Happiness – reflection on the 2017 summer seminar

“Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence”2017 Summer Seminar Participants (from left) Elise Murray, Molly Ogunyemi, Timothy Reilly, at the University of Chicago’s Neaubauer Collegium.

When I sent in my application to be a part of the Virtue, Happiness, & the Self-Transcendence seminar, I was certain that I would benefit from participating but I was not quite sure how much. Now, after the experience, I am really glad that I was part of it. I found it intellectually stimulating and very helpful. I learnt a lot from everyone. The keynote speakers and other participants were ready to discuss my research topics and the discussions that I had with them gave insights for developing my work both as a lecturer and as an early career researcher. For example, Professor Candace Vogler gave me wonderful suggestions for improving my teaching, and I have been able to apply some of them in my classes in Lagos.  In addition, the discussions in the sessions helped me to gain a deeper understanding of the topics of virtue and happiness. I learnt a lot from the interactions between the scholars. Those discussions I had with everyone made me want to study more and understand these topics better.


After the seminar, I came up with questions I emailed to the scholars I met in the seminar. I have been pondering over the themes of the discussions since the summer ended, and some more questions come up in my mind when I reflect on my experience from the seminar. The seminar reinforced my interest in interdisciplinary research work and the discussions and the subsequent emails from the participants, (e.g. Dan P McAdams, Timothy Reilly) gave me ideas for future directions in my research.


One of such questions was about the evolution and development of the self and how to interpret and integrate information, research results and ideas from psychology and the humanities while trying to understand human life. The discussion that I had with Tim and Maureen during the seminar and the emails afterwards, were really helpful. They suggested looking at the topic from the perspective of developmental psychology, while seeking themes that may be congruent with philosophical frameworks of the good life. I would like to explore these topics in future research.

Philosopher Stephen Brock chats with Molly Ogunyemi at the 2017 Summer Seminar “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence”.

What was the best part of the experience?

I think that the best part of the experience for me was being able to reflect about a topic that the participants and keynote speakers had explored from different perspectives. The scholars from the different fields gave a deeper understanding of the same topics in different lights, and I found it very interesting to see some of the different perspectives and views across fields and to see their commonalities identifiable from the discussions. Oftentimes, scholars from different fields use the same words to describe concepts that are similar and one can think that different fields are referring to the same concepts and content. However, the use of the same terminology may carry different connotations or meanings. Even while studying a concept within the same field, the depth of the meaning attributed to a specific concept may differ significantly. For example, I discovered that narrative psychologist’s concept of virtue is understood quite differently from what I thought I understood from my personal study of psychology. I discovered that the relationship between virtue and the ultimate good for human beings which is clear within classical Aristotelian philosophy ought not to be imposed on psychology’s notion of virtues. Even though both fields use the same words for similar concepts of habits which foster human flourishing and wellbeing, the Aristotelian concept of virtue is tightly linked to the ultimate good of the person found with the best use of his highest faculties, while this link is not so clear with psychology. Therefore one would need to be more attentive to such details when comparing results of studies from these two fields. Being able to speak and exchange ideas with scholars whose works that I had studied helped me to clarify my doubts about what I had understood from personal study.


What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

One of the many things I gained is a deeper understanding of Immanuel Kant’s anthropology and a moral philosophy. The concept of the highest good in Kant’s moral philosophy is a topic which was relatively new to me and I gained a lot from discussions on that topic. The discussions on Aristotelian concept of philia, identification and identity also gave me deeper understanding of friendship.


Additionally, I spoke with Dan P Mc Adams, whose work I had studied for my PhD thesis and to understand his thought better. After the seminar, he sent me an email explaining some points in the evolution of his thought to me which I had not known before. For example, he noted that the original idea in his early work on narrative psychology presents the role of narratives in the heroic quest to make grand meaning. Now, one discovers that narratives are one among many other tools for that quest.

Psychologist Dan P McAdams leading a session during the 2017 Summer Seminar “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence”.

How did the interdisciplinary nature of the seminar open new possibilities for your research?

My PhD thesis had an interdisciplinary approach and meeting people who work with an approach similar to mine helped to discover points of dialogue.


I am currently thinking of a research project on virtues and values in education in Nigeria and I hope to engage some of the scholars whom I met at the seminar. I am still in the idea stage. Additionally, I think that some of the projects which the participants were working on can be replicated in my country. I expect that applications of the discoveries from such projects will foster human flourishing, virtue and happiness in my context. It is true that the methods, the specifics of such investigations and the findings in my country may differ from those in other contexts. However, I think there will be significant proportions of commonalities in the general framework for such investigations and findings and it would be interesting to discover points of confluence that cut across cultures. For example, even though the specific manifestations and applied nomenclature of some of the cardinal virtues may be different in different cultures, one may be able to find that there is some essential concept which stems from each virtue that is common to all.


On the whole, I am quite happy that I participated in the seminar as I am sure it has contributed to my development. I believe that it is the beginning of intellectual dialogue and mutually enriching interactions.



Omowumi Ogunyemi obtained her first degree in medicine and surgery. She has worked as a medical practitioner in various hospitals in Nigeria including The Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos, where she co-managed patients with substance-induced disorders. She holds a licentiate degree and a doctorate in philosophy (Anthropology and Ethics) from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. Currently, she lectures in the Institute of Humanities of the Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria. “Molly” Ogunyemi was a participant with the 2017 Summer Seminar, Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence

Interview with Alberto Arruda, Summer Session Participant

Alberto Arruda picture .jpg

This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Alberto Arruda is
postdoctoral researcher in philosophy at the University of Lisbon. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Tomorrow’s blog post is by Arruda, “The notion of dependence.”

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Alberto Arruda: I am from Lisbon, Portugal. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lisbon.

VW: Tell me about your research.

AA: My research interests are mainly in the connections between the philosophies of mind and action, moral and political philosophy, and also Wittgenstein, Anscombe, Marx and Hegel.

More specifically, my most recent research interest is concerned with trying to understand philosophically what ‘worrying about someone’ means. By this expression I simply mean that I have been trying to think about what this characteristic exhibited by humans (worrying about each other) means in virtue ethics and the development of virtues, also regarding the notion of a person.

In relation to this, I have been trying to better understand the notion of perfectionism, especially how in some political systems perfectionism was both destructive of persons and the apparent justification of a higher good for that political community.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

AA: My main non-academic interest is music.


VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?

AA: I am looking forward to serious and exciting discussions, and to learning about new perspectives that will help me when considering the problems I study.

Interview with Carissa Phillips-Garrett, Summer Session Participant


This post is part of a series of interviews with our participants for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Carissa Phillips-Garrett is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Carissa Phillips-Garrett: I grew up in San Diego and it still feels like home even though it’s been almost 10 years since I lived there full-time. After undergrad and before starting my PhD, I lived in the Republic of Georgia, South Korea, and Canada, before moving to Houston where I live currently. I am finishing my PhD in philosophy at Rice University, and after living in Houston longer than I’ve lived anywhere else as an adult, Houston feels like home, too.


VW: Tell me about your research.

CPG: I work primarily at the intersection of ethics, moral psychology, social and political philosophy, and ancient philosophy. Because of my interest in virtue, flourishing, and political communities, I am naturally drawn to Aristotle, so my work involves bringing Aristotle into conversation with contemporary philosophers.

My research as a whole concerns relationships (both personal and broadly social) and the common good. I am interested in the social ties that bind us to one another, the virtues, emotions, and practices that sustain and undermine these ties, and the moral demands that arise from our relationships to one another. I also explore the role that moral identity plays in sustaining virtue and happiness.

The escalating social and political tensions over the last few years highlight the importance of learning to listen and dialogue with those who are very different than ourselves. My work is now turning to examine the role that mercy, charity, empathy, and social relationships might play in promoting understanding and a commitment to the common good within our social and political communities.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

CPG: I enjoy traveling and exploring new places, reading (mainly historical fiction and philosophical sci fi), playing board and card games, and visiting museums. I also love the the beach and water sports more generally.


VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?

CPG: I’m really looking forward to participating in interdisciplinary conversations about the relationship between goodness and happiness, how we develop ethically, and the value of friendship. While I really enjoy my own discipline (philosophy), I am looking forward to having discussions and being challenged by participants from other disciplines.


Interview with Summer Session Participant Ellen Dulaney


This post is part of a series of interviews with our class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Ellen Dulaney s a PhD student in Psychology at Depaul University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.


Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Ellen Dulaney: I am originallly from Knoxville, Tennessee. I have also lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I completed my undergraduate degree at Hampshire College.

VW: Tell me about your research.
ED: Using psychology’s methods of inquiry, I research the self and essentialist beliefs about the true self. Additionally I study whether the self can provide a personalized access point to constructing meaning in life for each person. I research these topics because I am interested in understanding human Being, the phenomenological experience of selfhood, and what conditions can enable each person to thrive. 

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this seminar?
ED:  I am very excited for the opportunity to hear from precise and passionate thinkers from such a wide range of traditions. I value interdisciplinary input on my topics of interest very highly, and am sure I will learn so much during each of this seminar’s discussions.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?
ED: My non-academic interests include painting and photography; surrealist and impressionistic painters; the cultures of Japan and Southern Appalachia; socially-conscious punk and rock music; and science fiction, fiction, and noir films and literature.

Interview with Cabrini Pak, Summer Session Participant


This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Cabrini Pak is
a Teaching Fellow with the School of Business and Economics and a PhD candidate in Religion and Culture at the Catholic University of America. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.


Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Cabrini Pak: I grew up all over the United States, having lived on the East and West Coasts, north and south.

VW: Tell me about your research.

CP: I am currently working on: integration of personal identity and ethical frameworks in context shifts, particularly for military service members; the role of transcendence in resilient American POWs; moral conflict, ambiguity, and injury; suicide; spiritual resilience; transcendence as experiential process rather than as “event” or “state of being.”

The “Why”:  The human person in the 21st century world is often reduced to individualistic jumbles of needs and wants (material and immaterial), which the global marketplace then feeds from & caters to. This creates a rather pernicious feedback loop that ultimately results in the objectification of the human experience and human beings, individually and in groups. Exacerbating this problem is the disturbing rise of human trafficking (especially women and children) to fortify industrial supply chains that really just feed the vices.

I hope that my research can help recover a more holistic understanding of human flourishing, individually and in groups. Deeper conversations about human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, and a “common good” need to return to the public square. Time-space horizons can be stretched to include a telos that informs the activities we engage now and anticipate in the future. It goes back (for me) to integrating personal identity (which is social in nature) with ethical frameworks (which are cultural products).

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar? 

CP: I am really looking forward to just meeting people from different fields and hearing their stories, their thoughts on these topics. Very much looking forward to hearing what our speakers have to share, especially regarding what progress or shifts they have seen as the project itself unfolded.

VW: What are your non-academic interests? 

CP: Seirenkai Karate (2nd Dan), photography, exploring the outdoors, and delving into the lives of the saints.