The “categorical imperative” of logotherapy—the fundamental action that it promotes—is to “live as if you were living already for the second time and if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.” In other words, logotherapists instruct their patients to live as if they have the chance to live their life over again with all of the knowledge they gained the first time around. The finiteness of life—the fact that it cannot go on forever and that one will not, in fact, have a chance to relive it—motivates people to be responsible.
By telling their patients to behave as if this is their second chance at life, logotherapists encourage them to pay attention to their responsibilities. We are only responsible to our future because the amount of time we have left is finite. If we never died, there would be no reason to be responsible, because there would be plenty of opportunities to do so later on.
Frankl compares a logotherapist’s job to a painter and an eye doctor. A painter tries to explain his vision of the world, which the logotherapist does not try to do. On the other hand, the eye doctor helps people see the world as it is. This is what a logotherapist seeks to accomplish.
Logotherapists don’t try to create explanations for a patient’s problem like a psychotherapist might. Instead, logotherapists simply help their patients see their lives and futures more clearly.
Frankl argues that the true meaning in life can be found only through a responsibility to something or someone other than oneself. Frankl calls this phenomenon the “self-transcendence of human existence.” By forgetting oneself and focusing on an encounter with something else, man finds more meaning in his life. Logotherapy states that meaning can be found in three ways: through purposeful work or creations, through love, and through suffering. He does not elaborate on the first path.
In the preface to his book, Frankl states that success should not be anyone’s goal, but rather it should simply occur as a side effect of pursuing one’s meaning. His beliefs on self-transcendence are similar. Man can only transcend himself by focusing on something outside of himself.