Centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world’.

 

Book II ends with Philosophy crying:

‘Love promulgates the laws

For friendship’s faithful bond.

O happy race of men

If Love who rules the sky

Could rule your hearts as well!’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 77).

 

            Book III begins by Philosophy telling Boethius that she is trying to bring him to his true destination, which is true happiness. She criticises him thus: ‘Your mind dreams of it … but your sight is clouded by shadows of happiness and [you] cannot see reality’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 78). Boethius begs her to show him the nature of true happiness, which Philosophy promises to do. She tells him that ‘all are striving to reach one and the same goal, namely, happiness, which is a good which once obtained leaves nothing more to be desired. It is the perfection of all good things and contains in itself all that is good’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 79). And, like Frankl, she asserts that perfect good does not, as some suppose, reside in wealth or respect, in fame, enjoyment, in power, position, popularity (whose ‘acquisition is fortuitous and its retention continuously uncertain’) (Boethius, ibid., p. 89) or pleasure. All men desire happiness and are looking for it in all these pursuits but they will not find it in these, though some people through the possession of these, snatch at a false appearance of happiness. But nothing satisfies greed – it is insatiable and once dead ‘his fickle fortunes him forsake’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 84). Philosophy says of the pursuit of bodily pleasures that it is ‘full of anxiety and its fulfilment full of remorse’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 90) and if bodily pleasure can produce happiness, why then the animals are very happy because their whole life is directed to the fulfilment of their bodily needs and requirements. All these paths to happiness are side-tracks. The distinction between pleasure and happiness here accords with the logotherapeutic perspective in that Frankl views pleasure as somatic and happiness as psychical. Joy as spiritual happiness would be noetic (see my book The Ethics of Happiness, for a fuller treatment of the subject).

            If you want to hoard money you have to take it by force; if you want high office you will have to grovel to those who bestow it; if you want to outdo others in honour you will have to humiliate yourself by begging; if you want power you will have to expose yourself to risks and plots; if you want fame you will find yourself on a hard road and worn with care; if you decide to lead a life of pleasure some others will pour scorn on you and see you as a slave of the body. All these things are puny as is man himself when compared to an elephant in size, a bull in strength, a tiger in speed. ‘Look up at the vault of heaven … and stop admiring things that are worthless’ (Boethius, ibid.). Beauty is ephemeral too. The point here is that the mind should concentrate more on the eternal than the evanescent.

 

‘The sleek looks of beauty are fleeting and transitory, more ephemeral than the blossom in spring. If, as Aristotle said, we had the piercing eyesight of the mythical Lynceus [one of the Argonauts who could see in the dark and discover hidden treasure] and could see right through things, even the body of an Alcibiades [an Athenian military leader of the fifth century, whom we will encounter later on; he was famous for his wealth and beauty and notorious of the use he made of them, as the footnote tells us], so fair on the surface, would look thoroughly ugly once we had seen the bowels inside’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 92).

 

These things ‘are not the way to happiness and cannot by themselves make people happy’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 93).

            The supreme good is happiness but it is not, as Eudoxus or Epicurus believed, to be found in pleasure. Man is a drunkard who cannot find his way home. Happiness is, rather, a state of self-sufficiency with no wants. True ‘and perfect happiness is that which makes a man self-sufficient, strong, worthy of respect, glorious and joyful’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 96). Nothing in the mortal state of things can furnish such a state of complete happiness – they are only shadows of the truly good. Only an imperfect happiness exists in perishable goods, which means ‘that there can be no doubt that a true and perfect happiness exists’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 99). God is filled with supreme and perfect goodness. And the perfect good is true happiness, so it follows that true happiness is to be found in God. This is Philosophy’s conclusion. ‘God is the essence of happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 101). And ‘supreme happiness is identical with supreme divinity’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 102), a position Aquinas will adopt. Through the possession of happiness people become happy and since happiness is divinity it is through the possession of divinity that a person becomes happy. ‘Each happy individual is therefore divine’ (ibid.). Heaven is man’s true homeland and ‘God is happiness itself’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 110). Boethius’ tragic melody and tearful melancholy is over and he addresses Philosophy thus: ‘The conclusion of this highest of arguments has made me very happy, and I am even more happy because of the words you used. I am now ashamed of the stupidity of all my railing’ (Boethius, ibid., pp. 111-12). This is the ultimate attitudinal adjustment.

            But in Book IV, Boethius admits that the greatest cause of his sadness is the realisation that evil exists and the wicked go unpunished and virtue unrewarded. Philosophy, as logotherapist, answers thus: all men desire the good, and happiness is the good itself and both good and bad men strive to reach the good and men become good by acquiring goodness so they obtain what they are looking for. But if the wicked obtained what they want – that is goodness – they could not be wicked. Both groups want it but only one attains it so it demonstrates the power of the good and the weakness of the bad.  They desire good through the things that give them pleasure but they don’t obtain it, ‘because evil things cannot reach happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 123). Philosophy says simply: ‘Goodness is happiness’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 124) and the punishment of the wicked is their very wickedness. Someone who ‘robs with violence and burns with greed’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 125) is like a wolf; someone who is wild and restless and is forever engaged with lawsuits is like a dog yapping; the person who lies in ambush in order to steal is like a fox; the person of quick temper is like a lion; the timid coward is like a hind; the lazy person is like an ass; the fickle person is like a bird with ever-changing interests; the person wallowing in impure lusts and filth is like a sow. ‘So what happens is that when a man abandons goodness and ceases to be human, being unable to rise to a divine condition, he sinks to the level of being an animal’ (Boethius, ibid.).

            So the good are happy while the bad are unhappy and they are more unhappy, according to Philosophy, if they go unpunished. When the wicked receive their punishment they receive something good since the punishment itself is good because of its justice. ‘So the wicked are much more unhappy when they are unjustly allowed to go scot free, than when a just punishment is imposed on them’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 129). Punishment must alternate between a penal severity and a purifying mercy. The wicked are used to the dark and haven’t yet come into the light. Further, Philosophy opines that those who commit an injustice are more unahppy than those who suffer it. Plato had said that it was better to suffer injustice than to do it. The guilt of the wicked could be cut back by punishment ‘like a malignant growth’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 131) and wickedness is compared to ‘a disease of the mind’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 132). Health means goodness and wickedness sickness (a Platonic motif).

            Philosophy, (and Boethius too), brings this dialogue to an end by saying that evil is necessary for some good. We think of the sufferings of Job. Philosophy/Logotherapy addresses Boethius thus: ‘Providence stings some people to avoid giving them happiness for too long, and others she allows to be vexed by hard fortune to strengthen their virtues of mind by the use and exercise of patience’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 139).

            The Consolation of Philosophy concludes with these words of Lady Logotherapy’s: ‘Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high’ (Boethius, ibid., p. 169). The logotherapeutic session has ended with words of hope and meaning that motivate and strengthen Boethius’ inner resolve and noetic resilience and helps him face his fate without flinching. As Frankl remarks in his Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips’.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

The Meaning of Melancholy: A Logotherapeutic Diagnostic of Depression – Stephen J. Costello, PhD

 

            My aim in this article is threefold: to adumbrate Viktor Frankl’s nosology, his diagnostic of mental illness/disorder, paying particular attention to his morphology of melancholy (depression), to emphasise the originality and importance of Frankl’s philosophico-psychological approach, and to urge/commend it to practitioners and mental health professionals. I shall do this with reference to Frankl’s 1956 book, Theorie und Therapie der Neurosen, which came out in the English edition of 2004, entitled On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders: An Introduction to Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. My hope is to contribute a number of articles on this subject on the interface between psychiatry and clinical psychology on the one hand and philosophy and anthropology on the other hand but delineating and exploring both from a Franklian logotherapeutic perspective. This preliminary paper lays the template for further reflection and research.

            According to Frankl, a perceived lack of meaning in suffering (aetiology) may lead to a noogenic depression (classification). This is so because we flourish (understood in the Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia, misleadingly translated as ‘happiness’) when our will to meaning is not thwarted (ontology). Frankl’s theory of mental disorders is based on his philosophical anthropology (metapsychology). We know that for Frankl a human being is a multilayered unity comprising three dimensions (dimensional ontology): the somatic, which is the bodily/biological (here we need to mention the influence of heredity and constitutional factors grounded in the person’s endocrine and neurological functions), the mental, which is the level of psychological processes and the noetic (or spiritual) component. We may thus distinguish between a somatic depression (which would be an endogenous disorder), a psychological depression, the level at which mental disorders are manifested and a noogenic depression. In this final one – where Frankl is unique among psychiatrists – though the spirit can never be sick (Frankl’s ‘psychiatric credo’) it may be blocked or frustrated culminating in a noogenic disorder; this will interact with the somatic and psychological dimensions. So when we ask the question: what is the meaning of melancholy?, the logotherapeutic/Franklian answer is that it is precisely at the level of meaning – and the perceived lack of it – that we must look to if we are to help or heal the suffering and acting person. A major depression (biologically caused) may, however, affect the person’s spirit and it is thus imperative that the whole person be treated in their biopsychospiritual and social unity/reality. So we have three types of disorders: somatogenic (if the cause is biological), psychogenic (if the cause is mental) and noogenic (if the cause is spiritual).

            The logotherapeutic injunction is to find meaning – creatively, experientially or attitudinally – drawing on the human person’s capacity for humour and self-transcendence in a therapy/existential analysis which will incorporate Socratic dialogue, attitude modification/modulation and de-reflection primarily if we are dealing with a noogenic or psychogenic depression. If it is a somatogenic one then a course of prescribed drugs through psychiatric and pharmacological intervention is advisable because such endogenous psychoses, which would include the bipolar disorders along with schizophrenia, have a biological basis in the brain. The DSM would call such an endogenous depression a ‘major depressive disorder with melancholic features’. Logotherapy and existential analysis would here operate at the level of a supplemental therapy, where pockets of freedom and responsibility, of values and meaning, of hope and humour and conscience may be reached and realised leading to attitudinal change. Understood thus, and even when a pharmacological treatment is prescribed, logotherapy can be utilised to prevent secondary depression arising from psychogenic or noological causes or prevent suicide and it can also console logotherapeutically (healing through meaning). Needless to say, if the depression is triggered by ‘blows of fate’ (a reactive depression) then logotherapy and existential analysis are essential on the path to healing. Not all crises or cries for help are pathogenic or neurotic; a person may be in existential distress and not have a mental disease. An existential crisis or crisis of conscience may precipitate a noogenic neurosis, which will have a spiritual cause. Frankl resisted the tendency to medicalise problems and our profession. In terms of treatment we may distinguish, so, between phenomenology (the description of the symptomatology) and the aetiology (the genesis or cause of the ‘disorder’). We would also have to emphasise that there are no purely somatogenic, psychogenic or noogenic illnesses but, rather, only mixed/borderline cases in which one of the above aspects achieves more attention that the other aspects.

            Frankl is unique in containing within his theoretical and therapeutic model an understanding of noogenic neurosis, the treatment modalities involved, and the philosophic-anthropological perspective of the human subject as a unified-wholistic essence (psychosomatic and spiritual unity), despite the differences in the constituent parts. The noetic cannot be neurotic. Psychotic illness, by contrast, may (but need not be) triggered by psychological events (such as extreme stress); these remain primarily somatogenic. These illnesses may be shaped by many variables but there is a person behind the psychotic symptoms who possesses some residual freedom. Logotherapy engages with this person at this spiritual dimension where alone truth and reason and recovery reside. An endogenous depression, as we have said, will involve drug therapy to treat the symptoms and logotherapy to enable the patient/person to adopt adaptive attitudes towards their sickness and to prevent secondary depression. Even psychosis has a meaning for the person – the meaning is discovered not given by the patient himself; there is an uninjured humanity beyond the injury (the ‘defiant power of the human spirit’). The human being is constituted existentially by the spirit, by freedom and responsibility and these are mobilised in the course of a logotherapeutic/existential analytic course of treatment exploration. The psychotic person still retains his dignity even if he doesn’t retain his utility; the homo patiens is higher than the homo faber, Frankl contests (Frankl, 2004, p. 66). His humane perspective on mental health is evident everywhere.

            For Frankl there is the ‘triad of failure’, which are three insufficiencies from which patients suffer: an inability to work (self-reproaches and admonitions here are common and when people tell them ‘to pull themselves together and get out there and work or go for a walk’ this has the opposite desired effect), to feel pleasure (it’s a kind of vegetative depression) and to suffer (no meaning is sensed in the suffering and suicidal ideation or intention may require hospitalisation) (see ibid., p. 69). Socratic dialogue and de-reflection will help the patient deal with their conflicts and complexes and gradually and perhaps painfully move from pessimism (mood swings where the logic is one of ‘either/or’) to a ‘tragic optimism’ (a case of ‘both/and’), which is the realism of (existential not just logical) understanding. It is the place of hope. As Proverbs acknowledges: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (13: 12).             Meaning is not in the ‘that’ of suffering but in its ‘how’ (see ibid., p. 89). In summary: not all existential crises are pathological; many are part and parcel of the maturational process. Noogenic neuroses are those that arise when existential frustration is dealt with in a maladaptive manner (when the spiritual character of the crisis is ignored or repressed). Symptoms may include depression, anxiety, aggression, addiction, and so on. Frankl avoids the two extremes/pitfalls of psychologism (which denies the spiritual dimension) and spiritualism (which sees the spiritual as the only dimension).  

            Logotherapy is a specific and special (one is tempted to say) therapy of and for noogenic neuroses in particular as each one of us (and not just our patients) struggles ‘for the most meaningful fulfilment of personal existence’ (ibid., p. 173) possible. As the philosopher-physician Paracelsus reminds us: illness arises from nature, but its cure comes only from the spirit.

 

STEPHEN J. COSTELLO, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Diplomate in Logotherapy [info@logotherapyireland.com], is a philosopher, existential analyst and Director of the Irish Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis [www.logotherapyireland.com]. He is the author of The Irish Soul: In Dialogue, The Pale Criminal: Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 18 Reasons Why Mothers Hate Their Babies: A Philosophy of Childhood, Hermeneutics and the Psychoanalysis of Religion and of the forthcoming The Ethics of Happiness: An Existential Analysis, and What Are Friends For?: Insights from the Great Philosophers. He is a member of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy and the Irish Philosophical Society. He holds a black belt in Aikido and is a senior student of Wing Tsun Kung Fu.

 

 

 

References

  1. Frankl, V. (2004). On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders: An Introduction to Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. New York and Hove: Brunner-Routledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to the Logos: Love, Reason and Reality – Stephen J. Costello

 

            Heraclitus, the Pre-Socratic philosopher, tells us that it is wise to listen to the Logos and listening to it we say that all things are one. Heraclitus established the term as the source of order in the cosmos. ‘The Logos holds always’. Aristotle, for his part, applied the term to rational discourse. Later, the Stoics defined and identified it as the divine principle animating and permeating the universe. The Gospel of John identifies Christ as the incarnation of the Logos, that was in the beginning and without Him was not anything made that was made. Logos, so as theos, as Word of God. Centuries later, C. G. Jung would describe the Logos as the masculine principle of rationality and consciousness but as counterpart to (female) Eros. Eric Voegelin, in philosophy, would return to the Greeks and make this principle assume a central place in his work while Viktor Frankl, in psychology, would term his philosophico-spiritual therapy as ‘logotherapy’, whereby he principally understands Logos to be ‘meaning’. For Pope Benedict XVI, Christianity is the religion of the Logos. Finally, Jacques Derrida and the postmodernists would have cause to critique this notion and deconstruct the entire foundationalist ‘logocentrism’ (as they see it) of Western philosophy.

            My contention is that both Jung and Derrida are mistaken. Jung is erroneous to set Logos up against Eros. Logos includes both reason and love as the twin pillars of reality. Derrida, I would argue, deprives us of our foundations in the truth. What, so, is the truth? It was asked before by a jeering Pilate who having asked it, didn’t wait for a response. Before him was Truth Itself, the Logos of the Word incarnate in history. Further, I would want to say that the term Aristotle employs to designate and describe ‘happiness’ (really ‘flourishing’) – eudaimonia – is attained by listening to the Logos as the source of order in man’s personal, social and historical existence. As such, I am urging a return to the ancient understanding of the word and would wish to encourage a retrieval of philosophic Christianity such as you find in the works of a Voegelin and a Joseph Ratzinger, amongst others, in a clearly differentiated capacity. If it is true (and I think it is) that we move in three dimensions – man as soma (body), psyche (mind) and noös (spirit) – then all three dimensions or modalities need to be observed. However, ultimately, we are one, a unity in diversity.

            I mentioned eudaimonia above. The problem with translating it as ‘happiness’ is that this modern word tends to connote a merely psychological feeling of pleasure or subjective satisfaction. But by eudaimonia the Greeks meant a spiritual happiness (as indicated by the etymology of the word) which we might render as ‘joy’, about which Christianity speaks. I would suggest that eudaimonia occurs (if I can phrase it like this) by listening to the Logos, to the ‘flow of presence’, as Voegelin labels it, as divine source of order in the soul (psyche) and in society (polis) and that, therapeutically, it is the Logos or spirit in man that can never be sick (an insight derived from Viktor Frankl). Indeed, Voegelin and Frankl were working from similar foundations in this regard.

            Accepting and understanding the Divine Ground and attuning ourselves to the flow of presence, to the Logos which is itself both love and reality, brings ‘the accompanying joy, the eudaimonia – while if we reject it we fall into the state of anxiety’, as Voegelin puts it (Voegelin, 1967, pp. 318-9). Frankl, for his part, observes: ‘Like iron filings in a magnetic field, man’s life is put in order through his orientation toward meaning’ (Frankl, 1967, p. 35).

            Lastly, we can say that for Christianity, Logos and love are identical. Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was before becoming Pope Benedict) sums all this up succinctly when he says that the content of Christianity consists, in the final analysis, ‘in love and reason coming together as the two pillars of reality: the true reason is love, and love is the true reason. They are in their unity the true basis and the goal of all reality’ (Ratzinger, 2003, p. 183).

 

References:

Frankl, Viktor. Psychotherapy and Existentialism. Washington Square Press, New York, 1967.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2003.

Voegelin, Eric. ‘Conversations with Eric Voegelin at the Thomas More Institute for Adult Education in Montreal’, 1967, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 33. University of Missouri Press: Columbia and London, 2004.

 

Happiness and the Spiritual Search for Meaning – Stephen J. Costello

Stephen J. Costello, PhD

Philosopher and Existential Analyst/Logotherapist

Director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland (www.logotherapyireland.com

 

Most recent publications: The Ethics of Happiness (www.wyndhamhallpress.com) and What are Friends For?: Insights from the Great Philosophers (Raider Publishing International).

 

Socrates (469-399 BC): ‘The only thing I know is that I know nothing’. He put maieutic questions to his fellow Athenians. He questioned them about the nature of goodness and justice and virtue and happiness.

 

Plato (428-427 BC): founded philosophical therapeia. Hugely influenced by Socrates. Gave us the first picture of mental health in the Western intellectual tradition in the Republic.

 

Philosophical therapy re-emerged in 1982 when Gerd Achenbach opened the first philosophical practice in Cologne. Continued by Lou Marinoff in US; author of Plato not Prozac! They established philosophy as counselling and consultancy.

 

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) retrieved this Platonic practical philosophy in his logotherapy and existential analysis. Use made of ‘Socratic dialogue’.

 

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010) charts the view of philosophy as a therapy of the soul, and as a spiritual exercise (though without mentioning logotherapy) in his classic work, Philosophy as a Way of Life.

 

Lecture I: Overview: happiness and meaning; Frankl and others.

Lecture II: Eric Voegelin’s (1901-1985) Platonic philosophy; the ‘Flow of Presence’.

Lecture III: Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556): discerning divine desire.

Lecture IV: Etty Hillesum (1914-1943): a concrete case-history.

Happiness and the Spiritual Search for Meaning

 

Lecture 1: Overview

Robert Nozick, the famous American philosopher, set out a thought-experiment for us; he called it the ‘experience machine’. He writes: ‘Suppose there was an experience machine that could give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or meeting a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, pre-programming your life’s experiences?’

The question is: is there more to life than feeling happy? Will we accept his offer, to be connected to a machine in which we could feel continuously happy, not only enjoying highly pleasurable sensations but also being profoundly satisfied? – we would be able to live in complete but deluded happiness. Should we plug into this machine for life? Hands up who would! Well, Nozick answers ‘No’ for himself. Why? Because we want to do certain things, we seek meaning and not just happiness; the Experience Machine eliminates all choice, all capacity for genuine empathy, all reciprocity and concern for a meaningful life. When presented to students approximately 5% say they are willing to take a chance on the machine. So 95% think there is more to happiness than feeling happy and more to life than happiness. We want reality, it would seem, with all its shades.

In relation to the differences between men and women on the subject of happiness, I am not aware of any scientific studies on this subject, which doesn’t mean they’re not out there but Aristotle and Schopenhauer thought that women have less capacity for happiness than men. Anyone agree? These two philosophers weren’t though exactly known for their phylogyny (fondness for women).

Has science anything to say here? Is there such a thing as a happiness gene? Is it myth or reality? Some scientists say that positive people owe their optimism to a gene that helps them dwell on the good and ignore the bad. It is a long variant of 5-HTTLPR, a gene that controls transport of the mood-affecting neurotransmitter serotonin, according to behavioural geneticists. It is estimated that 50% of happiness is genetically determined. You can control 40% of your happiness quotient, the remaining 10% comes from outside circumstances such as accidents, illness, the economy, job losses and stock markets plummeting etc. The so-called happiness gene or  the ‘LL’ carrier, as it is called, suggests that people are drawn to positive images in life such as cuddly puppies and those without this gene are more prone to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

One other experiment is worth noting: since 1992 a group of Buddhist monks have visited the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience in the University of Madison, in the US, to take part in electroemcephalographic studies by psychologists there: in these studies monks who had undergone training in meditation are asked to meditate in the laboratory, their heads wired with EEG electrodes – the brain patterns of these monks were found to differ sharply from those of the control subjects – the monks managed to bring about and maintain levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain associated with positive feeling) far above anything achieved by anyone else. One of the monks – a Matthieu Ricard, who is the Dalai Lama’s personal interpreter, has been hailed as one of the happiest persons ever. A case of meditation being better than medication or, as the title of one pop philosophy bestseller has it: Plato is better than Prozac!

In terms of available psychological studies and the data accrued happiness would seem to be a matter not of events but on tides of the mind. Epictetus said it isn’t the event that hurts or harms us or gives us happiness, it is the interpretation the mind puts on the event. Psychologists try to measure it with various instruments, giving various names to their studies: one name they came up with is SWB, meaning ‘subjective well-being’. 20% of people find that social isolation is a major cause of unhappiness. Social contact is the one factor without which happiness is not possible – this has come to the fore in every study. As Aristotle opined: solitude befits only beasts and gods. We men are made for social intercourse and friendship, singled out by Aristotle to be essential to the good, therefore, the happy life. And generally speaking, extraverts are more likely to be happy than introverts. Incidentally, lottery winners are not significantly happier after the initial thrill wears off, than they had been before (though I find that hard to believe!). That’s because happiness is a mental state. We may name such happiness markers and makers, happiness set-points as: mental health, physical health, life satisfaction, meaning in life, positive attitude, social relationships, engaging activities, material sufficiency. Happiness thieves are depression, anger, envy, resentment, anxiety.

Aristotle’s word for happiness in Greek was eudaimonia. Eu means good or well and daimon means spirit or fortune, as in having a good guardian spirit, a good divine power. So, thus understood, perhaps the path to happiness is obeying your conscience, your inner daimon or spirit, or desire. Thomas Merton, the well-known Trappist monk, said that happiness consisted in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be in your life, what it is you really desire.

Happiness is episodic; it means ‘to happen’ so it is not a constant contentment. The Old English usage of ‘happenstance’ reflects this etymology well, which means a lucky break. (Unhappiness is kakodaimonia). Kant, the German philosopher, wrote this: ‘a rational being’s consciousness of the pleasantness of life uninterruptedly accompanying his whole existence is happiness’ but few of us are fortunate to be happy all the time except perhaps the addict.

Studies have shown some correlation between altruism and Subjective Well-Being (thus further confirming Aristotle’s view that the good man is the happy man – virtue is the path to happiness in the Aristotelian perspective); there are scientific experiments that show that kindness is good for the doer. So to give is really to receive, scientifically and not just ethically speaking.

Iris Murdoch, the Irish philosopher and novelist: ‘Happiness is a matter of one’s most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness, being busy and lively and unconcerned with self’. Self-transcendence, so, rather than self-actualisation. And Senecca: ‘the more eagerly a man strives to reach it [happiness], the farther he recedes from it’. So happiness consists in forgetting the self, or, what Murdoch calls: the fat, lying, illusion-making, deceitful ego. And the very pursuit of happiness is what thwarts it. Viktor Frankl makes this point: that happiness must not be pursued, that instead it must ensue. Life, he says, does not owe us happiness, rather, it offers us meaning.

Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, in his book, The Conquest of Happiness, argues that the following factors are the causes of unhappiness: competition, boredom (defined as ‘the desire for desires’) (the cure for boredom is curiosity, though there is no cure for curiosity), fatigue, envy and fear of public opinion. For Russell, true happiness consists in the ‘freedom of the spirit’. The causes of happiness, by contrast, are zest for life (interest in things and people), affection, family ties, work and impersonal interests (where the direction of interest is outward). He writes: ‘The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile’. Happiness depends partly upon external circumstances and partly upon oneself while all the while trying to forget the self. It’s about delighting in the world around us, finding significance in the small things, keeping things simple, as Marcus Aurelius advises, and to give up the hysterical hunt for happiness. We can see this hyper-intention and fixation on being happy at Christmas time, especially Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and that’s why these occasions are more anxiety-producing and miserable than any other ones during the year. It’s about one’s attitude to the things of the world: as Groucho Marx said: ‘I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today’. When we’re pissed off at life we normally get pissed but there are other things we can do to minimise our unhappiness: for example, to see that sufferings and sorrows are part and parcel of life, that they are not the whole of one’s life, that disappointments and depressions, fears and frustrations coexist with joy and jubilation. We can use our talents. Russell gives this advice to would-be writers: ‘Give up trying to write and instead try not to write. Go out into the world and become a pirate, a King in Borneo, a labourer in Soviet Russia’ then you will have something to write about.

Humour is essential, the art of communication (DMC’s – deep, meaningful conversations), leisure time, aliveness, interactions and distractions, and time to think. As one philosopher said: ‘don’t just do something, stand there’! and sheer luck is important (though I wonder whether luck is not another name for tenacity of purpose). It seems to be true that too much of a good thing is not particularly conducive to our happiness: it would seem economically and health-wise we should avoid compulsive consumption (Aristotle advised moderation in all things including moderation!). And at all times, what cuts grief in half is intimate friendship, a real friendship based on a friend giving you criticisms as well as compliments. Also, the ability to learn from suffering, for example, parents can learn many things from their children especially how much patience they have! Marx stressed the importance of meaningful labour; work is so often the only real antidote to worry Confucius put it well: ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Be constructive (constructive purpose promotes happiness), create a monument to your existence, serve a cause, do a deed, love someone in their uniqueness and singularity, and focus on the future, on practical preparations and plans – these are all ways to be happy.

12% of people experience depression and it would seem that the best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up, as Mark Twain suggested which would seem to be in complete agreement with the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, who remarked that the door to happiness opens outwards.

When one psychoanalyst heard that I had written a book on happiness, he said to me ‘happiness is a symptom that has to be cured’! ‘Happiness happens’. That is the etymology of the word. Happiness means ‘to happen’. It is an encounter so, an episode, a happen-ing. Happiness comes and goes – it’s like a ghost. The spirit of happiness, so.

In the film ‘Annie Hall’, Woody Allen approaches an apparently happy couple and asks them whether they are happy, to which they respond in the affirmative. Allen asks: ‘How do you account for it?’ She replies: ‘I’m very shallow and empty and have no ideas and nothing interesting to say’ and he says: ‘And I’m exactly the same way’! They managed to work out something so, observes Allen.

                        Woody Allen’s character, who believes that life can be divided into the horrible (which includes cripples, etc.) and the miserable (the rest of us, who should be thankful we are only miserable) also says: ‘That’s the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing’. Allen is Freudian through and through.

One of Freud’s expressed aims for psychoanalysis was to replace neurotic  suffering with ‘common human unhappiness’. For Freud, we are psychically constituted so as not to be completely happy. The psychoanalytic and religious registers of human experience have much in common here.

Augustinian Christianity insists that ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord’. The psalm chosen by the Church for Compline every Saturday runs:

‘“What can bring us happiness?” many say.

Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.

You have put into my heart a greater joy

than they have from abundance of corn and new wine’ (Psalm 4).

 

The question is answered in psalm 15:

‘Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.

I say to the Lord: “You are my God.

My happiness lies in you alone”’.

 

The psalm concludes:

 

‘You will show me the path of life,

the fullness of joy in your presence,

at your right hand happiness for ever’.

 

Christianity talks a lot about joy– Easter joy not happiness; they are different things. It recognises that ultimate and utter happiness eludes us in this life because of the gulf between my desire and the only entity capable of fulfilling that desire in its entirety – Divinity Itself.

In terms of statistics and the GSS (General Social Survey), 32% of Americans describe themselves as very happy, 56% as pretty happy and 12% as not too happy. So the vast majority (88%) are happy. However, one must bear in mind that there are different meanings attached to the signifier /happiness/. There is, for example, Aristotelian happiness, Buddhist happiness, hedonistic happiness, the Marquis de Sade’s view on happiness and the ‘joy-joy-click-your-heels’ type of happiness.

For Aristotle, who was the first thinker in the Western intellectual tradition to write on happiness, happiness is ‘an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue’. Aristotle’s theory of happiness requires a theory of virtue. Virtue is an acquired disposition to do what is good. Virtue is the path to happiness. For both Aristotle and Aquinas, the happiness of human beings is twofold:

 

1)      There is an imperfect happiness in this life that consists in the contemplation of immaterial substances.

2)      The other happiness is the perfect happiness of the ‘next life’, when we will see the substance of God himself and other immaterial substances, such as angels.

           

            For vulgar people, the Sovereign or Supreme Good or happiness is pleasure and the life of enjoyment (this is Eodoxus’ and Epicurus’s view which re-emerges later in Freud). Aristotle dismisses this way of life as being mere ‘bovine’ existence. It is only one possible life. According to Aristotle, there are three main types of life:

 

1)      the life of pleasure

2)      the political life

3)      the contemplative life

            Happiness is something we always choose for itself ‘and never for any other reason’. Aristotle notes: ‘Happiness, then, is found to be something perfect and self-sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed’. Activities are either necessary and to be chosen for the sake of something else or to be chosen for themselves. Happiness is to be chosen for itself. It is self-sufficient.

Aristotle in his Ethics writes:

 

‘We are now in a position to define the happy man as “one who is active in accordance with complete virtue, and who is adequately furnished with external goods, and that not for some unspecified period but throughout a complete life”. And “destined both to live in this way and to die accordingly”’.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas, who gives us a Christianised Aristotelianism, held that the ultimate of human happiness is to be found in contemplation. ‘Contemplation does not rest until it has found the object which dazzles it’, as the German poet Konrad Weiss put it.

For Aquinas, all gratifications point to the ultimate one – all happiness has some connection with eternal beatitude. All satisfactions this side of Heaven fail to satiate completely – they are not what we seek. As André Gide remarked in his Journals: ‘The terrible thing is that we can never make ourselves drunk enough’. Nothing is enough, sufficient, adequate. The happiness that is contemplation is not just the happiness of the philosopher. All satisfactions remain directed toward one ultimate and final end: partial happiness in this life, perfect happiness in the ‘next life’. Virgil says in Dante’s poem: ‘Amid a thousand twigs, one sweet fruit is sought’.

So we want to be happy and we can’t not want it. The will is incapable of not willing happiness. It is as natural as the falling stone that ‘seeks’ the depths, as the flower that turns to the light, as the beast that hunts its prey. The very desire for happiness is inherent in man’s composition/constitution.

A few centuries later, Blaise Pascal’s would similarly maintain: ‘Wretchedness of man without God / Happiness of man with God’.  Defining the human condition as one of ‘inconstancy, boredom, anxiety’, Pascal devotes the whole section on ‘Diversion’ in his Pensées to showing how man tries to keep boredom at bay. Realising the wretchedness of human existence, man has taken to diversions. For Pascal, ‘nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion’. Diversion is the key to happiness, which Pascal says is the ‘world’s supreme good’ – diversions such as gambling and hunting (we prefer the hunt to the capture, says Pascal). ‘I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room’.

‘The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion. That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible…. [man] becomes unhappy as soon as he thinks about himself’.

Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, penned a passionate and beautiful apologia for hunting, named as far back as Plato as a noble pursuit, entitled: On Hunting (1998). On a Pascalian note he admitted that he was wretched until he discovered the diversion of hunting, which changed his life: ‘My life divides into three parts. In the first I was wretched; in the second ill at ease; in the third hunting’. Like dancing, hunting is done for no other purpose than itself. It is for nothing. One could say that hunting or any diversion exhibits ‘a purposiveness without purpose’. It is auto-telic, having its end in itself. Scruton feels that ‘since discovering hunting, my priorities have changed’. Hunting obviously gives him freedom and a meaning to life or, at least, distracts him a while from life, making sense even of German philosophy! He writes: ‘Hunting gives sense to everything – even to Heidegger’.

And speaking of German philosophy, For Arthur Schopenhauer, the 19th century dark philosopher, happiness is the absence of suffering. ‘Work, worry, toil and trouble are indeed the lot of almost all men their whole life long’. Happiness is the abolition of desire and the extinction of pain.

‘We begin in the madness of carnal desire and the transport of voluptuousness, we end in the dissolution of all our parts and the musty stench of corpses. And the road from the one to the other goes, in regard to our well-being and enjoyment of life, steadily downhill: happily dreaming childhood, exultant youth, toil-filled years of mankind, infirm and often wretched old age, the torment of the last illness and finally the throes of death’.

Though Schopenhauer loved a nineteen-year-old singer, a relationship that lasted intermittently for ten years, he redirected his attention to a succession of poodles, which provided him with huge happiness. Some philosophically minded Frankfurters bought poodles in homage to the great philosopher. He had a rigorous daily routine: he wrote for three hours every morning, played the flute for an hour, dressed in white tie for lunch (he had an enormous appetite), visited his club where he read The Times, took a two-hour walk with his dog, attended the opera or the theatre in the evening, where he usually became enraged by late-comers and those who coughed and generally made noise. But increasingly he isolated himself from human company, for which his mother rebuked him in a letter. Above all, he longed for recognition, the recognition the nearby Hegel was achieving, whose philosophy he describes as ‘repulsive and nonsensical gibberish, recalling the rantings of a bedlamite’. Fame would come posthumously, though, to this good-natured gruff. According to Schopenhauer, if only we did not strive after happiness we would be less unhappy.  ‘What disturbs and renders unhappy … the age of youth … is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. Chess, skittles, hunting, painting, horse-racing, music, cards, poetry and philosophy can all help in keeping boredom at bay, he maintains. Very like Pascal.

Despite his odd moments of hope, Schopenhauer found enough to be depressed about. He says that ‘happiness is not even conceivable’. But some modicum of love and hope do manage to break in to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic picture of the world. Life is a dance into the arms of death. ‘No rose without a thorn. But many a thorn without a rose’. Together with Nietzsche, he influenced Freud.

For Freud we commonly seek three things: power, success and wealth. ‘Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks’. There are three measures we utilise so as to avoid these hardships:

 

1)   Powerful deflections, ‘which cause us to make light of our miseries’,

2)   Substitute satisfactions, ‘which diminish it’, and

3)      Intoxicating substances, ‘which make us insensitive to it’.

What decides the purpose of life, for Freud, is the programme of the ‘pleasure principle’. This principle dominates the mind from the beginning but it puts us at loggerheads with ‘reality’. There is no chance of it being carried through; the entire universe runs counter to it, according to Freud. Freud observes:  ‘One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be “happy” is not included in the plan of “Creation”. What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs that have been damned up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon.  According to Freud, there are three sources of our suffering:

 

1)      From our body, ‘which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain’,

2)      From the external world, ‘which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction’;

3)      And finally from our relations with others, which ‘is perhaps more painful to us than any other’.

Due to all these factors, Freud surmises that we are accustomed to moderate our claims to happiness. Sometimes, Freud suggests, we think ourselves happy merely because we have escaped unhappiness. ‘Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience’. Freud will be suspicious of happy people, maintaining that he can offer no consolation for those of us who suffer so grievously from life, maintaining that the aim of psychoanalysis is ‘to replace neurotic suffering with common human unhappiness’.

            Happiness is elusive; it will always escape us. It elides the grasp – it may be approached but never appropriated. To paraphrase a passage from the Song of Songs, we sought happiness but found it not.

But let’s not totally despair: the human subject is always getting off on something even if it is dissatisfaction. We are happy in our unhappiness. We are content in our misery and suffering. We are happier, so, than we think, according to the Freudian view. Our symptoms afford us with endless pleasure. As Beckett said: ‘You’re on earth; you’re on earth. There’s no cure for that’. The notion that the goal of life is to be happy is pure paganism. The idea of living ‘happily ever after’ is the Christianised version of a pagan concept.

It is tempting to see happiness as an American construct, the febrile search for which may become destructive or futile or both, as it so easily slips away – the American, anarcho-capitalist dream dispensed with. After all, Thomas Jefferson held that the pursuit of happiness was an inalienable right. It is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. America: ‘the USA, the ultimate empire of the pursuit of happiness’ Maybe we need to go to America in order to be happy! In analytic terms, happiness is the betrayal of desire.

Turning to the twentieth-century, Miguel de Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, writes:

‘At our coming into the world it is given to us to choose between love and happiness, and we wish – poor fools! – for both: the happiness of loving and the love of happiness. But we ought to ask for the gift of love and not of happiness, and to be preserved from dozing away into habit, lest we should fall into a fast sleep, a sleep without waking, and so lose our consciousness beyond power of recovery …. Love dies as soon as it touches the happiness towards which it reaches out, and true happiness dies with it’.

There you have it. The choice is stark but simple: happiness or love, for Unamuno. Your happiness or your desire, for Jacques Lacan.

In ‘Love and Death’. Woody Allen would seem to endorse this Unamunian and Lacanian sentiment thus:

‘To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting all this down’.

Iris Murdoch, for her part, has this to say about our search for happiness here below: ‘Happy love can be an ingenious moral cheat. ‘Happiness ‘in spite of the misery of the world’. A brave young man might well believe that it could be achieved’. Well he might.

In That They May Face the Rising Sun, another Irish writer, John McGahern observes intelligently, with a soft wisdom:

‘They were discussing the sale and transfer of the business. As he listened to the two voices he was so attached to and thought back to the afternoon, the striking of the clocks, the easy, pleasant company, the walk round the shore, with a rush of feeling he felt that this must be happiness. As soon as the thought came to him, he fought it back, blaming the whiskey. The very idea was as dangerous as presumptive speech: happiness could not be sought or worried into being, or even fully grasped; it should be allowed its own slow pace so that it passes unnoticed, if it ever comes at all’.

Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher whom I had the privilege of meeting and who I did my doctorate on (he died in 2005), felt happiness could come in three main ways. He writes:

‘I like the word happiness a lot. For a long time I thought that it was either too easy or too difficult to talk about happiness, and then I got beyond my scruples, or rather I deepened those scruples with respect to the word happiness. I take it in all its various meanings, including that of the beatitudes. The formula of happiness is “Happy the one who…” I greet happiness as a “re-cognition” in the three meanings of the word. I recognise it as mine; I approve of it in others, and I am grateful for the happiness that I have known, the small experiences of happiness, which include the small experiences of memory, in order to heal me of the great unhappiness of forgetting. And there I function both as a philosopher, rooted in the Greeks, and as a reader of the Bible and the Gospel where you can follow the trajectory of the word happiness. I think of the beginning of Psalm 4: “Ah, who will teach us happiness?” It’s a rhetorical question, but it finds its answer in the beatitudes. And the beatitudes are the horizon of happiness of an existence placed under the sign of kind-heartedness, because happiness is not simply what I do not have and what I hope to have, but also what I have tasted’.

We can’t absolutely know happiness or be absolutely happy but we can hope. ‘Il n’y a pas une vie heureuse. Il n’y a que des heures heureuses’. As Hopkins puts it: ‘There is a happiness, hope, the anticipation of happiness hereafter: it is better than happiness, but it is not happiness now’. But ultimately, from within a Christian register, it is an uncertain promise not a presence or a possession, one that involves hope rather than having, and aspiration rather than accomplishment and appropriation. It involves signs, signals, signposts, sentinels, cyphers, tracks, traces.

G. K. Chesterton, the English Catholic writer, suggests that we let the melancholy of acedia be an innocent interlude and that we let praise rather than pessimism be the permanent pulsation of the soul, what Ricoeur calls ‘hope’ and ‘love of Creation’. As Chesterton observes: ‘joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live’ even if this ‘laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear’. Chesterton mentions a figure who fills the Gospels, as an example:

‘His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet, He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth’.

For the psychoanalyst, the question of earthly happiness is closed. There is no Sovereign Good. That is to say, in this life. But the question of eternal happiness is an open question. Both are open questions – the ‘next life’ and the notion of complete happiness. The question is: should we be concerned about this? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That is God’s business (should He exist), not ours. Maybe we should think little of it. The question of happiness in ‘Heaven’ is suspended.

Our aspiration to happiness implies ‘a place where miracles happen’. A miracle or a mirage? For the theist, happiness involves living the beatitudinal life. The Sermon on the Mount taught eight beatitudes.

For his part, Ricoeur hopes and wagers on happiness happening, both in this and the next life. ‘I do not aim at “my” personal idea of happiness but happiness and per se’. I should only really be interested in the happiness of the Other.

Charles Taylor, the twentieth-century Canadian philosopher, whom I had the privilege of meeting recently and one-time presidential hopeful, feels that there is something beyond happiness; he calls it ‘fullness’; it takes us beyond mere human flourishing and relates us to the realm of the transcendent. He observes:

‘The individual pursuit of happiness as defined by consumer culture still absorbs much of our time and energy, or else the threat of being shut out of this pursuit through poverty, unemployment, incapacity galvanizes all our efforts. All this is true, and yet the sense that there is something more presses in. Great numbers of people feel it: in moments of reflection about their life; in moments of relaxation in nature; in moments of bereavement and loss; and quite wildly and unpredictably.’

Writing about such fulfilment, Viktor Frankl, who managed to find meaning in a concentration camp, in Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that a thought transfixed him and it was this: that for the first time in his life he saw the truth that had been expounded by the poets and philosophers of all times, that love is the ultimate goal to which the human spirit can aspire, that life is about meaning and not happiness, that man’s salvation is in and through love.

‘I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory”’.

For Frankl, happiness is a by-product, a side-effect of man’s search for meaning as the primary motivating factor. To Freud’s ‘cheerful pessimism’, we may oppose Frankl’s ‘tragic optimism’. The glass, to take the clichéd example, is always half full and half empty at the same time. To put it another way, when the glass is half full it is also half empty. By focusing on the part that is full alone or empty alone one is incorporating a limited understanding of reality. Isn’t wisdom the cognitive ability to discern both realities simultaneously and not one at the expense of the other, to have, as James Joyce put it, two thinks at a time? So to the question: ‘would you like a cup of coffee or tea?’ the only dialectical answer is ‘yes please’!

We should, therefore, not be in too much of a rush to leave the tragic in favour of the triumphant but to retain both perspectives in a delicate dialectical and dynamic tension; in Hegel’s memorable phrase, we need to spend some time ‘looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative…’ is one side of the dialectic and an important one lest we become humanistic hopefuls who toe the Dalai Lama line: ‘The purpose of life is to be happy’ as he puts it.  The other extreme is Schopenhauerian pessimism. Frankl’s shorthand is ‘D = S-M’: ‘despair is suffering without meaning’. In such a situation we are prone to experience with Shakespeare’s Hamlet the feelings he describes thus: ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of the world. Fie on it!’ (Act I, Scene II). But suffering need not be an obstacle to happiness – often it is a means to it, less a pathology than a path. The modern-day moral injunction is: ‘happiness as the supreme duty’.

Frankl sets out three ways as to how we can find meaning instead of happiness: 1) by being creative, 2) by experiencing something (especially experiencing the True, the Good and the Beautiful) or encountering someone, and 3) by changing one’s attitude to unavoidable suffering or unchangeable situations. The last one – attitudinal values – entails facing one’s fate without flinching; the ancient Stoics gave prominence to this the last of human freedoms in their philosophical therapeia. It testifies to the enduring and ‘defiant power of the human spirit’. As Plutarch puts it: ‘The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune’. We don’t know what magnificent hour may still await us.

Lack of meaning or the impossibility to fulfil meaning potential is the main reason for the ‘existential vacuum’ of ennui and apathy, of doubt, despair, hopelessness and spiritual acedia. Such is the taedium vitae.  Yes, Frankl says, ‘things are bad’ but unless we seek to ameliorate them, everything will become worse! To live is to suffer but to survive is to find some meaning in suffering. Frankl often asked his patients why they didn’t commit suicide, thus recognising with Camus, that the only philosophical question is whether we should commit suicide out of disgust with life. If there is meaning, it is unconditional and neither suffering nor dying can detract from it. To trust there is is transcendental.

Logotherapy teaches that life does not owe us happiness, it offers us meaning. Happiness, like success and satisfaction, are by-products of our pursuit of meaning. And all meaning converges in the highest meaning, that is to say, in transcendent reality. Ultimate meaning may be approached, it is never appropriated; by contrast, the meaning of the moment can be found and fulfilled. This involves being mindful of the moment as we tend and attend to, as well as profit from, the present instant and the call of the hour.

            The surest way to be unhappy is to fixate on happiness, to demand or desire it, to hyper-reflect on it. Seeking happiness is like chasing a rainbow – the faster one runs, the further it recedes. We need to surrender to it happening, to let go and forget about it. Self-transcendence is the ultimate ethical and spiritual ‘beyond’ of self-actualisation. Hyper-intention is the excessive striving for a goal such as happiness or pleasure. Frankl encourages us to de-reflect from this egotistical pursuit of happiness. As such, we need to find meaning and forget about happiness. In the Preface to the 1992 edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl tells us that the following was the advice he gave to his students:

‘Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it’.

For Frankl, there can be as much meaning in suffering as in success. As he states: ‘Lack of success does not signify lack of meaning’ in which case, we may speak, as Frankl does, of despair despite success. On the other hand, there is a phenomenon which can be described as fulfilment despite failure.

Frankl cites a study conducted in Harvard University where among 100 subjects who had graduated 20 years before, there was a huge percentage of whom who complained of a crisis and felt that their personal lives were pointless even though they had been very successful in their professional lives – they included  lawyers, doctors and analysts.

For Frankl, our whole therapeutic culture stresses the idea that we ought to be happy, that we have a right to be happy, ‘that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment’. Frankl continues: ‘One must have a reason “to be happy”. Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically’.

One contemporary American philosopher opines: ‘Self-forgetfulness is the secret of joy. Pleasure is agitated aliveness, happiness ‘has peace in place of agitation, but sleepy satisfaction in place of aliveness. Only joy has both peace and aliveness, aliveness without agitation and peace without sleepiness’. He continues:

‘Pleasure is the restless mind moving along a line, never reaching the end. Happiness is the mind resting at the end. Joy is the mind eternally moving at the end, motion at a point …. Pleasure is moving; happiness is still; joy is moving while still. Pleasure is like work, happiness is like sleep, joy is like play. Pleasure is like action, happiness is like rest, joy is like contemplation’.

From Aristotle to Jefferson, happiness has been regarded as the principal goal of life but Frankl sides with Kant and Max Scheler who view it as a side-effect. What about inducing happiness through drugs, through ‘happiness pills’? Frankl responded to this once in Berkeley; it was raised by a student. Frankl answered that these can never be a reason for our happiness, though they may be a cause for it. Reason implies a psychological relationship just as cause implies physiological-biochemical one. Joseph Fabry, in his The Pursuit of Meaning, gives an example that delineates the differences between reasons and causes for happiness, thus: ‘When someone is weeping because she lost a friend, she has a reason; but when someone is weeping while cutting an onion, the onion is not a reason for his tears – it is a cause’.

We may liken it to insomnia. Sleep is a dove that flies away as soon as you make a grab for it. Or, to take another example: Happiness is like a cat, if you try to coax or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap. The striving and straining after happiness is, for Frankl, ‘misguided’ and ‘neurotic’. As Frankl puts it: ‘Once one has served a cause or is involved in loving another human being, happiness occurs by itself’

            American cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker in How the Mind Works, drawing on the work of the evolutionary psychologist, Donald Campbell, who described humans as beings on a ‘hedonistic treadmill’, notes that, ‘the study of happiness often sounds like a sermon for traditional values. The numbers show that it is not the rich, privileged, robust, or good-looking who are happy, it is those who have spouses, friends, religion, and challenging, meaningful work’. ‘The direct pursuit of happiness is a recipe for an unhappy life’.

            Happiness cannot and should not be a matter of intention; it must remain a matter of effect. Happiness ensues as an unintended (side) effect of one’s dedication and devotion to a cause (to serve) or person (to love). Frankl is explicit: the focus instead should be directed outward away from the pleasure-ego. ‘In the final analysis, dereflection means ignoring one’s self’. It is the logotherapeutic technique of dereflection that promotes such self-forgetfulness. A story is told about a man who was promised a hundred dollars if he would not think about a chameleon and although he had not, before that, thought about the lizard, now he couldn’t stop thinking about it! But as soon as he was told to think about an elephant he stopped thinking about the chameleon! Iris Murdoch, gives an example in her The Sovereignty of Good. Murdoch relates:

‘I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And of course this is something which we may also do deliberately: give attention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care’.

In this example, dereflection ushered in self-transcendence and an alteration, therefore, in moral vision. Frankl likes the line from Bernano’s Diary of a Country Priest: ‘It is easier than one believes to hate oneself; grace consists in forgetting the self’. Frankl expounds: ‘Persons do not exist for the sake of observing themselves and contemplating their own egos, rather, they exist in order to give themselves up, to give themselves away, to knowingly and lovingly devote themselves’.

The meaning of life is a life of meaning. Frankl notes: ‘To look for the general meaning of man’s life would be comparable to asking a chess player: “What is the best move?” There is no such thing as “the best move” apart from the one that is best within the context of a particular situation of a particular game’.

            For Frankl, either life has meaning and if so it retains it or life has no meaning. He quotes Albert Einstein: ‘The man who regards his life as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life’.

            In terms of the relationship between pleasure, happiness and joy and relating them to Frankl’s tri-dimensional ontology, that we move in three modalities, body, mind, spirit, I would like to advance the notion that pleasure pertains to the somatic, happiness to the psychical and joy to the noetic. Somatic ‘happiness’ is pleasure, psychic ‘happiness’ is happiness, while noetic ‘happiness’ is joy. Hence, my schema (which gives the impression of being static and rigid, almost reified but there are, of course, interpenetrations and cross-currents present):

 

Physical happiness (somatic):                          Pleasure

Psychological happiness (psychical):              Happiness

Spiritual happiness (noetic):                                        Joy

The higher includes the lower and transcends them (give example). Joy, in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is the ultimate gift from God. It resides in the spirit, the noetic core or realm. And conscience is the voice of spirit. Joy has an air of eternity about it and opens us up to the Other. ‘Enter into the joy of the Lord’ (Matt. 25: 21), we are told. But recalling Frankl’s ‘tragic optimism’ let us say: we can be fairly happy, reasonably happy here!

            Henri de Lubac, S.J., the French Catholic theologian, has some interesting and similar observations to Frankl in his small book of aphorisms entitled Paradoxes of Faith. He, too, is of the opinion that suffering is part and parcel of the fabric of life and doesn’t preclude joy. ‘Suffering is the thread from which the stuff of joy is woven. Never will the optimist know joy’. No, but the tragic optimist might! Suffering can be redemptive; it can bring blessings. Prayer, love and suffering are three ways which free us from sentimentality. ‘Under the species of pain, the substance of joy is there, already …. There is only one way of being happy: not to be ignorant of suffering, and not to run away from it; but to accept the transfiguration it brings’. Many promises of happiness, he contends, are ‘swindles or childish dreams’. So there it is: real joy is faith and found in the Father. Joy is the very life of Heaven. Joy is self-transcendence: joy points to its ultimate beyond, to God. Joy is not a feeling; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. The road to joy: ‘Thy will be done’. De Lubac summarises the relationship the Christian has to happiness, thus:

‘The Christian does not ask for happiness. Jesus teaches him to ask for the Father’s Name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, for his Will to be done. The Christian does not expect happiness. He expects the new heavens and the new earth, “which Justice inhabits”. The Christian does not desire happiness. He hungers and thirsts after Justice. He is athirst for eternal life. The Christian does not hope for happiness. He hopes to see the glory of God. Happiness is all that and can be but that’.

Frankl’s own experiences of spiritual self-transcendence are described in Man’s Search for Meaning. He was in the concentration camp communing in his mind with his wife and struggling to find a reason for his sufferings, for his slow dying. I conclude this overview of my thoughts on the subject of happiness and meaning with his words:

‘In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet” – and the light shineth in the darkness’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lecture 2: Voegelin

 

Men’s curiosity searches past and future

And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend

The point of intersection of the timeless

with time, is an occupation of the saint –

No occupation either, but something given

And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,

Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

For most of us, there is only the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

Hints followed by guesses, and the rest

Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.

Here the impossible union

Of spheres of existence is actual,

Here the past and future

Are conquered, and reconciled…

T. S. Eliot, ‘The Dry Savages IV’, Four Quartets

 

 

The German philosopher Eric Voegelin’s (1901-1985) work was oriented towards diagnosing the causes of the wars and various crises of the twentieth-century, as well as recalling for human consciousness the divine Ground of reality within which the search for order is undertaken. He is a philosopher of history, a political philosopher and mystic-philosopher all at once.

Voegelin’s conviction is that the philosophical and Christian life is ordered through an Anselmian faith in search of understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). Voegelin completes Aristotle’s opening sentence in the Metaphysics ‘all men by nature desire to know’ by the words ‘the divine Ground of being’. But there is also a response from the divine Reality. Desire is, thus, twofold. Both Plato and Aristotle recognised this desirous dimension of reality, with their conceptualisation of an Unmoved Mover who attracts men to himself. ‘Plato and Aristotle recognised these [moving] forces in the experiences of a human questioning (aporein) and seeking (zetein) in response to a mysterious drawing (helkein) and moving (kinein) from the divine side’2. In the Laws X, Plato symbolised the emergence of the pull (helkein) of the Word/God and the counter-pull (anthelkein) of the world/man – man is the ‘puppet of the gods’. Whether man responds to the drawing/pull of the golden cord or surrenders to the pull of the steely cord marks the dividing line between openness of soul and closure3. In the second part of St. Anselm’s Proslogion, Anselm prays thus: ‘Speak to my desirous soul what you are, other than what it has seen, that it may clearly see what it desires’4. Desire, as St. Augustine noted, does not rest until it discovers the object that dazzles it. This is the Logos about which Heraclitus speaks (‘The Logos holds sway always’) and St. John: ‘In the beginning was the Logos’. The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation but comes to its fulfilment in the Incarnation of the Word in Christ.

Plato has given us the famous Parable of the Cave in the Republic to denote this drawing of desire. In this allegory, ‘prisoners’ are depicted as men fettered with their faces to the wall and who are then dragged up by force to the light. Plato depicts a pilgrimage, an ascent from the sensual to the spiritual. This involves a re-orientation of desire, a conversion of consciousness, a (Platonic) periagoge or turning around, a metanoia or (Christian) conversion to the divine Ground of being. We experience the sacred pull of reason (logos) that lifts us up to the Beyond (epekeina). Existence is thus seen as a field of pulls and counter-pulls, of ascent to the light and descent to the depths. The Gospel of St. John (12: 32) is in full accord with classic philosophy but He is now named as the Christ who, when He is lifted up, will draw all men to Himself. He is the magnetic pneumatic centre of attraction who exerts this pull of love and is the source of all our eschatological expectations. John 6: 44: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him’. John thus symbolises, in an avowedly Christian context, the pull of Plato’s ‘golden cord’.

We are not apes but nor are we angels. For Voegelin, existence has the structure of the Platonic metaxy, of the In-Between – the In-Between of immanence and transcendence, mortality and immortality, nature and the divine. Existence has a noetic structure and so, for Voegelin, madness (in the Aeschylean sense) is the refusal of reason, is the loss of personal and social order through loss of contact with divine reality. Voegelin aims to return to immediate experience, to the reality engendering and the symbols engendered. The aim, therefore, of philosophy is to recapture reality, to return to the engendering experiences to which symbols give rise. According to Voegelin, reason (nous), which he describes as ‘the cognitively luminous force’5, is the force and source of order in the soul/psyche of man and in the cosmos. Order pertains, thus, to the structure of reality as experienced and the attunement of man to such an order results in joy. If soul connotes man’s depths, spirit denotes man’s openness to this divine Logos. ‘By spirit we understand the openness of man to the divine ground of his existence: by estrangement from the spirit, the closure and the revolt against the ground’6. For Aristotle, this yearning, desiring, longing, quest(ion)ing after the Ground is the beginning of all philosophy. Plato’s philosophy sounds a more erotic note and envisages a turning, in loving search, to the Ground, from spiritual desolation to the spiritual consolation of the sun, which is his metaphor for the Good. The choice: turning toward the Ground or a turning away from the Ground. In so far as man participates in the divine drama of being, in the dialectic of desire, truth (aletheia) becomes luminous and existence too.

It is my Christian contention that the divine reality desires to communicate with the creature and that it is possible, with the help of St. Ignatius of Loyola, to discover and discern this divine desire. 

The human being is viatoric – on the way, a pilgrim questing and questioning and wondering, restless and desirous. Our desires are always deferred, distant, directed to the One who alone can fulfil them. As Voegelin describes it: man

 

‘is moved by God to ask the questions that will lead him toward the cause (arche) of being. The search itself is the evidence of existential unrest; in the act of questioning, man’s experience of his tension (tasis) toward the divine ground breaks forth in the word of inquiry as a prayer for the Word of the answer. Question and answer are intimately related one toward the other; the search moves in the metaxy, as Plato has called it, in the In-Between of poverty and wealth, of human and divine; the question is knowing, but its knowledge is yet the trembling of a question that may reach the true answer or miss it. This luminous search in which the finding of the true answer depends on asking the true question, and the asking of the true question on the spiritual apprehension of the true answer, is the life of reason’13.

 

To put it in Pascalian terms, we can say that we search for what we have already found. By contrast, the derailment or disease of the spirit is a closure to this divine Ground; it is, in short, what Voegelin calls the ‘decapitation of God’, the rejection of the transcendental realissimum, as the source of order in self, society and history. What has marked and marred modernity, in the main, according to a Voegelinian analysis, is the immanentisation of the eschaton, to use Voeglelin’s felicitous and famous phrase from his The New Science of Politics, i.e., the desire to reduce the transcendent reality to a mere psychic phenomenon. This is an egophanic revolt, one that is Gnostic through and through. For Voegelin, the psyche is the sensorium of transcendence just as man is a participant in the drama of being, in the lasting and passing of existence. Attunement to the flow of (divine) presence occurs when man hearkens to that which is lasting in being and listens attentively to the still, small, silent voice of conscience and grace in human existence. This leads to a radical reorientation in man; it may be symbolised as the Platonic periagoge or as Christian conversion. And the mundane becomes mystical. Man then lives in partnership with God, who is the true source of his order. It is a passionate response to revelation, to an act of gratuitous grace. Participation becomes heightened into attunement to the divine order of being, to what is enduring, and the soul is thus ‘open’. Man is in search of this Ground, of this God in Hellas (classic philosophy) just as God goes in search of man in Israel.

This search for the Ground is conducted in the depths and heights of consciousness; it seeks to uncover the ultimate reality of being. For both Aristotle and Aquinas (albeit differently) we naturally desire the Ground. And it is philosophy which illuminates with intelligence the loving search of the divine Ground. In Order and History, Voegelin speaks of philosophy as ‘the love of being through love of the divine Being as the source of its order’16. The core and constitutive aspect of man’s existence is his immortalising participation through reason in the divine Nous. For Aristotle, the Nous is the divine element shared by both God and man. And we have had thousands of years of the codification of man’s experiences of this divine Being. History is a trail of His absent presence; everywhere there are traces of transcendence. Noetically, we experience this as the actualising Nous, pneumatically we experience this as the attracting/drawing Divinity. We remain in the flow, in the ‘in between’ of the luminosity of existence, in which eternity is, nonetheless, present. In the flow the trans-temporal eternal Being is felt – what Voegelin calls, in Anamnesis, the ‘flowing present’ of the Eternal. As Anaximander put it: ‘The origin of things (arche) is the Aperion (the depth)’17.

There is no final or ultimate Answer to the Question other than the Mystery – all answers confront their limit in the Mystery of Reality whose meaning becomes more luminous in the very act and art of questioning itself. Voegelin’s main principles come from the inquiry itself and may be summarised as follows18:

1: Participation: the principle of participation is central to noetic existence. We participate in the reality of which we are but a part, ontologically symbolised by man, God, world and society, which together form a quarternarian structure of being. Participation is our perspective on reality. This participation tends in the direction, in the pull of super-eminent reality – God (or any other names that symbolically designate divinity, or the Ground of being). They have been experienced and expressed in various modes or modalities: the Platonic vision of the Good and the love of wisdom; the Heraclitean Logos; Pauline faith, hope and love; the Aristotelian immortalising quest; the Augustinian amor Dei; the Anselmian faith in search of understanding. There is, thus, a fundamental tension – such is the nature of the In-Between, in which we participate. Reality is metaxological; it is also hierarchical; participation is layered upon ascending grades of greater reality and greater participation, from the physical to the spiritual, rational and divine. This is mirrored in the hierarchical structure/order of man’s psyche/consciousness, whose highest nature is nous. The Question is constant in the experience of reality: one formulation of it is Leibniz’s, re-asked by Heidegger: ‘why are there things at all rather than no things?’ The Question gives rise to the quest, and the quest seeks the Ground of things (the depth), the God who is the Beginning and the Beyond (the end), the Alpha and the Omega; our pilgrim’s progress points toward eschatological fulfilment and finality in the Parousia19.

2: Differentiation: Answers to the Question are not all the same; some possess more force, are superior in their perception and penetration, in their luminosity, completeness and compactness. This is achieved through the principle of differentiation, which designates a developmental process in the structures of consciousness/reality experienced/symbolised. For example, myth is less differentiated than philosophy and revelation, the latter symbolic forms articulating greater profundity of the Whole. This process of differentiation is the exclusive source of knowledge of reality/consciousness (the knowledge attained through noetic science). Man is a participant in the process; he is not a stoical spectator, rather, he is a passionate participator in the personal, social and historical dimensions of human experience/existence. If ‘differentiation’ is attained through openness to the Ground, ‘contraction’, by contrast, connotes closure to the Ground. There are counter-movements within consciousness; these may be described as revolt, rebellion, reduction, bad faith, metastatic faith, magic, deformation, derailment, defection from reality, alienation, egophany, refusal to apperceive, contempt for reality. Any of these occur when the insights as symbolised are perverted, dogmatised, doctrinalised, obscured through systems or torn from their experiential contexts for obfuscatory purposes.

 

3: Experience-symbolisation: For Voegelin, experience is not primarily the perception of external objects but the apperception of the processes of the participatory reality of consciousness in tension to the Ground. Experience engenders symbolisms. Experience-symbolism forms a unit. The search for the Ground and its symbolisation of experience stresses the ontic perspective of luminous participation. The principle of equivalence arises from the fact that the same reality is intended by varied symbolisms as the trail of history from Stone Age petroglyphs to Platonic dialogues to the philosophising of a Bergson. Aristotle recognised the equivalence of the insights symbolised in myth to those symbolised in philosophy. So that for Aristotle, the lover of myth, the philomythos is at the same time a lover of wisdom, a philosophos.

4: Reason: For Voegelin, it is reason that is the core constituent of man. Man is a rational animal – a zoon noetikon or homo sapiens, as a being who possesses nous, to give it an Aristotelian flavour. Reason is at the heart of noetic science and is the principle of science. It is the highest principle shared by both man and the divine Being. Reason is both a structure (of man’s participation in the metaxy and the tension toward the divine Ground of being) and a process.

We are restless wanderers pulled toward the super-eminent reality that stirs man to wondering; it is experienced as an attraction to higher reality. Man’s nous responds to the divine Nous or Ground. The classical experiences are the theophanies of Moses and Paul and their decisive responses to the divine disclosure. This unrest is joyful; it is the beginning of the theophanic event as noetic consciousness (the sensorium of transcendence) opens to the Ground. We may tentatively venture a Voegelinian definition of happiness here: it would be man’s participation in the theophany, his attunement to the flowing presence of the Divine Ground of Being, and the corresponding ordering of his life in its personal, social and historical dimensions, accordingly. Man’s happiness is not ‘this-worldly’21; its ultimate source is other-worldly, trans-mundane. Man’s desire seeks its fulfilment in absolute Love. Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, to list the three transcendental properties of being, are three names for God, and three paths that lead to Him. Their presence is an indicator that the flow of divine presence is at work in the world and in ourselves. One of Karl Rahner, S.J’s major works in theology deals precisely with this theme – Geist in Welt (Spirit in the World). For this German Jesuit, grace is God’s self-disclosure, His self-communication to His creatures. Similarly, for Bernard Lonergan, S.J., the transcendental precepts of being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, and loving are ways by which we seek God and ways that God is present to us too. I attend to myself, the other and God in that I try to sense the Spirit at work. My faith searches to understand; it is intelligible, like the universe. We seek the Truth with our intellects. Faith is reasonable and rational; we are responsible in that we respond to the Divine call or promptings (or choose not to), to everyday epiphanies, seeking God in all things and all things in God, as St. Ignatius would have it. We search for God as Cause and Call. And we love; we commit, we endure all things in the light of the divine Ground of being. In so doing, we partake in the Divine Love/Life that characterises God as triune, as a communion of Love.

For Voegelin, the source of order in human existence is rooted in experiences of transcendence, in the attunement to divine Reality; this involves getting ‘in tune’ with God. ‘Song is existence’, as Rilke said. It is a uni-verse. Religious experience is the ground of order. And self and society are inter-related, as they were for Plato. Psyche is the substance of society and social or societal order depends on the order of the individual soul. Political order is achieved by the attunement of the citizen’s soul to the divine Ground of existence. This is the cardinal insight of Voegelin, an insight that has been expressed by prophets, mystics, saints and sages of all times and by the philosophers of the past. To be created in the image and likeness of God is to be ordered to the divine Ground; it involves an amor Dei rather than an amor sui, an openness rather than closure to the Ground of all. We participate in the divine Logos by way of the divine Nous that dwells in all of us – such is the life of self-transcending reason. What is of primary importance are experiences of the Transcendent; doctrines and dogmas are secondary; they are hypostasised ideas. According to Voegelin, we have lost the immediate encounter with the transcendent, what Voegelin calls the ‘truth of existence’22. The task is to make radiant once again the symbols of the divine-human relation/encounter/meeting (not merging). Such is the ‘order of love’, of which Voegelin speaks. And what love desires is immortality23. When we partake of the divine being/substance we become theomorphic. And the theomorphism of the soul is the principle of all order originating in the cosmos. The experience of divine Reality occurs in the psyche of man, the psyche that exists in the metaxy, in tension toward the Ground. The psyche is the sensorium for divine Reality and the site of its luminous presence.

Voegelin’s whole aim is to return to the experiences and symbols which give rise to second-order constructions, the mediaeval paradigm of which is St. Thomas Aquinas’ scholastic metaphysics, but which is erected on the basis of an animating mysticism24.

I began this second lecture by citing some lines from the Christian poet, T. S. Eliot. Voegelin’s philosophical symbol of ‘the flow of presence’ is precisely the divine Presence of which Eliot writes symbolised in his immortal words: ‘the point of intersection of the timeless with time’. Man is the meeting place of both body and soul, of the visible and the invisible, of time and timelessness. ‘The visible reminder of Invisible Light’, as Eliot puts it. His Four Quartets is the spiritual autobiography of a Christian soul, a metaphysical poem which is, at once, a meditation and incantation, as Voegelin describes it25. If we are open to divine reality,

‘every point of presence is as T. S. Eliot formulated it, a point of intersection of time with the timeless. This is the point of presence. Thus, the whole series of time would not be a series on a line at all but a series of present points in which none is ever past, but only past in relation to their present, not really past. Ontologically, really, it is always in relation to the presence, which is the same presence that constitutes my present here and now. On this conception of a divine presence, which is the presence in every present point on the line…’26.

 

The Presence is the presence of the divine Ground. The transcendent being is the cause of all the beings in the world, the ground of all other being. ‘There is one real being, the eminent being that is divine being in the Beyond’27. There is no immanent being without transcendent being. Voegelin calls this ground of being ‘a nonexistent reality’28. It is real yet nonexistent. By nonexistent Voegelin means that the divine being does not have the mode of existence in time and space. To speak of this being, one has to draw on a different logic, for example, on the Thomistic analogy of being (analogia entis). Aristotle had developed terms to describe the searching part, the zetesis, that is, searching and being moved toward the search and kinesis, coming from the divine side (in Christianity it is called grace). And when consciousness is the site where transcendence and immanence meet we speak of the metaxy, or the In-Between. We live in this In-Between, and if we are open, we live in the flow of presence, ‘which is neither time nor the timeless, but the flow in which time and the timeless meet. That is the time in which we exist. In this flow of presence, in-between, that is where all the [concerns] of man are transacted’29. Reason attracts man (this is Aristotelian kinesis, without which nobody would search for anything). We exist in a state of existential tension and unrest, in the flux and flow of presence, from which springs the desire to know or, what Voegelin simply calls ‘the attraction30. The ‘indelible presence’ of the divine31 is the moving factor in the soul and world at large, which Plato calls the parousia (which is Greek for ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’ of a person and is employed in theology to refer to the second coming of Christ).

 

Lecture 3: Ignatius of Loyola

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., God’s Grandeur

 

According to the Christian tradition, we have a desire for God yes, but more, God desires to reveal His desire to man too. The question is: how are we to discern or discover this divine desire? Ignatius of Loyola can help us here.

 

In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits (the Society of Jesus) gives us criteria to discover precisely this and so it is to this classic spiritual text that we now turn our attention. This little book consists of contemplations and meditations on Christ’s life, death and resurrection, organised around four ‘weeks’, corresponding to the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. At the heart of the Exercises is the question of desire. The five themes that structure the Exercises are: Creation, Mankind, The Kingdom of God, Christ, and The Trinity. Ignatius makes two claims: firstly, that we can discover God’s desire for us, and secondly, that God will communicate His desire for us, as contingent creature deals directly with his Creator, all for the greater glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam).

The aim of the Exercises is to discover and discern the divine Will (or desire), regarding the disposition of one’s life, thus insuring the salvation of one’s soul. This is Ignatius’ intent. At the outset, he distinguishes between the intellect (reasoning) and the will (rational desire), which expresses the affections. Prayer must involve both2. The one giving the Exercises ‘should allow the Creator to work directly with the creature, and the creature with its creator and God’3. The objective is to free the soul from any inordinate inclinations or attachments, from any disordered desire, to create indifference to all created or indifferent things. We need not go into the Daily Examen of Conscience, the Meditations, the Two Standards, the Three Classes of Men, the Three Modes of Humility, etc. Suffice to say that running through the entire Exercises is the question of desire, and this desire is twofold; it is a dialectic involving the desire of the creature and the desire of the Creator. The person doing the Exercises must be ‘always intent on seeking what I desire’4, ‘that I may desire and know what is most pleasing to His Divine Goodness’5, and again: ‘to ask for what I desire’6. This is the constant refrain from within the context of Christian, more specifically, Catholic spirituality.

In order to make a choice of a way of life we need to be able to discern, what Ignatius calls, the discernment of diverse spirits – i.e., the various movements of the spirit in me through the experiences of what he calls ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’. The aim here is to ask that God may deign to move my will and to reveal to my spirit what I should do to better promote His praise. Ultimately, this involves disregarding riches, honour and pride and preferring, instead, poverty, scorn (or contempt for worldly things) and humility. The Exercises culminate in the ‘Contemplation to Attain Divine Love’. For Ignatius, love is made manifest more in deeds than words and it consists in a mutual interchange by the two parties involved (the lover and the beloved). And the ultimate lover is Christ, indeed, the Logos is Love Itself, as St. John tells us. A similar maxim to Ignatius’ idea above in relation to love as a deed more than a word, is Hevenesi’s, a Hungarian Jesuit, who formulated the following idea in 1705: ‘Here, then, is the first value of acting: assume/believe that the successes of your undertakings depends entirely on you, and in no way on God; but, nonetheless, set to work as if God alone will be everything, and you yourself nothing’. So, we must experience ourselves as fully responsible. The trust in God must be in our acts, not in our beliefs.

According to Ignatius, there are two movements that are produced in the soul: spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Anxiety and sadness or melancholy come from the evil spirit or enemy, while courage, strength and peace come from the good spirit or angel. This is how he defines spiritual consolation:

‘I call it consolation when the soul is aroused by an interior movement which causes it to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and consequently can love no created thing on the face of earth for its own sake, but only in the creator of all things’7.

 

By contrast, desolation is the opposite. Ignatius:

‘I call desolation … darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind, inclination to low and earthly things, restlessness resulting from many disturbances and temptations which lead to loss of faith, loss of hope and loss of love. It is also desolation when a soul finds itself completely apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated as it were, from its Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, so the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation’8.

 

There may be three reasons for our desolation: because we are slothful in our spiritual exercises, so spiritual consolation is withdrawn from us; God may be testing us; or God may desire to give us a true knowledge and understanding, to reveal to us that everything is a gift and grace from Him. ‘It belongs to God and His angels to bring true happiness and spiritual joy to the soul and to free it from the sadness and disturbance which the enemy causes’9. Ignatius summarises his central claim thus: ‘… the action of the good angel is gentle, light, sweet, as a drop of water entering a sponge. The action of the evil spirit is sharp, noisy, and disturbing, like a drop of water falling upon a rock’10.

 

Ignatius also instructs us to make a daily ‘Examen of conscience’, what is now called an ‘Examen (examination) of consciousness’. It involves reviewing one’s day (a similar exercise is employed in logotherapy), resolving to amend one’s life, requesting forgiveness and graces from God. According to Ignatius, we have three types of thoughts: a thought that is my own and comes from my own liberty and will, with the other two kinds stemming from the good spirit and the evil one and we need to be able to distinguish between them. We need, also, to guard against idle words, defaming or slandering an other and thoughts that prompt us to sin. Ignatius’ method involves rendering gratitude to God for graces received, asking for graces to know my sin and to free myself from it, demanding an account of my soul from the moment of rising until the Examen is performed, examining and exploring my thoughts, my words, then my actions, and asking pardon for my faults and failings, and finally, resolving to amend my life and concluding with an Our Father. The aim of the Examen is to aid the prayerful person to grow in spiritual sensitivity and to help us to look at our life through the lens of love, mindful that the Spirit is at work and attempting to live in accordance with His will. The key to the Examen is to examine how conscious we are of the ‘flow of divine presence’ in our lives, as we are aware of each and every moment (the present instant). This is the ultimate relevance of Ignatius to the disciple of Voegelin or Frankl.

These, then, are Ignatius’ guidelines, both for the Examen (which can be carried out on a daily basis) and for the full Spiritual Exercises (which can be carried out either over the course of a 30-day silent Ignatian retreat or in its 19th Annotation version in daily life) to help to discern God’s desire for us: Ignatius’ is a psychological-spiritual approach, grounded in the soil of Christology.

 

If we are being ‘consoled’, in Ignatius’ meaning of that term, then the spirit of God is at work in our soul. For God wishes to make Himself known to us. This is the divine desire – so that we may come to know and love Him and live and die accordingly, enflamed with this divine desire, enraptured, enveloped, suffused, permeated by the absolute love of the Three Persons of the Trinity. Spiritual discernment is needed in order to chart these movements of the spirit within our souls in our ongoing attempt to discover the divine desire for us.

 

Voegelin: The Flowing Presence as Equivalent to Ignatian Consolation

A comparable idea and insight to Ignatius’ notion of ‘consolation’, I would contend, is Voegelin’s philosophical equivalent symbol of the ‘flowing presence’, which is likewise designed to catch changes and shifts in consciousness in the mode of human responsiveness to the divine presence. For Voegelin, we remain in the ‘in between’, in the metaxy – ‘in a temporal flow of experience in which eternity is present. This flow cannot be dissected into the past, present, or future of the world’s time, for at every part of the flow there is the tension toward the transcending eternal being. This characteristic of the presence of eternal being in temporal flow may best be represented by the term flowing presence11. This flow of divine presence in our lives requires a response from the creature in his existential and dramatic encounter with his Creator. It is a moment of the eternal present, where happiness resides.

The divine Ground of being is not an existent thing like the things of the world12. Human nature, however, in its openness to the Ground, responds to the call that comes from on High. Voegelin puts it thus: ‘Through this openness, beyond all contents, images, and models, order flows from the ground of being into man’s being’12. This is the theophany – the appearance of God to man and the transformation it elicits in man as we touch the tensional poles of metaleptic reality – the apeiron (depth) and nous (reason). For Voegelin, as we have said, the eternal being is not an external object that can be studied but rather a compelling experience that irrupts into time – it is a theophanic moment when timelessness intersects with time. The place where this realisation occurs is the soul of the philosopher, ‘the lover of wisdom, who desires eternal being and, in love, opens his soul to its irruption. There is no philosophy without philosophers, namely, without men whose soul responds to eternal being’13. Elsewhere Voegelin continues: ‘When man by virtue of his soul experiences his participation in eternal being, he is more than merely ‘man in temporal existence’’14. Temporal being becomes illuminated by eternal Being and participates in divine life. The tension is that man experiences within himself his temporality but also his eternity; one pole lies within himself, the other lies outside himself, is experienced as being beyond all temporal being. Voegelin observes: ‘From the temporal pole the tension is experienced as a loving and hopeful urge toward the divine eternity, from the eternal being as a call and irruption of grace’15. It is a moment that is not momentary but momentous. Moments of hope, love and grace. The tension must be experienced personally and presents itself in a manifold of experiential modes ‘of anxiety and faith, … of despair and hope, of acquiescence and rebellion, humility and defiance, opening and closing oneself, apostasy and return, promethean revolt and fear of God, joy of life and contemptus mundi16. In this experience of the divine flow of presence, of flowing presence in the metaxy, there is a meeting, not a merging, of man and God, of time and eternity. The metaxy is the place of their interplay – a Winnicottian ‘transitional space’. Both poles need to be stressed: on the one side, there is man’s seeking-and-receiving. On the other side, there is God’s or the divine Ground’s giving-and-commanding. When the former is emphasised we speak of philosophy (symbolised by Hellas), when the divine irruption is emphasised we speak of revelation (symbolised by Israel).

In this search for the divine Ground of being we need to emphasise the fact that this desire is not blind. ‘Since the search is not a blind desire but rather contains the component of insight, we may characterize it as knowing questioning and questioning knowledge’17. Still, we may miss the goal or be satisfied instead by a shadow of divinity. ‘That which gives direction to the desire and thus imparts content to it is the ground itself, insofar as it moves man by attraction’18. Without this kinesis, this attraction to the Ground, ‘there would be no desire for it; without the desire, no questioning in confusion; without questioning in confusion, no awareness of ignorance. There could be no ignorant anxiety, from which rises the question about the ground, if the anxiety itself were not already man’s knowledge of his existence from a ground of being that is not man himself’19. There is, thus, a mutual participation (metalepsis) of two nous entities. Nous is what is divine in man and we attain to divinity, to eternity, in rare moments – moments of ‘the highest bliss’20, which ‘is a perpetual happiness in God’s reality’21. But we mortals suffer a shadowy life. We sit down beside the light of the fire in Plato’s cave because it is comfortable and we don’t have to really see, to take a look, to attend to what is really real. But outside there is the light of the sun, by whose rays we are warmed and exalted. Love calls and our life becomes transformed, transmogrified and we begin to live the resurrected life; the self dies or is denied, dissolves or is dismembered in the radiant light of divinity.

‘Out of a comprehensive complex of knowledge, the classical noesis differentiates the consciousness of the ground by way of love of God, of being moved by grace of the ground to the point of feeling compelled to “turn around”, from being lost in the world toward inclination to the ground, of experiences of the shadow-like character of worldly existence, of the world as a prison and foreign land, of experiences of light shining in darkness, of being-led on the right way’22.

 

These are the signals, signposts, ciphers, suggestions, as outlined by both Voegelin and Ignatius. There is the loving search or quest for the divine Ground of being; there is the right order of life and death in which the art of measure weighs the rightness of action. The Platonic periagoge symbolises the turn to the Ground, and finding a way from rebellion to reality.

 

Lonergan’s Response

The light attracts. And from our dogmatic slumbers we awake to attend. Beauty is the visible apprehension of the Good, for Plato. By a differentiation of consciousness, we devote ourselves to, as Bernard Lonergan, S.J., puts it:  ‘a moral pursuit of goodness, a philosophic pursuit of truth, a scientific pursuit of understanding, an artistic pursuit of beauty’23. And in all our questioning and questing and pursuing, God is implicitly present. This spiritual son of Saint Ignatius, whose thought echoes some central concerns of Frankl’s and Voegelin’s, observes:

‘God is implicit in all our questioning, so being in love with God is the basic fulfilment of our conscious intentionality. That fulfilment brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humiliation, failure, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion. That fulfilment brings a radiant peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in a love of one’s neighbour that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth. On the other hand, the absence of that fulfilment opens the way to the trivialization of human life in the pursuit of fun, to the harshness of human life arising from the ruthless exercise of power, to despair about human welfare springing from the conviction that the universe is absurd’24.

 

The right response to transcendent mystery is reverence, adoration and awe. One becomes possessed by this mystery of unmeasured love. ‘All love is self-surrender, but being in love with God is being in love without limits or qualification or conditions or reservations’25. Religious experience is an experience of the Holy, of Rudolf Otto’s mysteriun fascinans et tremendum; it corresponds to Ignatius’s ‘consolation without cause’. Loving God means transcending myself. Lonergan puts it thus: ‘Since loving him [God] means loving attention to him, it is prayer, meditation, contemplation’26. If consciousness is experience, knowledge is a compound of experience, understanding and judging, for Lonergan. What of faith? Lonergan defines it thus: ‘Faith is the knowledge born of religious love’27. He continues: ‘Without faith, without the eye of love, the world is too evil for God to be good, for a good God to exist’28. In Insight, Lonergan had cited the ‘evil that tortures too many human bodies, darkens too many human minds, hardens too many human hearts’29. So, faith in spite of evil, and love in spite of sin.

When the soul is open to the Ground of being and mystically attuned to the flow of divine presence, insights arrive, clarity of vision is attained, contemplative action, gained. Lonergan defines insight as an act of attention, with the supervening act of understanding. Insight into insight ‘includes the apprehension of the meaning of meaning’30. Insight ‘comes as a release to the tension of inquiry’31. Aristotle had first noted that we desire to know. It is both a desire and a drive. Lonergan notes: ‘Deep within us all, emergent when the noise of other appetites is stilled, there is a drive to know, to understand, to see why, to discover the reason, to find the cause, to explain’32. Insight comes suddenly and unexpectedly; it ‘depends upon a habitual orientation, upon a perpetual alertness ever asking the little question, Why?’33 Insight breaks through the darkness ‘in which one gropes about insecurely’34; it yields to increasing light and ultimate absorption. Lonergan describes the process of wonder and questioning thus: the first moment is awakening to one’s intelligence. It is ‘the effective emergence of wonder, of the desire to understand’35. The second moment is ‘the hint, the suggestion, the clue’36; it involves a sense that we may be on the right track or that something important has taken hold of us. The third moment is the process whereby we frame and test suppositions; we see. The fourth moment is the achievement. ‘By their cooperation, by successive adjustments questions and insight, image and concept present a solid point. The answer is a patterned set of concepts’37. The dynamism of intelligence is set in motion. We finite, contingent beings possess ‘a pure, detached, disinterested desire simply to know. For there is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder’38. Lonergan continues, and it is worth quoting him in full:

‘The objective of an unrestricted desire to understand correctly lies beyond the reach of empirical science, of common sense, of their unification in metaphysics, of the transcendent knowledge by which we know that God exists and that he is the unrestricted act of understanding. That objective is some attainment by knowledge of God who is the unrestricted act. The fulfilment of the conditions for that attainment lie not with man but with God, whose wisdom designed the order of the universe and whose goodness brings a solution to man’s problem of evil. Now a desire that excludes both despair and presumption is a confident hope, and so the conjugate form of willingness that aids and supports and reinforces the pure desire is a confident hope that God will bring man’s intellect to a knowledge, participation, possession of the unrestricted act of understanding’39.

 

By way of a concrete example of such a transcendent desire, of such openness of soul to the divine Ground of being, of such experiences of consolation and of subtle shifts in an attending consciousness, I will turn, in the next session, to a case history of a young Dutch woman who couldn’t kneel, but who learnt to pray. It is a life that powerfully and poignantly demonstrates the ‘flow of presence’, as articulated by Voegelin which is nothing other than, as Karl Rahner, S.J., puts it, the ‘flow of love’40. (Mention could also be made of Ignatius’ own spiritual journey as revealed and recorded by him in his Reminiscences).

 

Lecture 4: Etty Hillesum

These beauteous forms,

Through a long absence, have not been to me

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye;

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind,

With tranquil restoration – feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As have no slight or trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life,

His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,

To them I may have owed another gift,

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened – that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on –

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the emotion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul;

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.

William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

The life I will discuss/dissect/diagnose is that of a young Dutch Jewish woman by the name of Esther (‘Etty’) Hillesum, who lived the flow of presence in remarkable circumstances.

Hillesum was born in 1914 in Holland, grew up in Deventer, had two gifted brothers and teacher-parents. One brother, Jaap, became a medical doctor, while the other, Mischa, was a musical talent. But both were mentally unstable and committed to institutions, with Mischa being treated for schizophrenia. As for Etty herself, she suffered from depression, read law and psychology, became involved with a man, Julius Spier, who had been analysed by Jung, gave lessons in Russian and kept a ‘spiritual’ diary between 1941 and 1943 that described life under Nazi rule in Amsterdam during the German occupation of World War II. Her diaries and letters were published posthumously in 1981 and translated into English in 1983.

Spier had a significant impact on her spiritual development, introducing her to the Bible and to Augustine; she had already been reading Rilke and Dostoyevsky. In July 1942, the same month as Anne Frank began her famous diary Etty Hillesum started typing for the Jewish Council, before departing for Westerbork, the camp where Dutch Jews were sent to. In September, 1943, she was sent to Auschwitz and died there two months later in November. Her brother Jaap was deported to Bergen-Belsen; when the camp was evacuated he was put on a train with other prisoners, which was liberated by Russian soldiers in April, 1945 but he did not survive the train journey. Mischa died on 31 March, 1944, also at Auschwitz. As for Etty’s parents, they both died during transport to Auschwitz or were gassed immediately upon their arrival. The date of their death is given as September 10th, 1943.

The trajectory of her spiritual journey and transformation as told by her in her diaries and letters echoes classical accounts of spiritual change and conversion. We have only to think of Augustine’s famous Confessions, Ignatius of Loyola’s Autobiography and letters, Anne Frank’s own famous diary, and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, to name but a few. Etty Hillesum’s diaries and letters detail a very personal pilgrimage, an anamnetic exploration and experiment, to put in Voegelinian terms1. They both grew out of an immediate personal and religious experience. We see in them her swings and moods, moving from melancholic sadness to joy and elation, from tormenting self-doubt and despair to exalted flights of fantasy. Of course, we could expose them to psychological analysis and Etty herself thought in such terms but primarily these notebooks tell of an intense introverted spiritual struggle that had external consequences, one ‘that converts symptoms into significance, and joins self-examination to philosophical investigation’, as Eva Hoffman writes in her preface to the English edition of the diaries2.

The diary is a dialogue with herself, charting subtle but significant changes in her consciousness and movements of her soul, akin to Ignatius’ discernment of spirits. She would learn of an agapeic love, one that combines ‘deep sympathy with calm detachment’3. The process of change in this moving story is mysterious and becomes increasingly more palpable in the middle stages of her diary; a seriousness is adopted and a serenity, as attentiveness embraces contemplation and prayer, and ‘emotional intuition converges with moral thought’4, and she seems, in the end, to attain that peace that passeth comprehension. She plumbs the depths of pain as well as joy, suffering as well as happiness and understands these are myriad movements of the soul, multiple moods that shift and morphe. Always engaged, Etty Hillesum also let go of her many attachments in true Ignatian manner; she let herself be carried by the flow of presence in whose stream she learned to swim. She had become ‘attuned to the currents of moral beauty’5 and to the order of the universe without shedding a single aspect of her personality; indeed, it deepened it. By accepting her death, she saved herself.

Her story ignites imagination and arouses hope and moral and spiritual sentiment as the horrors of the Holocaust spin all around her. Though she was imprisoned, her tale tells of a personal liberation, all the details commended from memory to eight exercise books that were saved, preserved and eventually published for the world, as testament to her truth and treasure-trove for analysis and investigation. Her religious sensibility comes more into the foreground as her other mundane, but nonetheless important preoccupations recede into the background. Though the word ‘God’ features from her earliest entries, it becomes more pronounced as she begins to pray on bended but stiff knees. Her diary is a dialogue with the Divine.  ‘I repose in myself. And that part of myself, that deepest and richest part in which I repose, is what I call “God”’6.

Hers was not a solitary contemplation though her journey was inward. In true Augustinian fashion, the way within led to the way above and out again to her fellowman: From contemplation to action, or better, a contemplative in action. She perceived reality and she did so clearly and came to be consoled. Written in the darkest days of modern history, this twenty-seven year-old woman gives hope to the world and in the mud and misery of the concentration camp, where so many philosophers of the twentieth-century would spend some time – Sartre, Ricoeur, Levinas, Frankl – she wrote her truth. Among the wire and wildflowers of Westerbork she wove a wonderful tapestry of thought – simultaneously singular, striking, and serendipitous.

Let us now turn to her diary. The question which she poses to herself in the early diary entries is: ‘why aren’t you happy?’ She describes her condition as one of ‘spiritual constipation’7; she mentions her depression and dark moods, her anxiety and shifting movements of the soul as she learns to live more calmly ‘more freely, more flowingly8. Things change the more she bathes in the luminous flow of divine presence. The moods alternate between rage and calm, depression and serenity, perturbation and peace, confusion and clarity. Gloomy thoughts preoccupy her and behind that a sense of the ‘emptiness of my quest’9 beholds and baffles her. But there were hints of something other trying to pierce her psyche. ‘I too wanted to roll melodiously out of God’s hand’10. She speaks of her ‘soulful’, ecstatic moments that raise her up then jolt her back to earth again. She pours her compassion out to German soldiers; ‘indiscriminate hatred … is a sickness of the soul’11. God’s world is beautiful and it fills her with joy despite the atmosphere surrounding her. Her ‘inner riches’ are immeasurable and she begins to breathe through her soul. She becomes ‘more composed’ and more ‘concentrated’12 and employs adjectives such as ‘light’, ‘radiance’ and ‘inner joy’ to describe her feelings of the soul, as she continues ‘working on myself’13. She reads Rilke (a lot) and Jung (a bit), some Shakespeare, much Dostoyevsky, and the Bible too, both the Old and New Testaments.

In June of 1941, she decides on a plan of inner action: ‘I’ll “turn inward” for half an hour each morning before work, and listen to my inner voice. Lose myself. You could also call it meditation’14. She informs us that we need to turn our innermost being into a vast empty plain so that something of God can enter, something of love. ‘Yet what really matters is man’s soul or his essence or whatever else you care to call what shines through from within’15. Her happiness was due to an inner freedom, to ‘that lack of attachment’16. In her sacred unease, she begins to pray. ‘Sometimes I long for a convent cell’17. She struggles hard to try to not possess her lovers and friends, to allow them space to breathe in their separate reality and identities and she keeps a careful record of her moods, committing to paper all her innermost thoughts and changing perceptions, though unacquainted with Ignatian spirituality. ‘There is a deep well inside me. And in it dwells God’18. Even in her melancholic moods and in her melancholic music, the important thing is to sit still and hearken: ‘You have to make yourself passive then, and just listen. Re-establish contact with a slice of eternity’19. She psychoanalyses herself and discovers an unresolved mother-complex: ‘I have an unresolved antipathy for my mother’20 but it is a spiritual analysis that becomes more predominant (one could call it a logotherapy). And an intense feeling that God exists that comes to her in sudden flashes of insight and illumination. Hers is the ‘story of a girl who gradually learnt to kneel’, to put it in her own memorable words21. ‘Something has happened to me’22 and she begins to pray more urgently, more forcefully; ‘God, take me by Your hand, I shall follow You dutifully’23. Inwardly, she begins to feel less bound to her lovers and the sentences she reads in the Bible have an ‘experiential significance’24. On her knees she experiences some ‘immortal deserts’25, but she can never entirely relieve herself of ‘that utter blackness of mood, that unrelieved gloom’26. However, from time to time ‘a small piece of eternity descends on me’27 and then, she suddenly falls to her knees, forced ‘to the ground [Ground] by something stronger than myself’28. This girl who could not kneel desires to do nothing less, nothing more. Self-will is surrendered and the ego sundered, as she allows herself to be led ‘by what wells up from deep within’29. It is supernatural bread. Soon her dark moods dissipate: ‘I no longer plumb the depths of despair. My sadness has become a springboard’30, and she realises that if you have faith there is little difference between the inside and the outside of a concentration camp.

What she is charting in her diary is a shift in her inner geography, a gradual change from the physical to the spiritual and ‘sometimes the most important thing in the whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inward in prayer for five short minutes’31. She searches for simplicity in her inner life and in her surroundings and wonders if there is indeed ‘anything more intimate as man’s relationship with God?’32. ‘Like a wave, the urge to kneel down sometimes floods through me’33. This extravert and now twenty-eight year-old woman delves deep into herself and locates her truth there and her dependency on others diminishes: ‘One should really be less and less concerned with the love object and more and more with love itself’34. Despite the terror, threats and tension all around her,

‘I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again. I can imagine times to come when I shall stay on my knees for days on end waiting until the protective walls are strong enough to prevent my going to pieces altogether; my being lost and utterly devastated’35.

 

Life ‘flows in a continuous and unbroken stream’36 – she is surely experiencing the ‘flow of presence’ and her days are passed praying, making love, conversing, and reading Rilke, Augustine and the Apostles. ‘God is not accountable to us, but we are to Him’37 and she begins to admit death into her life and in so doing she enriches her life. She encounters God in everyday epiphanies: ‘a hint of eternity steals through my smallest daily activities and perceptions’38. The Psalms become part of the daily rhythm of her life and every minute of every day ‘seems one great gift and consolation’39. ‘My whole being has become one great prayer’40; she thus learns to let go of those objects of her desire: ‘I must let him go… out of my love for him’41. ‘You must learn to forgo all personal desires’42. She describes moments in her life when she sees right through the human heart, when she understands herself more calmly and clearly than before ‘and am filled with a faith in God that has grown so quickly inside me that it frightened me at first but has now become inseparable from me’43. Her desire for the Divine is so deep. ‘I keep finding myself in prayer’44.

In July of 1942, in a passage that has received much philosophical commentary, she observes: ‘And if God does not help me to go on, then I shall have to help God’45; ‘I shall merely try to help God as best I can’46. A little later she writes, remarkably: ‘I shall try to help You, God… You cannot help us, … we must help You to help ourselves …. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last’47. It would seem she is addressing a helpless God who couldn’t intervene to save the Jews from the Holocaust, an impotent rather than omnipotent God48. She seems prepared to die; even in the camps ‘there will always be enough space to fold two hands in prayer’49. Tears of compunction pour down her face when she prays: ‘I need to talk to You so much, O God’50. She becomes filled with equanimity and endurance and begins to have an inkling and intimation of how everything fits together in a providential plan of grace. ‘There is a vast silence in me that continues to grow’51. The mystic in her continues to flourish and be fed as her former life flounders: ‘I feel a growing need to speak to You alone. I love people so terribly, because in every human being I love something of You. And I seek You everywhere in them’52. This God-seeker is also a God-finder, a theophile. The divine venture and the human adventure are admixed. Even when she is behind barbed wire she prays: ‘God to God’. In the dark and droughty barracks she expands still further. And to Klaas Smelik, Sr. (1897-1986), a Communist friend and author who tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Hillesum to go into hiding, she says: ‘each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others’53. When he retorts that that is nothing but Christianity, Etty responds, coolly: ‘Yes, Christianity, and why ever not?’54. She now begins to cite the New Testament especially the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark and feels that in the camp only one gesture suffices: to drop to one’s knees in peaceful prayer. She wishes that her life would ‘turn into one great prayer. One great peace’55. God’s will be done, she prays. ‘One ought not to be without prayer for even a single minute’56. Even though she writes some love letters home, she feels that the only love letters one ought to write should be to God, the author of all. ‘Will people never learn that love brings so much more happiness and reward than sex?’57. This remarkable testimony of the girl who could not kneel but who learnt to pray concludes with the beautiful words: ‘We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds’58, and she did just that – for all the wounds of the world.

Etty Hillesum retained her radiant good-humour amid the grit and grime of the German camp where she penned some letters and in which we again catch a glimpse of her indomitable and indefatigable spirit. She writes of the ‘elementary force’59  running through her, of this flow of divine presence. ‘The realm of the soul and spirit are so spacious and unending that this little bit of physical discomfort and suffering really doesn’t matter all that much. I do not feel I have been robbed of my freedom’60. She lives with ‘mournful contentment’61 in ‘this utter hell’62, with her eyes firmly fixed on the Father. She looks up to the Heavens for holy comfort and consolation – ‘my third-storey heaven’63, to the gulls flying in free air. ‘In their movements through the great cloudy skies one suspects laws, eternal laws of another order than the laws we humans make’64. Such law is the order of being. She still suffers but she endures. ‘We may suffer, but we must not succumb’65. For her life in that camp was rooted in transcendent reality. She describes this employing a lovely image: ‘When a spider spins its web, does it not cast the main threads ahead of itself, and then follow along them from behind? The main path of my life stretches like a long journey before me and already reaches into another world’66. Just before she was put to death by the Nazis, she wrote this – it could be her epitaph: ‘My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, O God, one great dialogue’67.

Interestingly, in her diary and in one of her letters dated December 18th, 1942, Etty records a day in Westerbork where she remembers when a group of Jewish Catholics – or Catholic Jews – arrived, both nuns and priests, wearing the yellow star on their habits. This occurred after a protest against the persecution of the Jews made by Archbishop Johannes de Jong on August 1st, 1942, after which the Nazis rounded up cloistered Jewish Catholics capturing around 300 nuns and priests. On August 2nd, 63 of them came to Westerbork – one of the nuns, in the group described by Etty Hillesum, was none other than Saint Edith Stein, with whom Etty has often been compared. Indeed, there are some striking similarities between three amazing women – Hillesum, Simone Weil and Edith Stein. Edith Stein was a mystic, martyr, philosopher and Carmelite nun, who, with her sister, Rosa, was gassed in Auschwitz on August 9th, 1942. She is known now in history as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; she had her conversion experience in 1921.

Simone Weil was likewise a mystic-philosopher writing in the war years and leaving us with her letters and notebooks and spiritual writings. What all three women have in common is an intense desire to plumb the spiritual depths and uncover for all time the divine Ground of being, the radiance of the eternal and life-giving Logos. By a close and careful analysis, Stein, for her part, shows how the being of all finite existence finds its ultimate Ground and destiny in the Eternal Being. In her work, Finite and Eternal Being, she writes: ‘Since the ultimate ground of all existence is unfathomable, everything which is seen in this ultimate perspective moves into that “dark light” of faith’68. In relation to the Thomistic proofs, and on an Augustinian note, she observes: ‘If the five ways of his proofs of God’s existence, Thomas starting out from God’s effects, leads up to that idea, and once we have grasped the idea, the necessity of the divine being follows inevitably. But the question is: Can we really comprehend the idea, he who is? Si comprehendis, non est Deus. (‘If you comprehend it, it is not God’), says St. Augustine’69. Later on in the same work, she observes: ‘God is perfect being without any want, fault, or flaw. Even if for us he remains indefinable and immeasurable – because his infinity transcends all human measure and determinations – he is nevertheless his own measure, in “duly proportioned” accord with himself, and wholly luminous in and for himself: that eternal light “in whom there is no shadow of darkness”’70, citing 1 John 1: 5.

For Simone Weil, too, the ‘love of God for us is a passion’71. Weil explores the relationship of man to transcendent reality. For Weil, God is present in His absence. ‘He who has not God within himself cannot feel his absence’72. And again: ‘The divine emptiness, fuller than fullness, has come to inhabit us’73. Weil prays to God but with the thought that He does not exist74. Weil waits on God; she attends to Him with love. Weil had her spiritual epiphany in 1937 and in 1938 (in Assisi) but even as she philosophises she also paints a vivid picture of her personal experiences, perhaps influenced by the Kantian maxim that ideas disconnected from experience are empty. Kant said somewhere in the Critique of Pure Reason that ‘thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind’. To put it in Kantian terms, God is not a phenomenon among phenomena but the transcendental Ground of being. He is, thus, a Deus absconditus. Isaiah 45: 15: ‘Verily thou art a God that hides thyself’. This idea of a hidden or absent God is given powerful poetic utterance by R. S. Thomas in his poem entitled ‘The Absence’:

‘It is the great absence

that is like a presence, that compels

me to address it without hope

of a reply. It is a room I enter

 

from which someone has just

gone, the vestibule for the arrival

of one who has not yet come.

I modernise the anachronism

 

of my language, but he is no more here

than before. Genes and molecules

have no power to call

him up than the incense of the Hebrews

 

at their altars. My equations fail

as my words do. What resources have I

other than the emptiness without him of my whole

being, a vacuum he may not abhor?’75.

 

The paradox here is that God’s ‘great absence’ is ‘like a presence’ – like the flow of divine presence that one finds in the lives of Etty Hillesum, Edith Stein and Simone Weil, amongst countless others who have been touched by grace. It is as if the translucent Splendour touched these women’s souls and they received into them the eternal spirit of God Himself.

 

Conclusion:

When one is in a state of alienation or anxiety one is not living in the flux – life is not flowing – and we experience meaninglessness, which is the great malady of modernity. This is ‘non-existence’ whereby we are no longer in relatedness to the divine reality. The point is to draw strength and spiritual solace from the Source. I ‘flow’ in the great stream of being. I participate in the flux and flow of divine Presence, which is existence in the eternal Now. The present, as the luminous process of consciousness, possesses within itself both past and future.

G. K. Chesterton insists that our lives become ‘steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion’1 as we attend, contemplate, try to be good, and seek holiness rather than happiness. As Josef Pieper, the German philosopher, puts it: ‘Happiness … even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time, and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity’2. Happiness is intimate presence3. Pieper defines contemplation as a loving attainment of awareness, as intuition of the beloved object, as the silent perception of reality4; it is, in short, the attunement to the divine presence. Felicitas (human happiness) is the result, meaning man’s eternal bliss; there is also beatitudo, meaning divine happiness. And our contemplation here on earth does not rest until it encounters the object which dazzles it5.

In our restless lives here on earth we participate in the divine life. In relation to such ‘participation’, Voegelin writes: ‘With Plato the word is methexis, with Aristotle it is metalepsis, and then in Latin with Thomas it becomes participatio: the participation of the human in the divine and vice versa’6. This designates the drama of our lives, rooted as they are in divinity. We are magnetically attracted to the Good/God; we naturally desire beatitude. Our human nature hungers for happiness; our happiness, however, is founded on sorrow; there is the ‘dark night’. There is the darkness of melancholy and the awful uncertainty of anxiety. But as Voegelin argues: ‘In classic philosophy and Christianity, the solution to the sorrows of man – death, life and so on – are answered through turning toward God, the periagoge in the Platonic sense, the turning around’7. Voegelin sums it all up, thus:

‘The Parousia of the Beyond, experienced in the present of the quest, thus, imposes on the dimension of external time, with its past, present, and future, the dimension of divine presence. The past is not simply the past, nor the future simply in the future, for both past and future participate in the presence of the same divine-immortal Beyond that is experienced in the present of the questioner’s participatory meditation. We have to speak, therefore, of a flux of presence endowing all the phases – past, present, and future – of external time with the structural dimension of an indelible present’8.

 

To the question, ‘where is this divine presence?’, Voegelin would respond that it is in the kinesis that moves us to be interested, to inquire, without which nobody would search for anything. And anxiety occurs in the turn from existence to non-existence. One is in existence if one is attuned to reality, which is God’s reality and one falls out of it if one is in revolt against it9. Meaninglessness would be the same, in this sense, as non-existence. Voegelin describes it as a ‘blackness that pervades the soul, the emptiness that results in boredom and ultimately in despair’10, from which we attempt to escape through the divertissements of drink and drugs, to name but two of the more common ones. So we are subject to pulls and counter-pulls. Voegelin notes:

‘We have a tension in human existence: the possibility of positively searching for the ground of one’s existence, accepting the Divine ground, understanding it – with the accompanying joy, the eudaimonia – while if we reject it we fall into the state of anxiety. It is very characteristic of the classic philosophy of Plato and Aristotle that there is no Greek word for anxiety. “Anxiety” is introduced after Alexander’s conquest (when it becomes a mass phenomenon!) and then by the Stoics: the agnoia ptoiodes – instead of the positive formulation. “Scary ignorance” is what anxiety would have been called’11.

 

What is essential in a life that is properly human, but that contains within it the seed of something superhuman, is an orientation to the True (the intellectual dimension: verum), the Beautiful (the aesthetic dimension: pulchrum), the Good (the moral dimension: bonum) and the One (Christ prayed that all may be one; the spiritual dimension of unity: unum). There are these different levels of human consciousness, these basic elements in a person’s orientations and activities that are rooted in an embodied consciousness. We have our perceptive-imaginative-affective orientation towards beauty, our intellectual orientation towards the truth of things, our moral orientation towards the good and our spiritual orientation to the divine Ground of being12. Each of these realities is interdependent and intersects with the others. Of course, equally, there are disorientations, aversions, derailments – in such cases we can speak of ugliness instead of beauty, falsehood instead of truth, and evil instead of goodness, which are syndromes of personal deformation13. At the end of Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud had expressed the hope that Eros would win out in the battle with his equally immortal adversary, Thanatos. But Freud couldn’t, with any confidence, forsee the result. Our sure and certain hope, by contrast, is that the Good will ultimately prevail in the drama of life; even the gates of Hell will not avail against it.

To conclude: we may summarise our philosophic-Christian findings, thus:     

1) We are guarded by mystery14; enlightened by the truth. (‘Et lux in tenebris lucet’).

2) We must reject a Gnostic apostatic revolt, which is a rejection of the spiritual order of being.

3) We need to orient ourselves to the Good and to the Ground; the Platonic periagoge entails, at its core, an ethical dimension.

4) What is required is theophany, rather than an egophany.

5) Attunement to the flow of presence is the ordering of the soul to the Agathon – the summum Bonum or highest good. Such is the attitude of the open soul, as it responds to the ‘voices of conscience and grace in human existence itself’15.

6) The restoration required is a transformation of consciousness and desire as the soul becomes attuned/oriented to the divine Ground.

7) Being mindful of the moment.

8) To rediscover and reconstitute, in each historical epoch, the true, the good and the beautiful.

9) To practise an amor Dei rather than an amor sui (the latter characterising the closed soul).

10) To retrieve the enduring insights of the Mediterranean tradition, which is one of classical and Judaic-Christian philosophy represented, in the main, by Plato, Aristotle. Augustine, and Aquinas, while realising that there exist, too, modern and contemporary accounts which retrieve this tradition for our time; we may here cite the enduring examples of Eric Voegelin, Viktor Frankl, Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, Etienne Gilson, and Josef Pieper, to name but a few.

Insights. Intimations of immortality. Instants of infinity. Detached desire. Discernment of spirits. Shafts of light. Traces of transcendence. Moments of grace. Ciphers. Consolations. And the luminous flow of presence in an open soul in the metaxy turned toward the divine Ground in faith, hope, and love, responding, not rebelling. Attending and attuning to the order of God in the milieu of everyday life. Seeing the face of the Father in dappled things, where life ‘pours ordinary plenty’ (Patrick Kavanagh) and the world becomes ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.).

At the core of human nature, which desires God naturally, for St. Thomas, is, for Voegelin, ‘the openness of the questioning knowledge and the knowing question about the ground. Through this openness, beyond all contents, images, and models, order flows from the ground of being into man’s being’16, and we become uplifted, exalted, edified, altered and begin to live the resurrected life, like Etty Hillesum and Edith Stein, and others like them and, thus, partake and participate in Divinity Itself. All things in God and God in all things. Eternity everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

 


2 Eric Voegelin, ‘Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 326.

3 See Plato, Laws, 644-45.

4 Cited by Voegelin, ‘Quod Deus Dicitur’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 383.

5 Eric Voegelin, ‘Reason: The Classic Experience’, Published Essays1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 265.

6 Eric Voegelin, ‘The German University and German Society’, ibid., p. 7; see also ibid., p. 21.

13 Eric Voegelin, ‘The Gospel and Culture’, Published Essays1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 175.

16 Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. I, p. xiv.

17 Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution, p. 193.

18 See ibid., pp. 204-16.

19 See E. F. Schumacher’s classic, A Guide for the Perplexed.

21 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 84.

22 Michael Morissey, ‘Voegelin, Religious Experience, and Immortality’, The Politics of the Soul, p. 14.

23 See Miguel de Unamuno’s passionate poetic philosophy as summarising this desire for personal immortality in his The Tragic Sense of Life.

24 See Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. 2, Spiritual Master and Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master. Both book attempt to engage with Thomas’ spirituality.

25 Eric Voegelin, ‘Notes on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 34.

26 Eric Voegelin, ‘The Drama of Humanity’, ibid., p. 181.

27 Ibid., p. 212.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., pp. 213-4.

30 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Eric Voegelin’, ibid., p. 264.

31 Eric Voegelin, ‘Structures of Consciousness’, ibid., p. 367.

2 For an introduction to Ignatian spirituality see Stephen J. Costello (ed.), ‘Introduction: Catholic Spirituality’, The Search for Spirituality: Seven Paths Within the Catholic Tradition, pp. 26-32 and Joseph Veale, S. J., ‘Ignatian Spirituality’, ibid., pp. 191-212.

3 St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, pp. 40-1.

4 Ibid., p. 61.

5 Ibid., p. 78.

6 Ibid., pp. 78 and 103.

7 Ibid., pp. 129-30.

8 Ibid., p. 130.

9 Ibid., p. 132.

10 Ibid., p. 134.

11 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 133.

12 See ibid., p. 77.

12 Ibid., p. 86.

13 Ibid., p. 117.

14 Ibid., p. 125.

15 Ibid., p. 126.

16 Ibid., p. 133.

17 Ibid., p. 148.

18 Ibid., p. 149.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., p. 167.

21 Ibid., pp. 167-8.

22 Ibid., p. 184.

23 Bernard Lonergan, S.J., Method in Theology, p. 13.

24 Ibid., p. 105.

25 Ibid., pp. 105-6.

26 Ibid., p. 109.

27 Ibid., p. 115.

28 Ibid., p. 117.

29 Bernard Lonergan, S.J., Insight, p. 23.

30 Ibid., p. 5.

31 Ibid., p. 28.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., p. 29.

34 Ibid., p. 31.

35 Ibid., p. 34.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid., pp. 34-5.

38 Ibid., p. 97.

39 Ibid., pp. 723-4.

40 Karl Rahner, S.J., On Prayer, p. 70.

1 For Voegelin’s own attempts at anamnesis, see his book of the same title, pp. 36-51.

2 See Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum: 1941-43, pp. viii-ix. See Meins Coetsier, Etty Hillesum and the Flow of Presence: A Voegelinian Analysis. In 2006, the Etty Hillesum Centre (EHOC) was opened in GhentUniversity, the director of which is Prof. Klas Smelik. Before Etty’s departure she gave her diaries to Maria Tuinzing with the request that she pass them on to the writer Klass Smelik to publish them if she did not return; he later edited and published the complete edition of her letters and diaries and is presently Professor of Hebrew and Judaism at GhentUniversity, assisted there by Meins Coetsier,

3 Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, p. x.

4 Ibid., p. xi.

5 Ibid., p. xiii.

6 Ibid., p. 249.

7 Ibid., p. 7.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., p. 9.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., p. 13.

12 Ibid., p. 20.

13 Ibid., p. 30.

14 Ibid., p. 33.

15 Ibid., p. 35.

16 Ibid., p. 36.

17 Ibid., p. 44.

18 Ibid., p. 53.

19 Ibid., p. 56.

20 Ibid., p. 72.

21 Ibid., p. 74.

22 Ibid., p. 76.

23 Ibid., p. 77.

24 Ibid., p. 81.

25 Ibid., p. 85.

26 Ibid., p. 87.

27 Ibid., p. 89.

28 Ibid., p. 90.

29 Ibid., p. 96.

30 Ibid., p. 101.

31 Ibid., p. 114.

32 Ibid., p. 129.

33 Ibid., p. 133.

34 Ibid., p. 158.

35 Ibid., p. 163.

36 Ibid., p. 164.

37 Ibid., p. 183.

38 Ibid., p. 193.

39 Ibid., p. 199.

40 Ibid., p. 202.

41 Ibid., p. 205.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid., pp. 209-10.

44 Ibid., p. 211.

45 Ibid., p. 212.

46 Ibid., p. 213.

47 Ibid., p. 218.

48 On this question of God’s powerless power, see Hans Jonas, whose writings influenced Voegelin, especially his ‘The Concept of God after Auschwitz: A Jewish Voice’, Mortality and Morality: A Search for the God after Auschwitz, pp. 138-42.

49 Ibid., p. 221.

50 Ibid., p. 226.

51 Ibid., p. 235.

52 Ibid., p. 242.

53 Ibid., p. 259.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., p. 273.

56 Ibid., p. 275.

57 Ibid., p. 278.

58 Ibid., p. 282.

59 Ibid., p. 355.

60 Ibid., p. 347.

61 Ibid., p. 348.

62 Ibid., p. 334.

63 Ibid., p. 337.

64 Ibid., p. 366.

65 Ibid., p. 355.

66 Ibid., p. 356.

67 Ibid., p. 395.

68 Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 25.

69 Ibid., p. 109.

70 Ibid., p. 323.

71 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, p. 81.

72 Ibid., p. 24.

73 Ibid., p. 41.

74 See ibid., p. 19.

75 R. S. Thomas, ‘The Absence’, Collected Poems 1945-1990, p. 361.

1 G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, p. 186.

2 Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation, p. 37.

3 See ibid., p. 70.

4 See ibid., pp. 72-3.

5 See ibid., p. 109 (the quotation is taken from Konrad Weiss).

6 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 251.

7 Ibid., p. 280.

8 Eric Voegelin, In Search of Order, p. 30.

9 See Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, p. 341.

10 Eric Voegelin, ‘On Debate and Existence’, Published Essays 1966-1985, vol. 12, p. 50.

11 Eric Voegelin, ‘Conversations with Voegelin’, The Drama of Humanity and Other Miscellaneous Papers 1939-1985, vol. 33, pp. 318-9.

12 See Brendan Purcell, The Drama of Humanity, p. 216.

13 See ibid., p. 231.

14 See David Walsh, Guarded by Mystery: Meaning in a Postmodern Age.

15 Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 1, pp. 42-3.

16 Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 86.