(Because this blog is read by a global audience with different backgrounds and interests, we do not cite sources with the same rigor as we would in psychological journals. For those interested on the scientific sources of logoteleology, please read “The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology“. )
- Logo (λόγος), which stands for reason, meaning or cause.
- Thelos, (θέλω), defined as will.
- Telos (τέλος, σκοπός), signifying end or purpose.
Since the late 1990’s, logoteleologists have studied how meanings influence motivation and action, and explain consequence. The science believes that humans are teleological or goal-directed, and self-directed by meanings (and hence, logoteleological). For instance, a person accomplishes the goal of drinking water because he or she physically senses that they are becoming dehydrated. The state of dehydration means something to the person experiencing it. And it motivates (wills) an action (purposeful behavior) that quenches their thirst.
In short, logoteleology studies and describes the mind’s ability to stay on course from meaning intention to consequence.
As with Alfred Adler’s individual psychology and other psychological theories (e.g., self-regulation psychology, logotherapy, transactional analysis), MPP also believes that people are not always aware of their meanings and, as a result, they might not be able to explain their actions. You might relate to situations where you found yourself saying, “Why do I do this to myself!?” Others too might think or say statements such as, “Why did I say that? I didn’t intend to!” These examples — again, in tune with other psychological theories — help explain an axiom of Logoteleology: Humans are self-directed; however, not all human behavior is consciously self-determined.
Logoteleology helps people comprehend the meaning they give to life, people, situations, and themselves as a way to understand their behavior – and more importantly – to improve and achieve their goals in self-determined meaningful ways. Said differently, by understanding their meanings, individuals can discern why their behavior and life’s outcomes. Thus, MPP is an optimistic — yet very practical — psychological science that helps people and institutions form healthy meanings to better shape, adapt and thrive in their environments.
Adler’s goal concept is characterized particularly by the fact that the individual is largely unaware of his goal, that it is a hidden or unconscious goal, a goal which the individual does not understand. It is the true nature of the individual’s hidden goal which constitutes according to Adler, the essential content of the unconscious. ~ Heinz L Ansbacher and Rowena R Ansbacher, editors, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler
While MPP took form during the late 90’s and early 2000’s — in great part influenced by the works of Viktor Frankl, Alfred Adler, and Harold Bridger — the new science’s origins are traced back to the author’s graduate thesis work (1979) based on Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theory. Berne’s communication rules of what constitutes complementary and crossed (ulterior) transactions explains transactional dynamics known as “hidden agendas” and “the elephant in the room” — or unspoken messages disguised as genuine but with a negative covert intent. Analyzing the quality of transactions allows the transactional analyst help the client understand the real motive — or the true “why” behind her or his behavior.
During his thirteen years at Digital Equipment Corporation, the author facilitated many Transactional Analysis (TA) workshops and laboratories, and lead organization development improvement efforts across the company. Pre and post results showed significant improvements using measures such as quality of work life, efficiency, and financial results. Change improvement methods entailed having organizational members understand and differentiate between observable behavior (what at are we doing and how are we doing it) and real intent (why are we [really] doing it); and deciding to chose genuine options for a win-win outcome for all.
The author’s understanding of unconscious aims was later validated during the 1980’s and 1990’s as a student and adjunct faculty at NTL Institute through the theories of Robert Marshak on “Covert Processes,” and the author’s mentor Harold Bridger’s (Tavistock Institute) “Double Tasks.”
The next evolutionary step that shaped and brought to life today’s Meaningful Purpose Psychology or Logoteleology came from Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology.
Then came the paradox…..
Origins of Meaningful Purpose Psychology
Logoteleology came to be as the result of one fundamental paradox: Why is it that despite the availability of answers, humanity’s most pressing problems persist?
MPP believes that humanity suffers from an identity crisis. As a species, too many humans:
- do not know who they are
- ignore the meaningful and favor the meaningless
- lack a comprehensive, meaningful life purpose
- are clueless as to how to solve their most significant existential problems
- are failing miserably at getting along with others and sustaining healthy environments
Logoteleology, in turn, assists people so that they:
- know who they are
- chose to do the meaningful over the meaningless
- experience the confidence that comes from a well-thought and self-determined meaningful life purpose
- are fully equipped to shape, adapt, thrive and competently master their environments
- promote win-win social and work cultures for human thriving
Therefore, while MPP serves as an optimistic remedial tool to existential problems, its primary aim is to be a practical, confident, and empirically-based proactive solution to individual, group, organizational, and social issues across borders. At its core, the theory has a positive and optimistic belief that there are answers to human challenges, and on people’s creative power to invent and innovate for good. We carry out this work through The Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose. The institute’s mantra is “Enabling people and institutions to succeed in their meaningful purpose.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor L. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
An aspirational theory demands operating propositions or axioms. These fundamental principles or propositions are shared here and explained throughout the book. Specifically, logoteleology proposes that:
- People strive for meaning. I agree with Frankl “…that man’s main concern is not to seek pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to find a meaning to his life.” Nor do I disagree with Adler’s Individual Psychology’s basic proposition that humans strive “…from a minus situation towards a plus situation, from a feeling of inferiority towards superiority, perfection, totality.” or with what Frankl described as the pursuit of power. I believe that since a child can be forced into a premature and forced decision regarding his identity and style of life, the potential autonomous path of a life with meaning is thwarted and distorted into unauthentic and subconscious scripts. Logoteleology proposes that as an adult the individual is tasked with finding, creating or inventing meaning to regain autonomy and control over his or her life.
- All positive meaning-fulfillment is social, transcendental or other-directed, and required for social and psychological adjustment. I believe that all meaningful actions and healthy mental states are accomplished through dealings that benefit others. Meaningfulness, in simple terms, comes from being outwardly-oriented versus inwardly-oriented.
- Telos (Purpose), Thelos (Will) and Logos (Meaning) are three distinct mental functions in a psychological system. As separate and distinct functions each can be individually and collectively studied, diagnosed and helped.
- Meanings precede purpose. The role of purpose is to fulfill meanings.
- Will responds to and is energized by the degree of the meaningfulness of an outcome.
- Humans are teleological, or purpose driven. “We are goal-authors and goal-directors.” A lot of our behavior is directional and goal fulfilling. Who we are and what we have accomplished in life are the outcomes of our meaning intentions or aims.
- Individuals are generally not aware of their teleology. Many people are not aware that a lot of behavior is goal driven and directional, nor are they cognizant of how their hidden scripted drives or introjects influence their behavior. This proposition is consistent with that of Alfred Adler. “Adler’s goal concept is characterized particularly by the fact that the individual is largely unaware of his goal, that it is a hidden or unconscious goal, a goal which the individual does not understand. It is the true nature of the individual’s hidden goal which constitutes, according to Adler, the essential content of the unconscious.”
- Maladjustment is characterized by two features: the absence of a clear life purpose and a defining meaning. Adjustment is defined as having a clear life purpose that achieves something meaningful. I believe that the confidence resulting from a meaningful purpose is at the heart of successful living.
- Creating meaningful purpose requires conscious decision-making and choice. Selecting a meaningful life purpose is an intentional act rather than a scripted (introjected) decision made in early childhood. Authentic purpose formation is self-selected versus imposed by subconscious, archaic, ineffective and thus many times unwanted, introjects.
- The individual’s meaning – conscious or not – influences every psychological process. I agree with Adler’s Individual Psychology that it is essential “…to understand that mysterious creative power of life which expresses itself in the desire to develop, to strive, to achieve, and even to compensate for defeats in one direction by striving for success in another. This power is teleological, it expresses itself in the striving after a goal, and, in this striving, every bodily and psychological movement is made to cooperate.”
- In the absence of an intended purpose, subconscious scripted drives influence behavior. We are the end we pursue. We cannot avoid but to strive towards an end. Adler stated, “A person would not know what to do with himself were he not oriented toward some goal. We cannot think, feel, will, or act without the perception of some goal.”
- There is a tension between the authentic consciously intended purpose and the unauthentic scripted unconscious aim. Conscious intentions can and are challenged by hidden and more powerful aims. Logoteleology helps individuals to discover these hidden inner intentions, to understand the meaning they pursue, and to replace the archaic and obstructive meaning with a healthier alternative.
- There are answers to life’s challenges through meaningful purpose. I optimistically believe that answers to individual and social problems exist; and where absent, solutions can be found and even invented. Moreover, I am convinced that each person is called to answer those questions posed by life.
- We have three authentic tasks to fulfill: to allow, to cooperate, and to transcend. Meaningful behavior includes caring for others, fostering peace and peace of mind, encouraging the state of happiness, nurturing creative and interesting situations, and generating prosperity.
Logoteleology as a Macro-Model
Logoteleology is also a Macro Model. Because MPP believes there are positive and healthy solutions to individual, group and organizational problems, Logoteleology does not reinvent, repackage or rework existing solutions. In other words, true to our thesis, we believe there are practical and positive remedies to many human problems. For that reason, MPP points to, endorses, promotes and leverages those best practices and the meaningful actions of others that yield positive outcomes. However, though influenced and enriched by other psychological theories and methods, as a science, Logoteleology has a unique philosophy and approach.
Also, as a Macro Model, MPP does not approach behavioral and organizational change in the traditional sense as applied in group and systemic change management initiatives; as well as when analysts — for instance — deal with resistance and repression in therapeutic settings. Still, again, while Logoteleology has its methods, the science supports those tools, processes, and systems that produce positive and meaningful results.
Rather, Logoteleology studies and explains why – despite these essential theories and models being readily available – solutions are not widely used and successfully implemented to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. The science has methods to help people understand blockages to (1) awareness, (2) the release of human potential — or to what is positively and optimistically possible — (3) human thriving — or a life filled with five meaningful yearnings. These yearnings include the states of love, peace, happiness, engagement through exciting activities, and prosperity.
We believe this inability and unwillingness to take advantage to what works is due in part to how mankind self-defines, and how our species has built institutions and systems under faulty assumptions about the nature of humans. That belief explains why Logoteleology takes a more systemic and macro (socio-psychological) view to existential problems. However, its work starts with the individual and works its way up to groups, and then to the broader environment. MPP is concerned with approaches that build a collective will to a purpose that is meaningful.
Concerning measures, while logoteleology leverages academic empirical findings to comprehend what improves the human condition, the science monitors large-scale outcomes such as published by the United Nations Happiness Report, Edelman Trust Report, and Gallup’s Global Engagement Report to measure success. Logoteleologists give higher weight to macro-level reports because they explain what the real state of humanity is. We encourage research on logoteleology propositions and models.
Again, it is important to emphasize that our primary goal is to follow a two-pronged approach: (1) to release human potential for what is meaningful and right; (2) and to assist people and institutions thrive and succeed by avoiding what does not work, and applying what does lead to genuine success. That explains Logoteleology’s existential, positive and optimistic outlook toward humans. The science is concerned with the release of human potential for good.
I must also state that Logoteleology is not in the business of disproving and challenging others’ theories. MPP is concerned with carrying out empirical research that tests its premises and propositions, aiding people and organizations strive and succeed, and, when required, helping people and institutions solve stubborn business and existential problems and paradoxes. While there are promising results to its approach, again, further empirical studies are encouraged.
Finally, while some have reported a correlation between Logoteleology and spirituality (an observation that comes up often to the author), MPP is a pragmatic, empirically-based discipline that is not involved in mysticism. On the other hand, we are genuinely happy for those individuals who find that Logoteleology enhances their spiritual life. We do acknowledge, however, that there is nothing in our research that contradicts biblical moral standards. Quite the contrary, our findings validate such standards. At some point in writing my anthology, I will pen a book on the subject. As of now, the working title is “Theology in Logoteleology: An Empirical Correlation” to point out how psychology’s empirical findings (particularly meaningful purpose psychology’s) correlate with Judeo-Christian religious values and practices.
I would like to close with some final thoughts and questions for you, the reader:
- Do you know who you are?
- Do you know what is meaningful and meaningless in life?
- Do you tend to choose to do the meaningful over the meaningless?
- Do you have the confidence that comes from a well-thought and self-determined meaningful life purpose?
- Are you entirely equipped to shape, adapt, thrive and competently master your environments?
The style of life decides. — Alfred Adler
I will say more about Meaningful Purpose Psychology (Logoteleology) in future posts. Still, I welcome comments and questions.
For those interested in buying a copy of “The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology” please feel free to order here.
Comments are welcomed below.
©2013. Luis A. Marrero, MA, RODP. Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose.
 Marrero, Luis A., The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology. Bloomington: IUniverse, 2013
 Frankl, V. E. Psychotherapy and Existentialism, (New York: Pocket Books, 1967), 38
 Bogdan, Radu J. 1994.Grounds for Cognition, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Hillsdale, New Jersey. page 123
 Ansbacher, Heinz L. and Ansbacher, Rowena R., editors. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, page 89
 Ibid, page 92
 Ibid, page 96
Berne, Eric. Games People Play, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964)
Berne, Eric. The Layman’s Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, (New York, Ballantine Books, 1976)