July 06, 2023

#08-323: Sophie's World

Cover of the first edition (in Norwegian) (Wikipedia)

Note: When it was first published, this philosophy text disguised as a young adult mystery story took the world by storm. Give it a try and see if you like it!

Get Ready: Have you ever studied philosophy? did you find it interesting, or boring?

One day Sophie Amundsen, a 14-year-old Norwegian girl, comes home from school to find two anonymous letters in her mailbox. The first contains a question: "Who are you?" and the second is like it, asking "Where does the world come from?"

On these two letters hang the rest of the story. These letters and many more are sent by a mysterious philosopher who has decided to give Sophie an unasked-for correspondence course in philosophy.

Sophie's World, the book by Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder that tells this story, took the world by storm back in 1995. In fact, it was reported to be the best-selling book in the world that year. 

Every day Sophie receives a letter containing some questions, and later in the day a manuscript with typed pages on the work of a philosopher whose writings would help answer those questions.

Early in the "course" the philosopher had told her: "The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder." And Sophie (whose name means "Wisdom") has plenty of that. Eventually, the philosopher--whose name is Alberto Knox--teaches her everything from early European mythology to the modern philosophers of the 20th century.

But the story is not simply as straightforward as that. The first complication is that Sophie also receives notes sent to another girl about her age, Hilde Møller Knag. The first is a birthday greeting from Hilde's father and apologizes for sending the note "c/o Sophie."

As time goes on, we discover something truly staggering: Sophie and Alberto are not "real" at all, but are living inside the mind of Hilde's father, Albert Knag! (This aligns with Sophie's current study of George Berkeley, who taught the possibility that our entire lives are lived inside the mind of God.)

The story then switches to the viewpoint of Hilde, who on her birthday receives a book from her father entitled "Sophie's World," which tells the rest of the story, as Hilde reads and reacts to it. Using the teachings of philosophers, Alberto and Sophie must plan an "escape" from Albert Knag's mind, and they become spirit creatures attempting to influence the material world.

Philosophy is complex!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. aligns
  2. anonymous
  3. c/o
  4. complication
  5. correspondence course
  6. faculty
  7. manuscript
  8. staggering
  9. took the world by storm
  10. unasked-for
  1. capacity; ability
  2. corresponds; matches
  3. unnamed
  4. handwritten (or typed) document
  5. made a big impression
  6. not requested
  7. problem; difficulty
  8. shocking
  9. "in care of"; by way of someone else
  10. lessons studied by mail

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 6, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. c; 3. i; 4. g; 5. j; 6. a; 7. d; 8. h; 9. e; 10. f