Professor Spotlight: Amy Karofsky's path to philosophy, the root of all disciplines
Philosophy has a lofty sound to it, evoking an ancient, elite discipline of unanswerable questions. But in the hands of Professor Amy Karofsky, or “Prof. K” as she is affectionately known, students discover the sheer accessibility of philosophy.
They start to see the concepts they learn about in class pop up in everything from their favorite sci-fi movies to the laws that govern society. While by no means an easy course of study, there is a joy to the struggle and Karofsky’s enthusiasm for the subject is infectious.
She relates to the students, remembering the initial thrill of encountering philosophy for herself.
“I actually went into college thinking I would be a math major or a biology major,” Karofsky said. “I happened to take a philosophy class my first semester and it was logic, which is a lot like math but a lot more fun. I thought, ‘Maybe this is what I’m interested in,’ and I took more philosophy classes and I realized what my brain was doing was asking those questions. And I realized too that I was no longer crazy, that I have these ideas and questions in my head [and] that they were actually questions that a whole bunch of people had been asking, so that felt good, too.”
Karofsky considered teaching at the college level, because the students are adults who are “really starting to think on their own and starting to have more insightful ideas about themselves and the universe.”
Although she wasn’t always sure exactly which subject she would be interested in teaching, the open nature of philosophical discussion appealed to her. Years later, it still does.
“Every time I teach it, I’ll have a student who will say something that even in over 20 years of teaching I’ve never thought of before, and that’s really what I love about teaching philosophy,” she said. “I was lucky that I ended up in that first philosophy class the first semester of freshman year, that I liked it and that I took other classes that were very different from that. I just really continued to be engaged with the material. I think it’s really lucky when you end up being able to do a job that involves doing something you love.”
Karofsky teaches a variety of classes at Hofstra, including Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, an introductory philosophy class and a part of a film and philosophy cluster. In the spring she usually teaches a couple sections of Philosophic Themes in Film as well as a Philosophy of Religion course and a one-credit course called Philosophical Explorations, which encourages creative thinking in artistically specific ways.
Karofsky’s favorite class to teach is almost always the introductory course – a part of the First-Year Connections cluster program.
“They talk to each other so much more quickly and more easily, [which allows the students to] explore the issues in a much louder way. The louder it gets in that classroom the better. [They] just feel more comfortable discussing and debating with each other, which really helps people in that class to see all the different views that are being expressed and the different reasons for holding the views.” Karofsky believes this enables students to reflect on their own ideas.
“There’s something about seeing those students who didn’t necessarily sign up because they wanted to take philosophy and then realizing that they actually could get a lot out of a philosophy major or minor. There’s something about that that’s really rewarding,” she said.
Even for students who do not plan to major or minor in philosophy, an introduction to the discipline gives them the ability to develop crucial skills such as critical and creative thinking. Philosophy is, in a sense, the discipline at the root of all other disciplines, and the mere practice of it lends a certain clarity to everyday decision-making.
Karofsky believes that, “If you have an understanding of philosophy and how to think about something philosophically, it gives you the ability to just be more open-minded, to listen to somebody else’s point of view even if it’s not your own, and understand it. [You’ll] then be able to step back and say, ‘OK, I’ve got this view. They’ve got their view. Let’s see if we can understand why we’re so far apart.’
“It’s just looking at yourself, getting into your own mind and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve never really thought about how I’m thinking or how I’m making decisions, or what I am or who I am.’”