This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue & Happiness” 2016 Summer Seminar. Olivia Bailey is a PhD student in Philosophy at Harvard University.
Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?
Olivia Bailey: I’m originally from Londonderry, a tiny town in the mountains of southern Vermont. Somerville, MA, has been my home for the last six years.
VW: Tell me about your research.
OB: Broadly speaking, my work is concerned with the ways that different kinds of epistemic virtues enable, constitute, and (perhaps) interfere with ethical virtues. I’m particularly interested in the significance of emotionally-charged imagination, and in the gap between intellectually comprehending and knowing something “in one’s heart.” Previously, I’ve worked on questions about the ethical status of epistemic goods that naturally arise within an Aristotelian framework: issues I’ve addressed include whether some epistemic deficits might be features of good character, and whether the unity of the virtues thesis imposes unacceptably high demands for intellectual understanding and practical know-how upon a would-be phronimos. My dissertation explores territory not as well-trodden by Aristotelian virtue theorists, since it is focused on a psychological phenomenon, empathy, that has traditionally been of interest to philosophers working in the sentimentalist tradition. However, I rely upon insights from virtue theory to develop my account of empathy as an epistemic-cum-ethical good.
Working on questions at the intersections of philosophy of mind, moral psychology, and epistemology is a messy business, but it gives me good reason to read and use fascinating material from a variety of sources, ranging from the novels of E.M. Forster to the latest research on schizophrenic delusions. Nothing is more satisfying than coming across an illuminating example in an unlikely place. So, my interest in my research questions is driven partly by a sense that there is still a lot more to be said about the details of emotional experience and insight, and partly by my magpie-like philosophical tendencies.
VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s Virtue & Happiness seminar?
OB: There’s just so much to look forward to! Like many philosophers, my knowledge of the diversity of virtue ethical traditions is limited, and so I’m particularly hoping to learn a lot about Confucian, Buddhist, and Christian approaches to virtue and happiness, and to discover more of what contemporary psychologists have to say about what makes for a good life. Beyond that, I’m happily anticipating many excellent informal conversations with people whose work I have admired from afar.
VW: What are your non-academic interests?
OB: I love cross-country skiing, camping and climbing; as a summer job, I used to maintain a hut on top of a Vermont mountain (the perfect place to be a bit of a philosophical hermit). I’m also very interested in rare and antiquarian books. I’m currently trying to teach myself Turkish, but with only limited success!