Victor Frankl on Meaning

 
"Thus, to all appearances, meaning is just something we are projecting into the things around ourselves, things which themselves are neutral.  And in the light of this neutrality, reality may well seem to be just a screen upon which we are projecting our own wishful thinking, a Rorschach blot, as it were.  If that were so, meaning would be no more than a mere means of self-expression, and thus something profoundly subjective.

However, the only thing which is subjective is the perspective through which we approach reality, and this subjectiveness does not in the least detract from the objectiveness of reality itself.  I improvised an explanation of this phenomenon for the students in my seminar at Harvard.  'Just look through the windows of this lecture hall at Harvard Chapel.  Each of you sees the chapel in a different way, from a different perspective, depending on the location of your seat.  If anyone claimed that he sees the chapel exactly as his neighbor does, I would have to say that one of them must be hallucinating.  But does the difference of views in the least detract from the objectivity and reality of the chapel?  Certainly it does not.'

Human cognition is not of kaleidoscopic nature.  If you look into a kaleidoscope, you see only what is inside of the kaleidoscope itself.  On the other hand, if you look through a telescope you see something which is outside of the telescope itself.  And if you look at the world, or a thing in the world, you also see more than, say, the perspective.  What is seen through the perspective, however subjective the perspective may be, is the objective world.  In fact, "seen through" is the literal translation of the Latin word, perspectum.

I have no objection to replacing the term 'objective' with the more cautious term 'trans-subjective' as it is used, for example, by Allers.  This does not make a difference.  Nor does it make a difference whether we speak of things or meanings.  Both are 'trans-subjective.'  This trans-subjectiveness has really been presupposed all along whenever we spoke of self-transcendence.  Human beings are transcending themselves toward meanings which are something other than themselves, which are more than mere expressions of their selves, more than mere projections of these selves.  Meanings are discovered but not invented...

...Thus we have arrived at a definition of what meaning is.  Meaning is what is meant, be it by a person who asks me a question, or by a situation which, too, implies a question and calls for an answer.  I cannot say. 'My answer right or wrong,' as the Americans say, 'My country right or wrong.'  I must try hard to find out the true meaning of the question which I am asked.

To be sure, man is free to answer the questions he is asked by life.  But this freedom must not be confounded with arbitrariness.  It must be interpreted in terms of responsibleness.  Man is responsible for giving the right answer to a question, for finding the true meaning of a situation.  And meaning is something to be found rather than to be given, discovered rather than invented."

– Victor Frankl, The Will to Meaning


We could say that meaning is the answer that an individual must give in light of the demands of life.  


Here's Frankl with a short interview on The Will to Meaning: