On Frankl's concept of love -
an exchange of letters
A student studied Frankl's chapter "On the meaning of love" in the seminal work in logotherapy "The Doctor and the Soul" by Viktor Frankl. The somewhat cumbersome text raised many questions for her, which she posed to Elisabeth Lukas.
Prof. Elisabeth Lukas’ answer (February 2014) clarifies Frankl's thoughts and shows how valid they still are.
On Frankl's concept of love - an exchange of letters
Questions about Frankl's "The Doctor and the Soul”
(Chapter II. A. 4 "On the Meaning of Love").
"In this chapter, I noticed: Frankl conceived/wrote this before he was in the concentration camp, in the early 40’s (and later extended it). One can sense this, because the reality of his
love/relationship at that time shines through. I wonder what would he write today, if he could see how much sexuality/relationships/love have changed? - He would not write something completely
different - but he would discuss current phenomena. That would be fascinating.
Frankl concludes - independently of morals - on purely logical grounds that true love is based on faithfulness and duration, which is very insightful. But today lives like this are rather the exception. - Well in earlier times marriages were sometimes formal and stayed intact until death on the outside - but they were certainly not all happy! Two people often had to stay together for financial reasons, mainly because women have only recently been able to lead independent "single" lives.
What about true love: A and B have found each other, both fall sincerely in love and in the whole depth of their being, i.e. they see and love one another as they can be at their best. All is well.
But years go by, and humans necessarily change - and not only for the better, but also for the worse. One always has to make decisions - and can also make bad ones. Suppose B opts more and more for material success, rises in the world and gets advances from prettier, younger people - and thinks, why not? So B gets involved in affairs with other people.
What has happened to the love? Has B's original love evaporated? It was supposed to last forever, but B's development led away from it?
What about A? Does A’s love remain steadfast? B has indeed changed, a long way from the best form that A saw? Yes, B’s behaviour was really abominable. Does A revise his or her love because B has become another person? Then the love was not permanent.
There are many A's and B's, sometimes they break down very badly, sometimes they sort themselves out, usually they separate. I can count many variations on this theme amongst my acquaintances. It is also not true that they never really loved one another, that would be an incorrect allegation.
One cannot simply reckon retrospectively like this: Those who remain together = true love, those who separate = only emotionally, physically, but without depth.
Why does love end when it was one completely real and sincere and true, and saw people as they were intended by God?
Or does one have to think like this: Is it a new question every day for lovers whether they love one another; the existential encounter must always be freshly renewed. - This means that a love that is not renewed - - - dies. Doesn’t it?
Or does Frankl, with beautiful words, paint an ideal of which man should be worthy - but it is like a distant star which guides us, but which we cannot reach?
Or does one really love - but can stumble and fall into possessive behaviour. And after a good holiday/ book/seminar/couple’s therapy - find the way back to genuine loving. Then love might progress in waves.
There is a second thing in the chapter that I find very difficult. In footnote no.48 in the subsection "Psychosexual maturity” he writes, "Just as little or as rarely as the average person is capable of true love, just as little or as rarely does he reach the highest stage of development in his love life." But the lofty goal must exist.
Well, this is very daringly formulated, and it disparages "average" people very strongly.
I think that every "average" person can genuinely love - if not neurotically disturbed or egocentric or something. Otherwise, Frankl's whole concept is not true - a form of life that hardly anyone attains, why should that be what is most deeply appropriate for every human being? Here Frankl sounds rather elitist, when he leaves average people (as the majority!!!) completely behind.
You knew him well personally: Did he really think this way?
Love as an act of self-transcendence - if this what makes someone most human - how can it be that "average" people cannot achieve it? "
Here are the thoughts of Dr. Elisabeth Lukas -
on the subject: "Frankl’s concept of love"
In his book “The Doctor and the Soul”, Viktor E. Frankl has described "true love" between two people in a very touching way, distinguishing it from "merely" erotic and sexual relationships. This true love is lasting - and Frankl lived it out in a marriage lasting more than 50 years.
Looking at the partnerships around today, however, the question arises whether, with his sophisticated concept of love, he sketched out an ideal of a more aspirational than actually achievable nature. He himself admitted in the book that the average person would rarely reach the highest level of development in love life. Since Frankl otherwise held in high regard the healthy human understanding and feeling of the "man or woman in the street”, in other words the average citizen, this assessment seems a little pessimistic. Is the gap between Frankl's love-ideal and reality so enormous, and did Frankl know this?
It's a pity we cannot ask him any more. However, the texts reissued in his later years make it clear that Frankl was by no means dispossessed of his "ideal" by modern partnership practices. He was the one who studied the uniquely human element, the spirituality of man, and thought through it with the utmost consistency. And spirituality includes a pure sense of value of one by another, without any desire for possession. When a hen walks along a path, everything is checked by her for its usefulness, in this case, its edibility. If a brilliant diamond were laid before her feet, she would ignore it because of its uselessness. The hen has no access to the value of "beauty", specifically "beauty in itself".
However, a spiritual being like man does have such access. He can kneel down and be captivated by the beauty of the diamond. Naturally the "hen" is also present in him. The diamond is not only beautiful, it is also useful because one can make money from it. And so man reaches greedily for the diamond ...
A researcher who wanted to bring out the spiritual spark in man would have to isolate him from the plumage of the "hen in man". He or she would have to filter out and present this amazing human potential to be able to enjoy pure beauty - out of the muddle of covetousness, commercialism, and egotistical calculation - so that it could be known at all. Indeed, it is only a spark, and if it is not blown into life, it might fade away to such a dull glow that it is easily overlooked. Then the theory of being human is reduced to the "level of the hen".
It is probably similar with Frank's concept of love. He defines love as the deepest sense of the value of the loved one. The animalistic side of us, of course, wants something different. It wants advantages, affection, pairing. It wants something from the beloved. Expects something. It is wonderful if this all adds up to peaceful unity, and the sense of value continues to fill sober everyday life with its light. But diamonds are not edible. To apply this analogy: If the partner's advantages and affections are withdrawn, if he or she does not fulfil expectations or, yes, perhaps even behaves abominably, which can happen, then the sense of value is reduced.
In particular, if someone does not (any more) bring to realisation the unique value that is latent within them, their partner finds it increasingly difficult to see it. But with the decline of the sense of value, "true love" disappears, even though by nature it is supposed to last, because the value of the originally beloved person is also supposed to last. A diamond remains a diamond. But who admires the beauty of a dirt-crusted diamond?
This is how it is: man's spirituality is a spark in a sea of ashes. That is why the human capacity for true and unselfish love is rare. Let us nevertheless be grateful for this spark: it lifts us over the heads of the "hens" into the heavens, nosedives included. And let us be grateful that someone like Viktor E. Frankl has so persistently made us aware of this precious spark in us. Who is he a dreamer, an idealist? I do not think so. Rather, I believe that he pointed us to a meta-reality that encompasses our reality, and at the same time opens up the prospect of a better humanity on the distant horizon of the future, in which the spark - we hope - may shine more brightly than today.
Elisabeth Lukas, February 2014