The last few weeks en route to my daughter's school, we passed a billboard flashing an alluring new sports car. Above the car were only three powerful words: Lust Conquers All.

This past week, the billboard was changed. The new billboard now features a group of hip young men and women smiling in designer wear with the name of the designer proudly displayed above.

The message of both billboards, and thousands like them, is clear. To lead happier, more fulfilling lives, you need these things—this type of car or these designer labels.

Followers of Freud would undoubtedly see these advertisements as proving his theory that man's primal motivation is his desire for pleasure. Adlerians, on the other hand, would note how they fit Adler's philosophy of man's striving for superiority. The right car and the right labels can bring you pleasure and power.

Power and pleasure are definitely strong forces. Advertising agencies have played on these drives to convince us of our need for many products – from the perfect vacation to the perfect accessory. But is there more to the human psyche than just these drives?

Viktor Frankl was tormented by this question. In logotherapy, the system Frankl developed, now touted as the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, he argues that by seeing the human psyche as a conglomerate of fragmented parts and drives, like the will to pleasure or power, the wholeness of the human person is destroyed. Man is ultimately depersonalized and viewed as an object, ruled by "mechanisms."

From Frankl's perspective, the underlying motivation in all human beings is their "will to meaning." Frankl backs his extensive theory with studies and statistics where the majority of respondents asserted that "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" or "finding a purpose and a meaning in life" was their highest goal. In his own experience as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, he witnessed man falling to the depths of depravity, but also reaching the highest levels of faith and goodness despite suffering.

In Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning, Frankl argues: "Rather than being concerned with any inner condition, be it pleasure or homeostasis, man is oriented toward the world out there and within this world, he is interested in meanings to fulfill and in other human beings… He knows he is actualizing himself precisely to the extent to which he is forgetting himself and he is forgetting himself by giving himself, be it through service to a cause higher than himself, or loving a person other than himself. Truly self-transcendence is the essence of human existence.

"The more he forgets himself by giving to causes of another person the more human he is. And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself, the more he really becomes himself. "

Moreover, the boredom and apathy so prevalent in our society is because "man's will to meaning is frustrated on a worldwide scale. People are haunted by a feeling of meaninglessness which is often accompanied by a feeling of emptiness…"

Frankl's theory, developed decades ago, still rings true in our times. How, then, according to his system, does man find this elusive "meaning"? How can we define what "meaning" is?

This is where Frankl seems to get stuck.

"Meaning must be found and cannot be given. To try to give meaning would amount to moralizing…. Morals will no longer define what is good and what is bad in terms of what one should do and what one must not do. What is good will be defined as that which fosters the meaning fulfillment of a being. And what is bad will be defined as that which hinders this meaning fulfillment.

"The Logotherapist leaves it to the patient to decide what is meaningful and what is not, or for that matter, what is good and what is bad…

"Meaning must be found by one's own conscience. Conscience may be defined as a means to discover meanings, to 'sniff them out' as it were."

But in giving the conscience the power to lead us to meaning, Frankl acknowledges that it "may also lead us astray. Conscience may err, and I cannot know for certain whether my conscience is right and another's conscience, which tells him something different is wrong, or whether the reverse is true. Not that there is no truth: there is. And there can be only one truth. But no one can be absolutely sure it is he who has arrived at this truth.

"So man can only stick to his conscience, although until he lies on his deathbed, he never knows whether it is the true meaning his conscience mediates to him."

In his reluctance or inability to define objective morality, Frankl falls short of providing a path toward finding meaning. To him, there is "one truth" but he fails to access or define it. All meaning and morality becomes necessarily subjective.

In his best-selling book, I'm OK—You're OK, Thomas Harris describes the root of this hesitation. "Establishing value judgments has been seen by many in the field of psychology, as an abominable departure from the scientific method to be shunned righteously and at all cost. "

He quotes Nathaniel Branden: "The tragedy of psychology is that values are the one issue specifically banned from its domain. It is not true that merely bringing conflicts into conscious awareness guarantees that patients will resolve them. The answer to moral problems is not self-evident; they require a process of complex philosophical thought and analysis."

As a survivor, Frankl couldn't accept a definition of man as someone who is only motivated by base drives of pleasure or power because he witnessed people who found the greatest wellsprings of faith, compassion and humanity even in the hell of Auschwitz. These were people who viewed their lives and actions as meaningful and purposeful.

But at the same time, Frankl stops short of providing a workable definition for "meaning" or a universal code of morality. For the Nazi oppressors, conscience was non-existent and to the contrary, they may have found their "meaning" according to Frankl's definition by "giving themselves over to a cause" in fulfilling their goal of obliterating the "sub-human" Jews from this world.

As Harris expresses, "If there is no universal 'should' there is no way of saying that that Albert Schweitzer was a better man than Adolf Hitler. If not, the only valid observation we may make is that Albert Schweitzer did such and so, and Adolf Hitler did such and so. Even though we make further notations that Albert Schweitzer saved so and so many lives and Adolf Hitler instigated the death of millions of people, we see this only as statistical markings on the page of history and discount any relevance of ethical reflection toward the modification of human behavior. The worth of people, or persons, after all, cannot be proven scientifically. Albert Schweitzer thought he was right. Adolf Hitler thought he was right. That they were both right is an obvious contradiction. But by what standard do we determine who was right?"

Frankl succeeds in broadening our perspective on man to see the human psyche as more than mere component drives. He powerfully portrays a deeper, more spiritual foundation of man, expressed through his longing for meaning and transcendence. He convincingly argues that even in suffering, pain or death, man can discover this meaning. Yet, even Frankl with his spiritual and conscience-oriented ideology fails to provide direction on how to access this meaning and how to define an objective morality.

So, in my mind's eye, I can see a time in the future when I'll still be driving down the street and noticing the billboards. But rather than trying to sell products to consumers by catering to their base drives for power or pleasure, these billboards will be advertising a path to greater meaning and transcendence.

But until that time, I can't help but wonder: is it at all possible for science or psychology to meld with religion and come to a workable, universal definition on what is objective morality?

Perhaps if we could find an answer to this elusive question, finding meaning in our lives would be more accessible to us all.