New Department of Philosophy chair leads with purpose, sense of humor
A lawnmower shed transformed into a home — then a classroom.
Kelly Trogdon had planned to build a storage hut in his backyard with help from his brother-in-law.
“But quickly, it turned into something too expansive and fancy for mere yard equipment,” said Trogdon.
The philosopher pondered. Then the shed became a tiny house equipped with furniture, woodstove, and a Wi-Fi connection.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, he updated the space again as a home base for Zoom class sessions and meetings.
Trogdon serves as an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Philosophy. The transition to virtual learning proved rewarding as he connected with students and helped them grow as scholars amid a challenging time. He also shared a few lighthearted moments with his classes.
“My students told me they enjoyed the periodic breaks where I would attempt, often unsuccessfully, to keep the fire going in the woodstove,” said Trogdon. “My dog insisted on visiting during Zoom sessions and would bark with abandon at random moments. Occasionally, my neighbor would interrupt things, hoping to pass off questionable dinner leftovers. I was happy to provide some comic relief for my students.”
Trogdon has taught courses in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences since 2013. Initially, he served as an assistant professor of philosophy before being promoted to his current position.
Now Trogdon carries another title: department chair.
Through his leadership role, Trogdon said he’s focused on clearing hurdles for his colleagues in their careers while pursuing the broader goals and objectives of the department and college.
“We have a strong faculty in terms of research and teaching, so I see a big part of my job as simply helping to remove obstacles,” said Trogdon.
He also plans to support the master’s program in philosophy, which offers core graduate training in the broadly analytic tradition of philosophy with particular strengths in metaphysics, the philosophy of language, early analytic philosophy, value theory, and the history and philosophy of science.
“We have a vibrant master’s program and we do well in placing students in top-flight Ph.D. programs in philosophy,” said Trogdon. “Making the program even better is another major goal.”
One way the department plans to achieve this goal is by revising aspects of its graduate curriculum to include a required first-year seminar focused in part on professional development.
For undergraduate programming, Trogdon said he hopes to update course offerings and increase recruitment efforts. This spring, the department will offer two new undergraduate courses: PHIL 1604: How Sciences Works, developed by Professor Wendy Parker, and Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Race, developed by Assistant Professors Jordan MacKenzie and Philip Yaure.
For Trogdon, the path toward education and research began at a young age.
“With the benighted confidence of a teenager, I decided that high school wasn’t for me and instead enrolled at a community college in Jamestown, North Carolina. My first semester there, two of my courses were philosophy and welding. I got a C in welding, but the philosophy course went much better,” said Trogdon. “I remember learning about philosopher David Hume’s conception of the self as a mere bundle of sensations and thoughts. This really got under my skin. We have to be more than this, I thought! I took that course with a terrific instructor, Thomas J. Vosik, who set me on the path to where I am today.”
Trogdon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro; his master’s from the University of Florida; and his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
He previously served as an assistant professor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong from 2009 to 2013.
Trogdon’s research focuses primarily on metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. In metaphysics, he’s particularly interested in the concept of grounding, a notion akin to causation that underwrites explanations in a variety of contexts.
One of his central interests in the philosophy of mind focuses on consciousness, especially the problem of finding a place for conscious experiences in a world fundamentally physical in nature.
“In my capacity as chair, I look forward to assisting our talented faculty and students pursue important work in philosophy,” said Trogdon. “I also look forward to collaborating with faculty across our college to ensure our department experiences continued growth in the years to come.”