By Chandra Harris-McCray
David and Vera Mefford are fulfilling the lifelong quest of the late, world-renowned philosopher Robert S. Hartman to answer the question, "What is good?"
Hartman planted seeds of goodness in David, even before he had any realization he wanted to pursue a philosophy degree.
"Like many college students, I was just going about my educational career, not really sure what I wanted to do when I heard about this guy," explained David of his days as a student at the University of Tennessee. "People could not stop talking about him and his work. I had to get into one of his graduate classes to see and hear what all the talk was about."
He not only got into his class, but "I became Dr. Hartman's disciple and teaching assistant," says David. He became a philosophy major in 1967—the same year UT hired Hartman as a philosophy research professor.
David advanced his education by taking a European axiology class at the University of Paris and in 1976 he earned his magister artium degree in psychology, philosophy and law at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. But no one captivated him like Hartman, "because his work created the foundation for a logic-based system to determine personality differences based on an individual's value system," David says.
Quantifying the Immeasurable
Vera noted the major difference between psychological and axiological foundations: "Psychology is based mainly on an empirical foundation while axiology is based on a mathematical foundation. This is what gives us the capacity to quantify quality."
David said, "The Hartman Value Profile, an inventory assessment which measures with exactness the character and decision-making capacity of an individual, is not only extraordinary, but it still holds great value today.
"The five-year experience of studying with Hartman not only changed my life, it became my life," David said.
While working toward his doctorate, David worked as Hartman's assistant. During his studies, he evaluated and counseled psychiatric patients using the Hartman Value Profile. His dissertation, "Phenomenology of Man as a Valuing Subject" achieved a comprehensive typology of personality, based on value judgment patterns. The nondescript 210-page bound book, which details the axiological model of 26 cognitive types and 40 emotional temperaments, sits on his coffee table next to a family photo album.
He said, "After receiving my Ph.D. from UT, I went into business selling and promoting axiological products, especially the Hartman Value Profile."
Hartman's value concepts have been used in some of the largest corporations in the country to develop leadership excellence among top-level executives. Also, Hartman's extensive work in promoting profit sharing became the basis for today's 401(k) retirement saving plans.
A Radical and a Progressive
Even as a school boy in the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hartman sought answers to help preserve and enhance the value of human life. He was required, as part of his school day, to repeat the loyalty oath: "I was born to die for Germany." Instead of believing it, he was convinced that the oath was false. Vocal about rejecting all violent creeds—whether of Communism, Nazism, or Fascism—Hartman was forced to leave Germany to escape imprisonment.
Hartman's career included professorship posts at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, Ohio's College of Wooster, Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale. He conducted more than 50 lectures in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. The esteemed author of more than 10 books and 100 articles was a research professor of philosophy at UT and the National University of Mexico until his death in 1973.
"I have never known a more brilliant man nor a more creative mind in my life," said David, who is also a former UT philosophy instructor. "He was an excellent communicator and great teacher."
The Meffords hold fast to Hartman's work and character in their company, AXCES (Axiological Comprehensive Evaluation Systems).
"The foundation of my career stems from Hartman and his discovery of logic-based, frame-of-reference qualities," explained David, who is a co-founder and board member of the Robert S. Hartman Institute.
Giving Back to the Place Where it All Started
For more than three decades, David and his wife, Vera, have used the Hartman Value Profile as the foundation for creating a series of values-based personality instruments known as "targeted axiological profiles" and "values usage exercises." They are focused on developing industry-specific, axiological-based assessments, including applications for sports, fitness, business, finance, sales, leadership and hospitality, among many others. Their clients include professional sports teams, Chase Manhattan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Alcoa Aluminum, Cellular One, and Target Training International.
A native of Morristown, David still calls the 16 acres where he grew up "home."
With a donkey, three horses, and 30 beehives, the Meffords enjoy the simpler things in life, especially after David was shot—and almost killed—22 years ago. A case of mistaken identity, the incident left indelible scars on David's chest that serve as a constant reminder that "life is precious—not material possessions," said Vera. "We do our best to make others more aware of how to live the ‘good life' versus the ‘goods life.'"
The couple decided that UT, "the place where it all started," mattered most when they bequeathed their estate to the College of Arts and Sciences to establish the Robert S. Hartman Endowment for Value Theory, which will provide UT's Department of Philosophy with much-needed support which includes a chair, graduate research fellowships, and a summer research fellowship. An interdisciplinary program to continue Hartman's work in value science is planned as well.
"All fields of study—law, medicine, business, athletics, education—can benefit greatly from applying this formal value theory," said Vera, who received her bachelor's degree from Houghton College in New York and her master's degree from Schiller University in Heidelberg, Germany. She also completed her master's post-graduate anthropological studies at the University of Heidelberg and attended graduate school at UT.
"We are here to help others grow their roots deeper and their branches higher," said Vera, "so when strong winds blow, their roots cannot be moved and their branches cannot be easily broken."