Sophie Amundsen Quotes in Sophie’s World
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
In a momentary vision of absolute clarity Hilde knew that Sophie was more than just paper and ink. She really existed.
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 bothliterary devices, designed to teach readers about philosophical ideas and, perhaps, make us question the reality of our own lives.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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?)
“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?”
“But do you by any chance know of such a society today?”
“Hm ... that’s a good question.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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?”
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.
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 …”
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.