Hilde looks at her clock—it’s 4 o’clock. She’s been greatly moved by her reading, and Sophie has inspired her to play tricks on her father. Hilde feels as if she, Sophie, and Alberto are on the same “team,” while her father is their opponent.
Hilde’s fascination with Sophie leads her to believe that she and Sophie are equally alive and equally free. This may be an illusion, but this doesn’t mean the idea itself is completely invalid. As we’ll see, the illusion that Sophie is a real person causes Hilde to change her behavior, showing that fiction can inspire concrete, real-world change (and thus proving that Sophie is, in one sense, truly real).
Hilde goes downstairs, where she finds her mother. Hilde’smother asks her for help repairing the family boat. Hilde again refuses to give her mother any help, explaining that she has to continue reading her book. She goes back upstairs.
Hilde continues to ignore her mother, showing that her allegiances now seem to lie with a fictional girl, not a flesh-and-blood woman.
Hilde continues reading. In her book, Sophie and Alberto hear a knock at the door. Sophie opens the door and finds Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Alice offers Alberto and Sophie two potions. Sophie is afraid that the potions might be poisonous, but Alberto points out that nothing they do matters anyway—this is all in the major’s mind. Sophie drinks one potion, and finds herself “becoming one” with her surroundings. She has a strange sense that the room she’s in is no different fromher body, or even her mind. Even Alberto is just a part of her.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was clearly a big influence on this novel: like Carroll, Gaarder presents big, complex ideas in a children’s book via amusing stories and jokes. Alice’s experiments with perception and individuality help Sophie understand part of what Hegel was talking about when he proposed a unity of individual and collective. This is a good reminder of why fiction can be better than philosophy itself at conveying philosophical ideas: Hegel is dry and straightforward in discussing the world spirit, but ultimately he lacks the imagination to describe it. Gaarder, a fiction author, isn’t afraid to imagine what it might be like to experience a collective individuality.
Next, Sophie drinks the second potion. This time, she has a sense that she is a unique individual, completely unlike anyone else in the world. The rest of the room seems alien to her—she doesn’t even recognize Alberto anymore. Alberto explains to Sophie that she’s drunk from the bottle of Idealism, the Hegelian world spirit—this is the state to which human understanding is moving, according to Hegel. The second bottle is Individualism, represented by such thinkers as SørenKierkegaard. Alberto will now tell Sophie about this important Danish philosopher.
Even Hegel’s own ideas aren’t immune from the dialectic cycle of thesis and antithesis. Hegel’s emphasis on ideas immediately prompted Søren Kierkegaard’s theories of radical individuality—an individuality so extreme that the individual has no choice but to ponder God.
Kierkegaard was born in 1813. He was passionately religious, but also questioned many of the teachings of the Christian church. Kierkegaard believed that it was impossible to be rational and Christian at the same time—“religion and knowledge were like fire and water” to him.
It’s interesting that Kierkegaard, often credited with the development of modern Existentialism, was a passionate Christian. Although he questioned the nature of his faith (and reality itself), he kept returning to the fact of a Christian God.
Kierkegaard studied Hegel, but disagreed with Hegel’s lofty ideals of human progress and enlightenment. Rather than searching for “Truth,” Kierkegaard thought that individuals should focus on smaller, less ambitious “truths” that had meaning for their specific lives, and no one else’s.
Kierkegaard has been termed an “anti-philosopher”—someone who believes that philosophy’s promises of universal enlightenment are lies, and tries to bring people happiness in simpler, more individuated ways.
Alberto tries to explain how Kierkegaard’s ideas work in practice. For Kierkegaard, there is no universal truth. Every individual person has their own version of the truth, which makes sense to them and no one else. For example, there can be no universal proof for the existence of God—rather, each person must decide whether or not there is a God, using faith and intuition. In a similar sense, there can be no universal proof that someone loves you—individuals have to decide this for themselves, trusting their instincts.
In many ways, Kierkegaard is reacting to the Baroque and Enlightenment tradition, which made great strides in showing that the universe could be understood without resorting to emotion or faith. But even these figures, such as Descartes and Kant, acknowledged that there was a place for God and faith in their systems—they were forced to keep God in the equation.
Kierkegaard believed that all human beings live in three different stages of lives: aesthetic, ethical, religious. The aesthetic human, or aesthete, lives for the moment, enjoying himself at all costs. But sometimes, an aesthete can become weary and anxious with the life of pleasure. For Kierkegaard, this sense of weariness is a blessing, because it forces the aesthete to move on to the ethical stage of humanity.
One debate aboutKierkegaard is, what is the relationship between the three stages of spiritual development? Does one necessarily follow from the other? (The idea that one mental state eventually leads to a different one is reminiscent of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic).
The ethical human being lives his life according to a strict code of morals. But this life can be long and dull, and in the end, most ethical people begin to experience a second crisis. Kierkegaard praises this crisis, because it forces one to become religious—the last and supposedly highest stage of development.
Kierkegaard doesn't play the usual game of “good guy / bad guy”—he essentially doesn’t condemn anything wholesale, because he recognizes that even crises and falsehoods can lead to a higher plane of consciousness.
The religious human being has chosen to worship God instead of pleasure or morality. Alberto doesn’t explain what a religious life would look like. However, he stresses that Kierkegaard is often credited with pioneering Existentialism, one of the key intellectual movements of the 20th century.
Much like Hegel, Kierkegaard posits the existence of a state of enlightenment, but doesn’t explain what this state would look like. By now, we should be used to this: for all their talk of enlightenment, most philosophers don’t seem to have much sense for what enlightenment actually looks or feels like.