Hilde sits in her room, having just read Chapter 26 of her book. She’s dizzied by what Alberto and Sophie have just said—even if Sophie is just the product of someone’s imagination, perhaps Hilde and her father are no different. Hilde realizes that Sophie has been speaking directly to her—Sophie is asking Hilde to rebel against her father. Amused and confused, she continues to read Sophie’s World.
This adds another layer to the paradox of Hilde’s binder. Sophie’s World—the book that Albert has written for his daughter—is also encouraging Hilde to rebel against her father. But this means that Albert himself is encouraging his daughter to question the nature of reality and rebel against her father. One could also say, as Hilde does, that Sophie herself is speaking out against Albert.
In the book, Alberto is teaching Sophie about Hegel. Hegel, born in 1770, criticized much of Romanticism for its lack of precision. He was interested in studying “spirit,” but in a slightly different sense than Schelling. Hegel began with Kant’s notion of the thing in itself—the external world in all its ambiguity and unpredictability. Hegel believed that humans could interact with the external world, changing the very definition of truth in the process. This is a complicated idea, Alberto admits.
One of the ongoing themes of Western philosophy is the dichotomy between reason and emotion. There are thinkers who believe that reason reigns supreme—that there’s no space for emotion in philosophy, or that if there is, emotion should always be subordinate to reason. The Romantics are particularly important because of the extent to which they celebrate the emotions—irrational, unpredictable, unreliable.
Alberto clarifies Hegel’s notion of truth. Most Western philosophers before Hegel believed in a timeless definition of truth, morality, etc. In other words, what’s morally right today was also morally right 3,000 years ago. Hegel challenges this assumption. History, he claimed, is in a constant state of flux, meaning that people are always changing their ideas of what is and isn’t true (Plato had one idea of truth; Kant had another). But it wouldn’t be right to say that Kant was right and Plato was wrong. On the contrary, each period of history gets closer and closer to the truth. The process by which human understanding gets closer to understanding truth is called the development of the “world spirit.” Hegel is unclear about what’s going to happen when mankind reaches a state of enlightenment. He suggests that the world itself (the externalworld, as well as the world of ideas) will become self-conscious.
Hegel is one of the key modern philosophers. Like Kant, Hegel is interested in questions of phenomenology—i.e., the study of how we perceive the external world and form ideas about it. But Hegel challenges some of Kant’s faith in the unchanging nature of reason and idealism. Hegel believes that ideas are in a constant state of flux. This is a truly original idea, and one that’s still pretty difficult to grasp without some practice. It’s a little like saying that 2+2 equals 4 in 2016, but not in 1716! While Hegelianism is far too complex to really dive into, it’s important to understand that Hegel is fundamentally an optimist—he believes the world is progressing to a state of enlightenment in which the individual will merge with the collective.
Hegel described the process by which human understanding gradually gets closer to the world spirit. Whenever a new idea is introduced to the world, it’s followed by a negation of that idea—Hegel calls this the “thesis,” followed by the “antithesis.” For example, when Descartes proposed rationalism, Hume countered it with empiricism. But only with the help of both Hume and Descartes could Kant reach his philosophical position, a combination of empiricism and rationalism. Hegel calls this stage the “synthesis.” In all, this process of ideas is called the “dialectic.” The dialectic is a useful concept for understanding the way humans exchange ideas. Even when two people engage in an argument, their argument usually takes on a dialectical structure: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Arguably Hegel’s greatest contribution was the popularization of dialectical idealism. Hegel believes that the universe of ideas changes according to the principle of the dialectic: an idea must always interact with its opposite to form a new one. The structure of this novel so far mirrors Hegel’s ideas: philosophers propose new ideas; other philosophers oppose them, and a third batch of philosophers synthesize both points of view into new philosophical systems.
Hegel used the dialectic to analyze the nature of individualism. Hegel questioned the Romantic idea that individuals can get on by themselves. Individuals are always interacting with their community—one could say that individualism is a thesis, and communitarianism is the opposite point of view, the antithesis. Over time, both individualism and communitarianism change in response to each other. The idea that individuals can be free of their societies becomes increasingly far-fetched. In the end, Hegel argued, individuals will become more important in their communities, and communities will begin to respect and honor individuals.
The principle of individualism has an obvious relevance to Sophie’s World. We’re not entirely sure if Sophie is really an individual with her own unique point of view and mindset, or if she’s just a part of a whole, i.e., the book she’s in. Hegel’s distrust for individualism is surprising, since he’s one of the quintessential Romantic thinkers—and for the most part, the Romantics celebrated individualism.
Hegel believed that philosophy is the “mirror of the world spirit.” Sophie finds this interesting, since it reminds her of the brass mirror in her room. She wonders what the “significance” of this mirror could be. Alberto suggests that only Hilde can answer this question.
This is an important question. Philosophy, one could argue, is designed to “mirror” the complexity of the world: to explain how complicated things work in the simplest possible terms. This is one point of view—but it’s by no means the only one. One could also argue that philosophy is meant to change the world (Marx’s point of view), or that philosophy should better the individual.