Graham Clay | Teaching

Courses, Syllabi, and Student Feedback
email: graham@grahamclay.comCV

My Pedagogical Perspective


I seek to balance meeting my students where they are now and developing them into the thinkers that they ought to be. As the student body changes and higher education evolves, professors must adjust their courses in order to meet students where they are, even if ideals remain somewhat fixed. My broad background in the history of philosophy and its contemporary relevance enables me to teach a wide range of traditional topics, figures, and eras. Yet, the changes that we are all witnessing demand innovative, engaging, and flexible course design. As such, I am constantly seeking to develop courses that meet students where they are while achieving departmental, curricular, and pedagogical goals. In teaching non-majors, I endeavor to help them see that they have always been philosophers, whether they realized it or not, and that it pays serious dividends to philosophize well. In teaching majors, my goal is to confront them with the unsettling reality that philosophy becomes harder the better one gets at it, and that philosophizing well is ultimately a matter of how one thinks and not what one knows.


Courses Under Development

History of Modern Philosophy
(traditional canon)

I designed this majors-level course as a survey of the traditional (early) modern canon. While the canonical modern philosophers had much to contribute in other domains, this course focuses on their influential innovations in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of science. And while there are many noteworthy modern philosophers not included in the traditional canon (and thus this course), understanding the positions of the canonical modern philosophers like Hume and Leibniz in these domains is crucial because many contemporary philosophical debates take them as starting points. Students will leave this class well-versed in the history of the period and prepared for subsequent major-level courses that assume a solid understanding of it.

History of Modern Philosophy

I designed this majors-level course as my contribution to the expansion of the traditional (early) modern canon. While the canonical modern philosophers are important, recently we have begun to do a better job of recognizing the important contributions of philosophers who have been excluded from the canon. This course focuses on their influential innovations in epistemology, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and ethics. Nonetheless, the course is designed to bring their innovations into contact with those of some of the traditional figures. As a consequence, students will leave this class well-versed in much of the canonical history of the period and prepared for subsequent major-level courses that assume a solid understanding of it, but they will also have a better understanding and appreciation of the true breadth of the era.

Recent Courses

Persuasion and the Truth

In connection with my primary research project, I have recently developed a new course that challenges students to grapple both with the content of traditional philosophy courses and with the art and science of persuasion. Each week, students take on a new philosophical topic, engaging with the relevant academic literature and popular expressions of arguments related to it (e.g. op-eds, political debates, and speeches). Students study diverse and influential philosophers, orators, and writers ranging from Sojourner Truth to Cicero, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elizabeth Warren, and Sam Harris in order to analyze the structure, defensibility, and presentation of their arguments. A series of immersive activities and assignments challenge students to actively develop their persuasive abilities by practicing with their peers. Poll Everywhere is integrated into class sessions to enable students to quickly voice responses and gain feedback on their own persuasiveness. My goal is to create a comprehensive educational experience that encourages undergraduates to see the profound value of philosophy and how it is inextricable from their lives, both public and private.


Introduction to Philosophy

I designed this course as an survey-style introduction to philosophy. Since it is asynchronous, I make use of a wide variety of technologies to keep students engaged in different modalities, from Hypothesis group annotation exercises to interactive tutorial actvities that I create in Articulate Storyline 360. Issues that are covered include the existence of god(s); applied ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics; the nature of beings like us; and the hallmarks of good reasoning. Since I see philosophy as a discipline inextricable from its history, a wide range of philosophers’ views are studied, ranging from Aristotle, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Emilie du Châtelet, and David Hume to Linda Zagzebski, Peter van Inwagen, and Gregory Cajete. Along the way, students learn how to read a wide variety of philosophical works, analyze others’ argumentation, write philosophical essays, use some of the basic tools of logic, and reflect on their own philosophical positions.

Systematic Thinking: God, Identity,
and the Moderns

I designed this modular class in order to help non-majors begin to develop systematic philosophical worldviews. In the form of the class I am teaching now, it is split into two units, with one on personal identity and the other on God. My goal is to challenge my students to develop consistent systematic views on the issues covered in each unit. The content and assignments reflect this goal. For instance, students are required to commit to a view on personal identity in their first paper and then, in their second paper, they are required to take up consistent (and complementary) views on either the permissibility of abortion, the permissibility of eating animals, moral responsibility, or the possibility of the afterlife. Since I designed the units so that they were self-contained, they could be swapped—in future semesters—for others that better fit the needs of the department at that time. What will be retained is an emphasis on teaching students to see the links between philosophical commitments on issues that matter to them.

Citizenship: Voting, Representation,
and Parties

I designed this class to help students develop their views on some of the ethical issues related to citizenship in sovereign/territorial states. The focus is on representative democracies like the United States, but many of the issues have broad application. I host five debates between the students (with their classmates as judges), each focused on one of the following questions:

1. Should citizens vote?
2. Should it be relatively easy to become a citizen?
3. Are political parties good?
4. Which voting procedure should representative democracies deploy in their legislatures?
5. Should only public funds be used for political campaigns?

Much of the class is dedicated to exploring different answers to these questions, and students are expected to synthesize and apply what they have learned in the debates in real time. Since many great philosophers of the past give persuasive answers to these questions, and our current thinking is indebted to them in many ways, I incorporate the study of their views in the class readings and lectures. For instance, we consider the views of James Madison on the influence of political parties. Nonetheless, our interest is not with history for its own sake.