Against a background of the evil and terror of Nazi rule, Berlin-born Robert (Schirokauer) Hartman developed his theories of formal axiology to understand ‘good’. He experienced first-hand how the Nazis were systematizing evil. He had studied law in Berlin and through the trouble of a failing economy and the rising threat of the Third Reich, Hartman pursued his question on how to understand and define good.
As a school boy, he was required to repeat daily the loyalty oath: “I was born to die for Germany.” Privately, he thought the oath was false. He believed human life had infinite worth and that the state had a moral obligation to protect that life. To him, war was madness. He rejected the violent creeds of Communism, Nazism and Fascism prompting him to criticize Hitler and his rule through articles like “the Woman Hitler: the psychology of a Fuhrer”. This article he published as an assistant district court judge in Berlin’s Das Freie Wort. Shortly after, he had to flee Germany.
With a forged passport under the pseudonym of Hartman, the 22 year old Schirokauer fled through the back door of his Berlin apartment as Nazi brown-shirts stormed the front. For the next two years he worked as a professional photographer in London and Paris while completing a LLB at London School of Economics. During this period he and a young German rocket inventor attempted to interest the British government in the use of rockets for postal service. The inventor, Gerhard Zucker, was later executed by the Nazis for “an attempt to sell an invention important for Germany to a foreign power.”
From 1934 to 1941, still under surveillance by the Nazis, he was Walt Disney’s representative in Scandinavia, Mexico and Central America. In 1938, using a Swedish alien’s passport, he and his wife Rita, together with their son, Jan, left Europe for Mexico, where they lived until finally immigrating to the United States in 1941.
Settling in Chicago, Hartman earned his PhD from Northwestern University and stunning audiences at the American Philosophical Association with his presentation of formal axiology theories.
He authored more than ten books, wrote over 100 articles, was translator of six books while lecturing at over 50 universities and colleges. He acquired a global reputation. While an extremely industrious and productive scholar, he yet found time to carry on personal correspondence with many people throughout the world acquainted with his work.
Hartman’s life-long quest was to answer the question of ‘what is good?’ to help preserve and enhance the value of human life. He believed that he had found this answer in the axiom upon which he based his science of Axiology: A thing is good when it fulfills its concept. His formal axiology, as the ordering logic for the value sciences, receives its most complete expression in his major work, The Structure of Value: Foundations of Scientific Axiology (1967), which one reviewer described as “one of the most constructive and revolutionary undertaking suggested in modern times.”
He applied his value method to economics in the Profit Sharing Manual (1948), and La participacion de utilidades en Mexico (1963). His extensive work in promoting profit sharing became the basis for the United states 401k labor retirement plan.
In the field of psychology, he applied his axiology in The Hartman Value Inventory, a value profile, currently used by consultants, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists throughout the world.
His international reputation and the esteem in which he is held by scholars throughout the world are reflected in Value and Valuation: Axiological Studies in Honor of Robert S. Hartman (1972). He was much loved by his many friends. Many of his students and colleagues would agree with the sentiment expressed in the above work by one of them: “I have never known a more brilliant, comprehensive, creative mind; or a more enthusiastic, eloquent teacher.”
Hartman died on September 20, 1973 and was buried near his home in Cuernavaca, Mexico – just a few days after learning of his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. A full Biography including the development of his axiom of good, is detailed in the book, Freedom to Live: The Robert S Hartman Story (1984: Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam)
He continues to inspire the work in formal and applied axiology through the members of the institute that bears his name.