NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Dr. Reinhard Mueller just completed his PhD program in comparative literature at the University of Texas at Austin with a dissertation on “philosophical reorientations in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce.” His unlikely relationship with Nashville businessman Mike Hodges led to his new position as executive director of the Hodges Foundation for Philosophical Orientation, which officially launched Friday night at The Parthenon.
Mueller (pictured above) spoke with The Tennessee Star Friday afternoon ahead of the event. He discussed how he met Dr. Werner Stegmaier, author of a book now published in English by the Hodges Foundation, and his work in translating Stegmaier’s writings from German to English.
“At the end of my first semester I went to one of his lectures and I was like this is really impressive. Then I started studying philosophy, so before that I didn’t. He’s an amazing lecturer. He gives fascinating lectures, a great speaker,” said Mueller, who was introduced to Stegmaier at the University of Greifswald in Germany. “He makes philosophy very engaging.”
“So I stayed with and studied with him for a long time. At that time when I started studying with him he already developed his philosophy of orientation,” he continued. “I mean, he started working on it when he started his professor career in like 1990. It’s more or less his life work. He worked on it for 20 years, basically.”
Stegmaier’s philosophy of orientation was first hashed out in an 800-page book in German, which Mueller helped condense to under 400 pages for the new American audience that the Hodges Foundation hopes to reach.
Hodges spoke with The Star on how he met Stegmaier and Mueller in an interview published Saturday.
“So in 2017 I flew to Berlin and met Dr. Stegmaier at this Hotel Adlon, which is quite famous in Germany,” Hodges 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.”
Mueller eventually left Germany to complete a master’s degree at the University of Alabama but said he “always stayed in touch” with his old professor, Dr. Stegmaier.
“I use this approach basically in all of my works,” he said. “It always stayed with me. From my earliest days with philosophy, I was kind of raised with this philosophy.”
He said that while other philosophies “have a very specific idea that they want to argue for,” the philosophy of orientation “just wants to describe.”
“So it doesn’t have any big thesis, or something like that. It doesn’t have any big claims. It doesn’t want to change the world. It’s not like Marxism or something where it’s about changing the world. It just wants to describe the world,” Mueller said, noting that Stegmaier’s book “puts into words many of the philosophical ideas” that he’s always had but wasn’t able to articulate.
“Another thing that I found fascinating about it is it explains very difficult philosophical concepts in a much simpler language and in everyday language,” he added.
Mueller concluded by noting that the English translation places an emphasis on the work of William James because of the philosophy of orientation’s connection to pragmatism.
“This philosophy has a strong connection to pragmatism in the sense of that orientation as we define it is the achievement of finding one’s way successfully in new situations. So it’s not about what’s true and false, but first of all orientation is what we call a pragmatic question. So it’s about finding one’s ways,” Mueller said.
In his work with the Hodges Foundation, Mueller will help lead new academic research in the field and oversee the foundation’s $25,000 essay competition.
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[Editors note: Mike and Tina Hodges are chairman and CEO, respectively of Advance Financial, an advertiser in The Tennessee Star, which, along with The Michigan Star, The Ohio Star, The Minnesota Sun, and Battleground State News, is owned by Star News Digital Media.]