By all outward appearances, Mike and Tina Hodges, chairman and CEO of Advance Financial, respectively, have lived the American dream. They run their own business (and a highly-successful one at that) have children and a happy marriage, and are respected in their community.
Clearly, whatever philosophy was guiding their lives had been working. So it came as a surprise to Dr. Werner Stegmaier, a German philosopher and Nietzsche scholar, and one of his students, Dr. Reinhard Mueller, when they were contacted by a businessman from Nashville about their work.
“They did think it was quite strange,” Tina told The Tennessee Star in an interview. “The first email was ‘Hi, my name’s Mike Hodges. I read one of your papers. I’m wondering do you have more?’ And he writes back, ‘Are you a philosopher? Are you a professor?’ ‘No, I’m a businessman from the U.S.’ ‘Well, what is your interest in my article?’”
“Mike asked for the person who translated the articles, and again Reinhard said, ‘you’re a business owner who just likes philosophy?’ He (Mueller) said his girlfriend at the time was like this guy just wants to fly to Austin to talk philosophy with you? Like, he could be a serial killer. ‘No, I just want to come down to talk to you about how I can get more articles. They’re so interesting. I don’t know anybody in Nashville who I can talk to,’” Tina said in recalling her husband’s first conversations with Stegmaier and Mueller.
Their work together culminated in the launch of the Hodges Foundation for Philosophical Orientation Friday night at The Parthenon in Nashville and the release of an English translation of Stegmaier’s What Is Orientation? A Philosophical Investigation.
“I came across this philosophy a couple years ago. I read it in a Nietzsche journal, it was the very first journal I received and the very first article I read was called ‘Nietzsche’s orientation toward the future.’ And it was written by Dr. Stegmaier,” Mike told The Tennessee Star. “In this article, it was about how we orient ourselves in time. What I was really picking up from the article was he was kind of redescribing and making new some of Nietzsche’s ideas. Then, through the piece, I realized he was making the claim of a first philosophy, meaning something brand new.”
Mike eventually flew to Austin, Texas to visit with Mueller, then a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. The two hit it off and Mike decided it was time for him to travel to Berlin to meet Dr. Stegmaier in person.
“So in 2017 I flew to Berlin and met Dr. Stegmaier at this Hotel Adlon, which is quite famous in Germany,” Mike said. “And then over the next two years we attended a couple conferences at Sils Maria, Switzerland, where Nietzsche wrote most of his books. Dr. Stegmaier, and myself, and Reinhard would hike all day long—like eight hour hikes—we would stop for 30, 45 minutes. Dr. Stegmaier would philosophize and explain these very complex philosophical issues in very plain language. So we kind of hit it off.”
“It takes courage to make these new claims. I’m drawn to courage and we have to do something with our time, and this is a novel, unique way to spend one’s time,” Mike explained. “I really got involved in philosophy about five years ago. What I realized is that most of the ideas in our society start at the philosophical level, and they trickle down into society through self-help books, popular television, and so on. So as I started reading these philosophers, I was blown away by what was in the books. I wondered if—do people know what are in these books? So what philosophy did was give me a broader perspective, a new lens to see reality with and it gave me moves because I was able to see things that other folks weren’t really seeing.”
He stressed that the philosophy of orientation is “not a prescriptive philosophy, it doesn’t tell you how to live,” but rather is “a descriptive philosophy, it tells you how the world is.”
“So it’s saying we are trying to find our way successfully in new situations. That’s how we orient ourselves. We’re always orienting ourselves.”
He said the philosophy of orientation doesn’t need to conflict with a person’s prior beliefs, such as a Christian or religious worldview.
“Again, it’s descriptive, not prescriptive. We’re all trying to figure out how best to get along in a world that’s always shifting. Our deepest values and Christian beliefs would be one, anchor us so that we can orient ourselves,” Mike said.
“Your religion may be one of your footholds,” Tina added.
“This philosophy doesn’t have a political opinion or a religious opinion or any opinion. Again, it describes how we as humans have, do, and will get along in the world. And certainly faith is one of those footholds and anchors,” Mike continued.
When asked for a straightforward definition of the philosophy of orientation, Mike said “it’s pretty simple to me.”
“The philosophy of orientation is that we and all things are always trying to find our way successfully in new situations. And, more or less, all situations are new. The philosophy recognizes that life is in flux, nothing holds. So in a world that’s constantly changing and under the pressure of time, how do you find your way successfully? We do this through routines, which are important, through footholds, and those footholds can change if the signs, clues and indicators change,” he suggested.
“Then something comes a long — a death in the family, a divorce — and we no longer have our footholds, so we’re no longer oriented. We become disoriented. And we need new routines to take those places.”
Hodges hinted during his speech Friday night at The Parthenon that it was a period of disorientation in his own life that led him to philosophy.
The Hodges Foundation will offer fellowships and research grants around the topic of orientation, and Dr. Mueller will serve as the executive director.
The Hodges said they hope their foundation will go beyond the confines of academia and offer a “broader, more open dialogue that you might not be able to have in a university setting.”
Tina said she and her husband attended a Nietzsche Society event at Vanderbilt and found that it was “purely academic,” noting that the speakers argued about one sentence for two hours.
“And Mike was like that’s not who I want to befriend. I want to talk practically with people about philosophy,” said Tina.
“And to the point about the academy and academia. This isn’t a swipe on it. It’s just constricted and narrow, right? They do spend time arguing about where commas should go, and sometimes they miss the forest for the trees that they’re arguing about,” Mike added. “I think this foundation and the philosophy is a little more broad than that. It’s not so strict.”
Mike said he and his wife are attracted to Nietzsche’s ideas of “creativity, authenticity, individuality, commitment, becoming who you are, and living dangerously,” but his favorite philosopher is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Many philosophers don’t consider him a philosopher, but his life was very philosophical,” said Mike. “He had a bias to action. He lived and embodied what many philosophers thought was a beautiful life. He was accomplished in many, many things. His life in itself was philosophical.”
To learn more about the Hodges Foundation, visit their website here.
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[Editors note: Mike and Tina Hodges are chairman and CEO, respectively, of Advance Financial, an advertiser with The Tennessee Star.]