Sophie’s World

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of Sophie’s World published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Who are you?” Sophie asked.
She received no response to this either, but felt a momentary confusion as to whether it was she or her reflection who had asked the question.
Sophie pressed her index finger to the nose in the mirror and said, “You are me.”
As she got no answer to this, she turned the sentence around and said, “I am you.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Brass Mirror
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

In this almost "primal" scene, Sophie stares at herself in the mirror, and finds—of course—an image of herself staring back. Although the moment seems trivial, it's actually one of the most important in the novel. Sophie is examining herself and expressing her self-consciousness—in short, beginning to think like a philosopher. Moreover, the scene foreshadows the self-referentiality of the novel Sophie's World. The novel will make reference to its own artificiality—to the fact that it is just a novel—in much the same way that Sophie acknowledges her own reflection staring back at her. The starting point for any philosophical investigation, it would seem, is the kind of self-analysis that Sophie is practicing here.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

A lot of people experience the world with the same incredulity as when a magician suddenly pulls a rabbit out of a hat which has just been shown to them empty.
In the case of the rabbit, we know the magician has tricked us. What we would like to know is just how he did it. But when it comes to the world it’s somewhat different. We know that the world is not all sleight of hand and deception because here we are in it, we are part of it. Actually, we are the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat. The only difference between us and the white rabbit is that the rabbit does not realize it is taking part in a magic trick. Unlike us. We feel we are part of something mysterious and we would like to know how it all works.

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sophie reads a letter from Alberto Knox, her mentor and friend. Knox makes an interesting point: people don't usually ask themselves deep questions about the "magic" of the universe. Although the universe is full of wonder, people are so used to their everyday lives that they never stop to ask where the world comes from, how life is possible, and other philosophical questions. It's as if the world is one big magic trick, and people are so used to seeing it that they've stopped wondering how it works, or even being entertained by it.

And yet Alberto insists that the desire to understand the magic trick—to understand the universe—is precisely what makes humans human. Humans have been blessed with the gift of self-consciousness, so they should use their intelligence and wisdom to study life's mysteries, especially through the study of philosophy.

Chapter 4 Quotes

All the earliest philosophers shared the belief that there had to be a certain basic substance at the root of all change. How they arrived at this idea is hard to say. We only know that the notion gradually evolved that there must be a basic substance that was the hidden cause of all changes in nature. There had to be “something” that all things came from and returned to. For us, the most interesting part is actually not what solutions these earliest philosophers arrived at, but which questions they asked and what type of answer they were looking for. We are more interested in how they thought than in exactly what they thought.

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alberto Knox, speaking to his student, Sophie, offers an interesting take on the history of philosophy, and a model for how to study philosophy through a historical lens. Knox acknowledges that the earliest philosophers offered explanations for the mysteries of the universe that we now know to be false. (For example, some Greek philosophers thought everything was made out of water.) And yet even though early philosophers' ideas have become obsolete, Knox insists that they're still worth studying: it's worth examining how philosophers went about answering basic questions, even if the answers they arrived at have been disproved.

Knox's ideas can be applied to the rest of the novel: even if we disagree with Kant or Hegel, it's worth studying them to see how their minds worked. Their conclusions, we might think, are wrong, but their methods can be put to good use. In other words, it's necessary to study the history of philosophy if we want to practice philosophy now.

Chapter 7 Quotes

A philosopher is therefore someone who recognizes that there is a lot he does not understand, and is troubled by it. In that sense, he is still wiser than all those who brag about their knowledge of things they know nothing about.
“Wisest is she who knows she does not know,” I said previously. Socrates himself said, “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” Remember this statement, because it is an admission that is rare, even among philosophers. Moreover, it can be so dangerous to say it in public that it can cost you your life. The most subversive people are those who ask questions. Giving answers is not nearly as threatening. Any one question can be more explosive than a thousand answers.

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Socrates
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Alberto Knox tells Sophie about the life and death of Socrates. Socrates, Knox argues, is important in the history of philosophy because of his method—the method of asking questions—moreso than any of the specific answers he provided. Socrates' questioning was considered radical and even dangerous, because it showed how little the average person understood about the world.

Knox's analysis of Socrates illustrates how important philosophy is, and how important studying the history of philosophy can be. Philosophy isn't just an esoteric hobby—it's a genuinely heroic, dangerous undertaking that can be used to change society. (If it wasn't, then Socrates wouldn't have been executed.) Furthermore, it's important for Knox and Sophie to study the history of philosophy so that they can learn from philosophers' methods. Socrates' theory of forms might not hold much weight anymore, but his method of persistent questioning is still very important: it's the method philosophers still use today.

“We don’t learn anything there. The difference between schoolteachers and philosophers is that school-teachers think they know a lot of stuff that they try to force down our throats. Philosophers try to figure things out together with the pupils.”
“Now we’re back to white rabbits again! You know something? I demand to know who your boyfriend really is. Otherwise I’ll begin to think he is a bit disturbed.”
Sophie turned her back on the dishes and pointed at her mother with the dish mop.
“It’s not him who’s disturbed. But he likes to disturb others—to shake them out of their rut.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Mom / Sophie’s mother / Helene Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Sophie argues with her mother—a rather worldly woman who is clearly concerned about her daughter's new ideas. Sophie tries to tell her mother what Alberto Knox has been teaching her about the importance of philosophy, but Sophie's mother doesn't really listen to her daughter at all. On one hand, Sophie's mother is being condescending in assuming that Sophie just has a new boyfriend, but on the other hand Sophie is acting rather pompous all of a sudden, delivering grand statements like this one about "the difference between schoolteachers and philosophers."

The scene is important because it dramatizes a point Alberto has already made: most people are too busy with their everyday lives to bother with the basic philosophical questions of the universe. Sophie's mother may have been inquisitive and curious when she was a child, but the pressures of adulthood have distracted her from philosophy: she's so concerned with her career and her duties as a mother that she seems uninterested in her daughter's investigations.

Chapter 9 Quotes

The thought of the “young girl” led Sophie to the last question: Are women and men equally sensible? She was not so sure about that. It depended on what Plato meant by sensible. Something the philosopher had said about Socrates came into her mind. Socrates had pointed out that everyone could understand philosophical truths if they just used their common sense. He had also said that a slave had the same common sense as a nobleman. Sophie was sure that he would also have said that women had the same common sense as men.

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen, Socrates , Plato
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Sophie considers a question Alberto Knox has presented her with: are women and men equally sensible? Sophie believes that women and men are equal on an intellectual level; indeed, she cites aspects of Socrates' thought (the theory of forms, for example) to prove her point.

The quotation shows Sophie synthesizing the knowledge she's learned from Knox's lessons. Instead of just memorizing some facts about Socrates, Sophie is applying Socrates' teachings to her own life. In doing so, Sophie proves that she isn't just a passive student, absorbing lessons from a teacher in a classroom—instead, she's actively participating in her own education, flexing her intellectual muscles. Moreover, Sophie's deduction about Socrates and women's rights shows that it's possible to apply philosophers' ideas to one's own life: philosophy might seem like an outdated subject, but in fact it's a very relevant discipline.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Finally, let us look at Aristotle’s views on women. His was unfortunately not as uplifting as Plato’s. Aristotle was more inclined to believe that women were incomplete in some way. A woman was an “unfinished man.” In reproduction, woman is passive and receptive whilst man is active and productive; for the child inherits only the male characteristics, claimed Aristotle. He believed that all the child’s characteristics lay complete in the male sperm. The woman was the soil, receiving and bringing forth the seed, whilst the man was the “sower.” Or, in Aristotelian language, the man provides the “form” and the woman contributes the “substance.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Plato , Aristotle
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sophie learns about Aristotle, a philosopher who was arguably even more influential than Plato, but whose philosophy wasn't as friendly to women. Aristotle disagreed with Plato in arguing that women were intellectually and physically inferior to men.

And yet even if Sophie (or we, the readers) disagrees with Aristotle on women's rights, it's important to study his ideas. Aristotle was an intelligent man, and yet he allowed the sexist culture of his era to influence his thinking: he used philosophy to rationalize the subjugation of women that he saw all around him. By studying Aristotle, Sophie learns how to take great philosopher's ideas with a grain of salt: to accept some of their ideas while rejecting others as the products of ignorance or bigotry.

Chapter 12 Quotes

After careful consideration Sophie felt she had come to the conclusion that healthy forests and a pure environment were more valuable than getting to work quickly. She gave several more examples. Finally she wrote: “Personally, I think Philosophy is a more important subject than English Grammar. It would therefore be a sensible priority of values to have philosophy on the timetable and cut down a bit on English lessons.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Sophie shows that she's learned a great deal from her philosophy lessons with Alberto Knox. Assigned to write an essay for school, Sophie produces a coherent argument about the importance of philosophy.

The quotation is important because it shows Sophie applying her philosophy lessons to real life: philosophy helps Sophie succeed in school. Moreover, the quotation shows that Sophie isn't just a parrot: while she's learning lots of facts about philosophy, she's also learning how to construct original philosophical arguments. One could even say that the difference between Sophie's school education (the education she's legally required to receive) and her philosophical education boils down to the difference between parroting information and synthesizing knowledge. In school, Sophie learns a lot of information but very little wisdom; with Knox, she learns how to think for herself.

Chapter 14 Quotes

She herself was just an ordinary person. But if she knew her historical roots, she would be a little less ordinary. She would not be living on this planet for more than a few years. But if the history of mankind was her own history, in a way she was thousands of years old.

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Sophie begins to feel the scale of the history of philosophy. She's learned about the ancient Greeks, and the knowledge she's learned gives her a sense of the vastness of Western philosophy. One could say that Sophie is experiencing the sublime here: she's experiencing something so vast and complex (philosophy through the ages) that she feels tiny and insignificant. And yet Sophie also feels proud that she can recognize the vast, complex subject that is philosophy—most people barely acknowledge it exists.

The quotation is a good piece of evidence for the importance of studying the history of philosophy. Unlike science or mathematics, philosophy doesn't necessarily progress over time: Hegel isn't necessarily any more right than Aristotle, simply because he's a more recent thinker. Therefore, it's important to study the totality of philosophy, rather than the most current thinkers. Furthermore, studying the history of philosophy gives Sophie a sense of the complexities of the human mind: she's in awe of people like Plato and Aristotle, who used their ingenuity to study the universe. In short, philosophy provides Sophie with a sense of wisdom that few teenagers ever achieve.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“St. Augustine’s point was that no man deserves God’s redemption. And yet God has chosen some to be saved from damnation, so for him there was nothing secret about who will be saved and who damned. It is preordained. We are entirely at his mercy.”
“So in a way, he returned to the old belief in fate.”
“Perhaps. But St. Augustine did not renounce man’s responsibility for his own

life. He taught that we must live in awareness of being among the chosen. He did not deny that we have free will. But God has ‘foreseen’ how we will live.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker), Saint Augustine
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Sophie meets Alberto Knox in a church. There, Knox tells Sophie about the life of Saint Augustine, one of the most important Christian philosophers. In doing so, Knox brings up an important philosophical concept: the idea of free will.

As Knox puts it, Augustine believed that humans' lives were predestined according to the wisdom of God. And yet Augustine didn't believe in fate, plain and simple—he believed that humans had the freedom to make their own choices. While Augustine beliefs may seem contradictory, Augustine fashioned a sophisticated model of human freedom that didn't infringe on God's omnipotence. The idea of free will becomes increasingly important to the novel as we realize that Sophie and Alberto are not, strictly speaking, free. In general, then, the problems with Augustine's philosophy—the problem of how free will can coexist with a divine, all-knowing entity—foreshadow the second half of the novel.

“It’s interesting to note that the eggs of mammals were not discovered until 1827. It was therefore perhaps not so surprising that people thought it was the man who was the creative and lifegiving force in reproduction. We can moreover note that, according to Aquinas, it is only as nature-being that woman is inferior to man. Woman’s soul is equal to man’s soul. In Heaven there is complete equality of the sexes because all physical gender differences cease to exist.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Saint Thomas Aquinas
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Alberto Knox educates Sophie about the history of Western philosophy in the late Middle Ages. Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the key Christian philosophers, believed that women were inferior to men physically, and yet equal spiritually. On Earth, women were weaker than men, and yet in Heaven, their souls were the same.

It's possible to criticize Aquinas for his sexism—for arguing that women were inferior to men during the course of their natural lives. But it's also possible to praise him for being progressive, at least by the standards of the late Middle Ages, on women's rights. When studying the history of Western philosophy in general, it's important to refrain from criticizing every philosopher for sexism and racism, even if such critiques are easy to make. Even if Aquinas isn't totally "PC" by 21st century standards, he pushed philosophy in the right direction—toward gender equality—and he deserves some credit for doing so.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“When Newton had proved that the same natural laws applied everywhere in the universe, one might think that he thereby undermined people’s faith in God’s omnipotence. But Newton’s own faith was never shaken. He regarded the natural laws as proof of the existence of the great and almighty God. It’s possible that man’s picture of himself fared worse.”
“How do you mean?”
“Since the Renaissance, people have had to get used to living their life on a random planet in the vast galaxy. I am not sure we have wholly accepted it even now. But there were those even in the Renaissance who said that every single one of us now had a more central position than before.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker), Sir Isaac Newton
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Alberto Knox teaches Sophie about Sir Isaac Newton, one of the key figures in Western philosophy (even though he wasn't a philosopher!). Newton's contribution to philosophy is crucial: he showed that the natural world functions according to a number of predictable, mathematical rules. Newton's insights into the laws of science are themselves one part of an important trend in the history of Western thought: scientists following Newton used their training to show that humanity was, in a word, not special—for example, that humans evolved over time, the same as monkeys (Darwin), or that humans' brains were chaotic and unpredictable, like animals' (Freud).

While it's possible to interpret Newton and his successors as dangerous figures who ushered in an age of chaos and uncertainty, Knox disagrees. Newton, Darwin, and other may have used science to show that man wasn't "at the center of the universe," but they also suggested the importance of individuality and personal freedom. Ironically, if scientific laws, not God, control the natural world, individual people become more powerful and central than ever before.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“But Descartes tried to work forward from this zero point. He doubted everything, and that was the only thing he was certain of. But now something struck him: one thing had to be true, and that was that he doubted. When he doubted, he had to be thinking, and because he was thinking, it had to be certain that he was a thinking being. Or, as he himself expressed it: Cogito, ergo sum.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Rene Descartes
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

Knox describes an important philosopher, Rene Descartes. As with other important philosophers, Descartes is important to Sophie not so much for his ideas as for his methods: somewhat like Socrates, Descartes used a method of "systematic doubt": denying the existence of anything until it was proven true. Using systematic doubt, Descartes arrived at one conclusion: he, a thinking being, existed. ("I think, therefore I am.")

Knox's gloss on Descartes is important because it shows how greatly philosophy changed since the Middle Ages. Where Augustine and Aquinas believed that all thought must begin with belief—the belief in a Christian God—Descartes argued that philosophy must begin with doubt. Descartes wasn't a nihilist; rather, he maintained that the only way to truly believe something was first to doubt it and then use logic to prove it. The quotation also suggests that philosophy begins with introspection: for example, Descartes examining the capacity of his own mind. In this way, Knox’s discussion of Descartes takes us back to the beginning of the novel, in which Sophie looks at her own reflection in the mirror.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“Or think of a lion in Africa. Do you think it makes up its mind to be a beast of prey? Is that why it attacks a limping antelope? Could it instead have made up its mind to be a vegetarian?”
“No, a lion obeys its nature.”
“You mean, the laws of nature. So do you, Sophie, because you are also part of nature. You could of course protest, with the support of Descartes, that a lion is an animal and not a free human being with free mental faculties. But think of a newborn baby that screams and yells. If it doesn’t get milk it sucks its thumb. Does that baby have a free will?”
“I guess not.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker), Rene Descartes
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alberto Knox clarifies some of the ideas of Spinoza, one of the most important—and difficult—of all Western philosophers. Spinoza argued that free will was an illusion. Humans were no freer than lions or other animals—just like lions, they have an inborn nature that leads them to crave certain things (food, love, art, etc.). Humans only believe that they’re free because they can’t stand the idea that they’re slaves to their own nature.

In addition to being a good explanation of a complicated philosopher, the passage is also an illustration of Knox’s philosophical method. Knox doesn’t tell Sophie how to understand Spinoza; instead, he uses a series of short, pointed questions to keep Sophie engaged in the discussion. Like Socrates, he pushes Sophie to broaden her mind and consider ideas she would have otherwise dismissed. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

“Before we sense anything, then, the mind is as bare and empty as a blackboard before the teacher arrives in the classroom. Locke also compared the mind to an unfurnished room. But then we begin to sense things. We see the world around us, we smell, taste, feel, and hear. And nobody does this more intensely than infants. In this way what Locke called simple ideas of sense arise. But the mind does not just passively receive information from outside it. Some activity happens in the mind as well. The single sense ideas are worked on by thinking, reasoning, believing, and doubting, thus giving rise to what he calls reflection. So he distinguished between ‘sensation’ and ‘reflection.’ The mind is not merely a passive receiver. It classifies and processes all sensations as they come streaming in. And this is just where one must be on guard.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, John Locke
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Knox explains the philosophy of John Locke to Sophie. Locke believed that the mind is born a “blank slate”—just an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge. And yet Locke also believed that the mind was born with the capacity to perform certain actions, such as thinking and reflecting. Humans are unique from animals, he argued, in that they can reflect on what they observe, and learn from their experiences.

Knox’s explanation of Locke has clear ramifications for his lessons with Sophie. Just as Locke argued, Sophie is using her experiences and observations to learn. One could even say that she’s classifying and processing her lessons with Knox, converting them from experience to wisdom.

Chapter 23 Quotes

In a momentary vision of absolute clarity Hilde knew that Sophie was more than just paper and ink. She really existed.

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen, Hilde Møller Knag
Related Symbols: The Binder / Sophie’s World
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Hilde—who, we realize, has been reading a book called “Sophie’s World,” starring Sophie Amundsen—decides that Sophie is “real,” despite the fact that she’s also a fictional character created by Hilde's Father. In an interesting reversal of Spinoza, Hilde decides that Sophie’s fictional nature is no barrier to her being real: since all humans are “creations” of a divine entity, then Hilde herself isn’t any more real than Sophie.

Hilde’s relationship with Sophie also suggests that ideas and concepts are more real than the physical world (one of the oldest ideas in Western philosophy). Even though Sophie lacks a body, the idea of Sophie carries with it a certain amount of sense—enough, perhaps for Sophie to qualify as a real person. Furthermore, the notion that a fiction can be real is a premise for reading Sophie’s World in the first place—the fact that Hilde is herself a fictional creation doesn’t stop us from liking her, empathizing with her, or learning from her. Hilde and Sophie are both literary devices, designed to teach readers about philosophical ideas and, perhaps, make us question the reality of our own lives.

Chapter 24 Quotes

“One of those who fought hardest for the rights of women during the French Revolution was Olympe de Gouges. In 1791—two years after the revolution—she published a declaration on the rights of women. The declaration on the rights of the citizen had not included any article on women’s natural rights. Olympe de Gouges now demanded all the same rights for women as for men.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Olympe de Gouges
Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

 As Sophie moves on with her history of philosophy, she’s delighted to finally encounter some female philosophers. Olympe de Gouges, a figure of the French Revolution, was executed for demanding equal rights for men and women—a clear sign of the radicalism of her ideas. De Gouges’s execution further demonstrates the deep sexism of Western society—it’s telling that after thousands of years with no prominent female philosophers, the first such female philosopher was murdered. It’s also no coincidence that de Gouges emerged at the same time as the French Revolution: at a time when people were questioning the most basic assumptions about how society should work (that there should be a monarchy, for example), de Gouges rode the wave of radicalism to write her own declaration of gender equality.

Chapter 25 Quotes

“So now let’s sum up. According to Kant, there are two elements that contribute to man’s knowledge of the world. One is the external conditions that we cannot know of before we have perceived them through the senses. We can call this the material of knowledge. The other is the internal conditions in man himself—such as the perception of events as happening in time and space and as processes conforming to an unbreakable law of causality. We can call this the form of knowledge.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Immanuel Kant
Page Number: 325
Explanation and Analysis:

Knox sums up the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, one of the giants of Western philosophy. Kant elaborated on Locke in believing that the human mind was a combination of passivity and activity. The mind passively absorbed experiences, using the five senses. At the same time, however, Kant believed that the mind was hard-wired to interpret these experiences in certain ways: to feel the sense of time, space, etc. There were also certain “ideas” about the universe, which were impossible to prove but which also determined the way the human mind experienced life—causation was one such idea.

In all, Kant’s view of the human mind is important to Sophie’s education because it suggests the way that she interprets Knox’s lessons: she hears his voice and reads his letter, but she also brings to the table certain predetermined ideas of her own, such as causation. Kant is also important because he argues that there’s a limit to what logic and philosophy can prove: the idea of causation, for example, is impossible to prove or disprove. Kant foreshadows his philosophical successors, who will go much further in challenging Western philosophy’s faith in logic and reason.

Chapter 26 Quotes

“The fairy tale was the absolute literary ideal of the Romantics—in the same way that the absolute art form of the Baroque period was the theater. It gave the poet full scope to explore his own creativity.”
“He could play God to a fictional universe.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker)
Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Knox discusses the Romantics with Sophie. He argues that the fairy tale was the most important literary form for Romantic writers, because it allowed such writers to “play god” over their own literary creations. By this point in the novel, we’re well aware that Sophie and Alberto are themselves the creations of a writer, Albert Knag (who is himself a character in the text!). In other words, Alberto and Sophie are talking—obliquely—about their own situation: they’re puppets in a writer’s fictional universe, just like characters in a Romantic author’s fairy tale, or actors in a Baroque writer's play. The question then becomes: are Alberto and Sophie exercising any real freedom by talking about their own existence? They’re still fictional creations, and yet it’s suggested that by acknowledging their own artificiality, they reach some form of freedom from authorial control. (An even better question might be: are we, the readers, any more free than Sophie and Alberto? We’re probably not characters in a book, but are our decisions any less predetermined?)

Chapter 29 Quotes

“That society would be a just society. It would have arisen among equals.”
“Men and women!”
“That goes without saying. None of them knew whether they would wake up as men or women. Since the odds are fifty-fifty, society would be just as attractive for women as for men.”
“It sounds promising.”
“So tell me, was the Europe of Karl Marx a society like that?”
“Absolutely not!”
“But do you by any chance know of such a society today?”
“Hm ... that’s a good question.”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker), Karl Marx
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis:

Alberto tells Sophie about a thought experiment designed by the famous political philosopher John Rawls. Rawls argued that the only truly “equitable” society would be one in which the planners would be randomly assigned a place in the society they just invented (so that the creators/leaders of the society couldn't give themselves preferential treatment to others). Such a scenario is, of course, hard to enact in real life. Sophie and Alberto’s discussion ties in with Alberto’s lessons on Karl Marx, the political philosopher who argued that society is always designed to help the powerful and the wealthy maintain their control of the “means of production” (i.e., the tools and resources that produce goods and allow the wealthy to stay wealthy).

Alberto’s rhetorical question to Sophie (“But do you by any chance …”) raises another interesting point—perhaps one of the goals of philosophy should be to make society more equitable. Up to now, philosophy has generally seemed abstract, loose, and metaphysical—with Marx, philosophy becomes a concrete, economic subject, aiming to change the world instead of simply describing it.

Chapter 31 Quotes

“Our actions are not always guided by reason. Man is not really such a rational creature as the eighteenth-century rationalists liked to think. Irrational impulses often determine what we think, what we dream, and what we do. Such irrational impulses can be an expression of basic drives or needs. The human sexual drive, for example, is just as basic as the baby’s instinct to suckle.”

Related Characters: Alberto Knox (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Karl Marx , Sigmund Freud
Page Number: 426
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Alberto marks a turning point in his lessons for Sophie. For many chapters now, the philosophers he’s chosen to discuss have been rational and logical—they’ve trusted that reason coulb be used to solve almost any problem. After this chapter, however, Alberto turns to modern thinkers like Freud and Nietzsche—figures who don’t have the Enlightenment era’s faith in logic. As Alberto explains, Freud believed that the human mind was controlled by irrational impulses more than rational thoughts—urges like sex, hunger, and violence are far more important than reason in determining what a human being does. This complicates things, and means that the realm of philosophy blends more with other studies like psychology and economics.

Chapter 33 Quotes

“They have vanished into thin air,” said Helene Amundsen, not without a touch of pride.
She drew herself up to her full height, walked toward the long table and began to clear up after the philosophical garden party.
“More coffee, anyone?”

Related Characters: Mom / Sophie’s mother / Helene Amundsen (speaker), Sophie Amundsen, Alberto Knox
Page Number: 478
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Sophie and Alberto—now fully aware that they’re just characters in someone else’s book—find a way to escape from their text: they simply “vanish into thin air.” The paradox is this: Alberto and Sophie seem to have “chosen” to escape their text, but in fact, their author (Albert Knag) has just written them out of the text—in short, they’re just as obedient to Knag’s will as ever.

At the same time, the passage marks a turning point in the novel: after this point, Sophie and Alberto will continue their adventures, though it's not clear who, if anyone, is writing their story (besides the book's real author, Jostein Gaarder). In a sense, Sophie and Alberto have "escaped" Knag, but they're just as obedient as ever to Gaarder, the author of Sophie's World.

Chapter 34 Quotes

Major Albert Knag’s first impulse was to smile. But he did not appreciate being manipulated in this manner. He had always liked to be in charge of his own life. Now this little vixen in Lillesand was directing his movements in Kastrup Airport! How had she managed that?

Related Characters: Hilde Møller Knag , Albert Knag / The Major
Page Number: 485
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Albert Knag, the author of the book-within-the-book, returns from his long tour of the Middle East. Knag, the father of Hilde, is surprised to find that someone (Hilde, we recognize) is manipulating his environment: someone has placed elaborate banners at his airport terminal and slipped highly specific messages into his seat on the airplane. The effect of Hilde’s manipulation is to make Knag question the reality of his world—he wonders if he, like Sophie, might be a character trapped in someone else’s novel—just as Hilde has intended. It’s important to note that Hilde is trying to give her father a taste of his own medicine: Albert has manipulated the characters in Sophie’s World for his own amusement; now, he finds himself being manipulated and disoriented. Hilde’s actions underscore the point that no human being is completely free in the conventional sense. Perhaps we’re all just characters in someone else’s “book”; i.e., our actions have been predetermined by some divine entity (whether it be a Christian God or a more abstract force of the kind hypothesized by Spinoza).

“You’ve become a grown woman, Hilde!”
“And you’ve become a real writer.”
Hilde wiped away her tears.
“Shall we say we’re quits?” she asked.
“We’re quits.”

Related Characters: Hilde Møller Knag (speaker), Albert Knag / The Major (speaker)
Page Number: 495
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hilde reunites with her father, Albert—the man who's been writing her letters about philosophy, assembled into the book Sophie's World. Hilde and Albert compliment each other for their ingenuity. Hilde compliments Albert for writing Sophie's World; Albert praises Hilde for mastering philosophy and for engineering a series of pranks that disoriented him, proving that she'd truly understood his lessons in epistemology and ontology.

Albert and Hilde's exchange reinforces the point that Sophie's World is a coming-of-age story: over the course of the novel, Sophie learns to channel her frustration and anxiety into abstract thinking. In the process she becomes a more mature, confident thinker—or as her father puts it, philosophy helps her become a grown woman.

Chapter 35 Quotes

They jumped out of the car and ran down the garden.
They tried to loosen the rope that was made fast in a metal ring. But they could not even lift one end.
“It’s as good as nailed down,” said Alberto.
“We’ve got plenty of time.”
“A true philosopher must never give up. If we could just... get it loose …”

Related Characters: Sophie Amundsen (speaker), Alberto Knox (speaker), Hilde Møller Knag , Albert Knag / The Major
Page Number: 506
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Sophie's World, Sophie and Alberto—fictional characters who've somehow attained a degree of independence from their creator—find themselves in a strange world. Everything around them, including people, is frozen. In spite of the hopelessness of their situation, Sophie and Alberto try to move a metal ring, which is attached to a boat near to where Hilde and Albert are sitting. Sophie is persistent in her attempts to the move the ring—in spite of the unlikelihood of moving the ring, she keeps trying, confident that philosophers never give up.

In all, the novel ends on a note of cautious optimism. Sophie seems to have no chance of moving the ring, but her intellectual training gives her hope and confidence. Gaarder suggests that philosophy, in addition to being an important area of study, can also be something like a religion for its students: it can provide people with hope and confidence in their own abilities. As the novel began, Sophie was a timid, shy young girl—now, with philosophy as her weapon, she's brave and determined.

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