Sophie's World
by Jostein Gaarder
This elegant CD-ROM will take you on an interactive journey through the history of Western philosophy, from its beginnings in ancient astronomy and myth up to twentieth-century existentialism. The philosophical adventure is built around a series of exchanges between a naturally curious young girl and

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Cri1967Cri1967 wrote a review
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A true philosopher must never give up.

A Novel About the History of Philosophy

Dear Sophie,
Lots of people have hobbies. Some people collect old coins or foreign stamps, some do needlework, others spend most of their spare time on a particular sport.
A lot of people enjoy reading. But reading tastes differ widely.
There are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.
What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food. If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth.
If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.
But when these basic needs have been satisfied--will there still be something that everybody needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else--apart from that--which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here.
Being interested in why we are here is not a "casual" interest like collecting stamps.
People who ask such questions are taking part in a debate that has gone on as long as man has lived on this planet. How the universe, the earth, and life came into being is a bigger and more important question than who won the most gold medals in the last Olympics.
The best way of approaching philosophy is to ask a few philosophical questions: How was the world created? Is there any will or meaning behind what happens? Is there a life after death? How can we answer these questions? And most important, how ought we to live? People have been asking these questions throughout the ages.
We know of no culture which has not concerned itself with what man is and where the world came from.
History presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.
Today as well each individual has to discover his own answer to these same questions.
You cannot find out whether there is a God or whether there is life after death by looking in an encyclopedia. Nor does the encyclopedia tell us how we ought to live.
However, reading what other people have believed can help us formulate our own view of life.
... The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder...
Greek philosopher who lived more than two thousand years ago believed that philosophy had its origin in man's sense of wonder. Man thought it was so astonishing to be alive that philosophical questions arose of their own accord.
So even if it is difficult to answer a question, there may be one--and only one--right answer. Either there is a kind of existence after death--or there is not.
Wasn't it extraordinary to be in the world right now, wandering around in a wonderful adventure!
As Sophie started to think about being alive, she began to realize that she would not be alive forever. I am in the world now, she thought, but one day I shall be gone.
Was there a life after death? This was another question the cat was blissfully unaware of.
You can't experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought.
But it's just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.
How tragic that most people had to get ill before they understood what a gift it was to be alive. Or else they had to find a mysterious letter in the mailbox!
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not also need to figure out where it came from. But could anything have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested at the idea. Surely everything that exists must have had a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn't that just as impossible as the idea that the world had always existed?
We do not even know that there is life on other planets. But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light. On just such a walk in the woods.
I am an extraordinary being, you think. I am a mysterious creature.
Who am I? you ask. You know that you are stumbling around on a planet in the universe. But what is the universe?
If you discover yourself in this manner you will have discovered something as mysterious as the Martian we just mentioned. You will not only have seen a being from outer space. You will feel deep down that you are yourself an extraordinary being.
But what about the world itself, Sophie? Do you think it can do what it does? The world is also floating in space.
For somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery. This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the thought.
A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable--bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might say that throughout his life a philosopher remains as thin-skinned as a child. A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little. That is why he constantly strives to achieve true insight. Socrates was one of these rare people. He knew that he knew nothing about life and about the world. And now comes the important part: it troubled him that he knew so little.
Are we born with innate "ideas"? What is the difference between a plant, an animal, and a human? Why does it rain? What does it take to live a good life?
Sartre made an important observation when he said that existential questions cannot be answered once and for all. A philosophical question is by definition something that each generation, each individual even, must ask over and over again.

Who had brought this letter?

April MoranApril Moran wrote a review
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Don't judge a book by its cover we're told, but how can one not judge this book by its cover? The cover is actually one of the main reasons I bought the book. It's dreamy, artistic, and makes one curious as to what wonders it holds inside.

In addition to wonders, readers will find that this particular book also holds many questions, such as "Who are we?" and "Where does the world come from?" Once exposed to such questions there is no door to escape through. One can't help but wonder about the answers to such questions even when not reading the book. The lesson to be taken from this book is that none of these questions have definitive answers and that one shouldn't be surprised if the answers to the questions are questions themselves.

How does one even begin to tackle these loaded questions? The book presents readers with a framework or foundation in which they can use philosophy to answer the questions. The book teaches its readers that life itself can be seen and understood in many different ways depending on the framework one chooses.

As for the story itself, I have a few complaints. Firstly, sometimes it felt like too much information was packed into a tiny chapter. Perhaps it wasn't even that, but the text book feel of the philosophy lesson itself between Alberto and Sophie. It was very dry and factual which I would expect in a text book, but not in a novel. Sometimes I found myself wondering when the history would end and the story actually begin again.

In addition, I didn't really feel that the chapters transitioned very well. They were very redundant. In some parts, it felt like the author was rushing the story (the writing was poor and simple) in order to get the story itself to the next long text book like philosophy lesson.

When Alberto is actually teaching Sophie about the history of philosophy, the dialogue is sometimes problematic. For example, Sophie will occasionally interrupt Alberto with her own thoughts or statements which seem to be coming not from Sophie the character, but the writer. I know that a lot of people will argue that the writing/dialogue comes from the author, but the point I'm trying to make is that a lot of Sophie's responses and thoughts did not seem realistic coming from a 14 year old girl. Some of her responses seem too pre-made and she also catches on to the philosophy lessons rather quickly considering that we are told this is the first time she's been introduced to philosophy.

Towards the end of the book, we learn that Sophie and Alberto are merely characters in a book. The book is being written as a birthday present for a girl named Hilde. I thought this was really clever on the writer's part and I found myself smiling because even I was tricked and didn't see it coming. There are of course subtle but also very obvious hints that this is the case, and the reader knows something odd is going on, especially when we learn that the man's name who is writing the book is Albert (very similar to Alberto, Sophie's teacher.) The whole idea is very clever indeed, especially when broken down - this is a story of a girl and a man being written by a man for his daughter, which has been written by Jostein Gaarder. Story within a story that is a story itself ! :)

What if we too are merely characters in a book that is being written? Perhaps we can escape like Sophie and Alberto did when the writer wasn't thinking of them.

My last thoughts on the book concern the philosophy itself. Do we come away satisfied that we have learned something of philosophy, or do we put the book down in frustration and confusion? I think if anyone actually manages to finish the book they will either be REALLY confused or just a little more knowledgeable about philosophy. The pace of the book is so quick that most of the history gets lost and comes off as being very dry and rather confusing when jumping from one philosopher and time to another. I think the history of philosophy could have been written in a more grab your attention sort of way that makes readers feel like they are actually reading a novel and not a text book.

Did I actually enjoy the book? I enjoyed it in parts. Some parts were very interesting and I had trouble putting the book down, but then those mind boggling history lessons would sneak up and I'd grow rather bored again. It's not really a matter of my familiarity with philosophy, but more along the lines of the text book feeling I got during the lesson parts. Would I recommend it? I would, but only to individuals who enjoy philosophy or are interested in it. And yeah, I would mention that it goes back and forth between novel and text book.

On an interesting side note, I almost counted how many times "bagatelle" is used in the novel, but decided not to, lol. According to wikipedia, "a bagatelle is a short piece of music, typically for the piano, and usually of a light, mellow character. The name bagatelle literally means a "trifle", as a reference to the innocent character of the piece." In case anyone was wondering.. :)
Yuen777Yuen777 wrote a review
Gobs ChanGobs Chan wrote a review
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