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Freedom to Live: The Robert Hartman Story

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Robert S. Hartman Institute, and have been for a long time. I recently attended the RSHI conference in Salt Lake City. In preparation for the conference, the recommended reading was this book. I am glad I read it. The first part of the book is Hartman’s story as told by him. The last pages have been added by Arthur Ellis, PhD, and add to the context of the book.

Hartman was a fascinating guy. He was born in Berlin, Germany in 1910. Growing up in the years before World War I, he was fascinated, but terrified by the Kaiser and his regime. He didn’t find patriotic fervor in the war talk. He questioned things that others celebrated or took for granted. His favorite uncle went to the war, and never returned. It left an indelible mark on Hartman.

In the runup to WWII, he began to write about Hitler and the fears he had about Nazi Germany. He believed the regime was evil, and warned of the troubles to come. His writings reached Hitler who set out to find him. He fled Nazi Germany with a forged passport, and emigrated to Mexico, and eventually to the United States. He held professorships at several schools, including Ohio State, and finally the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you.

The root of his work is I > E > S. People (Intrinsic) are greater than Tasks (Extrinsic) and greater than Concepts (Systemic). The equation sums up Hartman’s worldview, that the greatest good is people. He doesn’t dispense with tasks or concepts, but keeps people first. This simple concept drove the science he created, Formal Axiology. Axiology is the logic of meaning, how you make meaning of things. The idea that people are first led to his arguments against nuclear war, arguments for which he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

Hartman’s philosophy begins with asking “What is good?”. His definition of “good”? A thing is good once if fulfills its purpose. Once he was able to define and give value to what is good, he began to look at the important questions we all have, but rarely answer: “What am I here for in the world?”; “Why do I work for this organization”; “What can this organization do to help me fulfill my meaning in the world?”; and “ How can I help this organization help me fulfill my meaning in the world?”.

The more I study the science, the more I believe it too. Hartman created an assessment based on the science, the Hartman Value Profile, or the HVP. I am affiliated with TTI Success Insights which has a version of the HVP, known as the Acumen Capacity Index. This one assessment contains rich detail which can be used in many ways—in selection, personal and professional development.

While I recommend this book to everyone, it is not the easiest of reads. It will take you some time and consideration to internalize the concepts. It is a book that you will find yourself reading bits of over and over. The reward for understanding the concepts will be worth it.


Robert Hartman


Wipf & Stock; 2nd Edition



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