Sophie's World


  • Media: #Books #Books 2020
    • Author: Jostein Gaarder
    • Status: read
    • Date: 2020-07-11
    • Tags: #fiction #nonfiction #philosophy #uniquebook
    • Rating: ★★☆☆☆
    • Idea richness: ★★★★★
    • Links: Goodreads, Highlights


Sophie's World is as difficult to rate as it is to classify. It is one part novel, one part whirlwind tour of western philosophy history, and one part narrative nesting egg of examples of the concepts it details.

Sound interesting? It did to me. Unfortunately the hybrid novel/textbook format falters on a few key points... such as the novel. Going in, you better have a high tolerance for excessive inner-monologue, idiotic characters, and painstaking dialogue. It also doesn't help that Sophie is a bit of an arsehole to everyone else and the tone can become pompous and condescending in places. That is leaving aside the actual 'story', which had promise before being stretched far too thin and already lacking anything else to hold it up. The story could easily have been 150+ pages lighter and lost nothing.

All that said, the actual textbook/history portions are actually quite enjoyable. It is rare to read history in such a conversational tone and is packed with examples which make it great for an introductory overview (which is what I was looking for). Sure the 'conversation' side can feel forced, especially in later chapters, but it mostly works.

As a book of parts, it's difficult not to rate it in parts. Overall, my rating would be something along the lines of:

  • Story/Sophie's world: 1/5
  • Philosophical history overview: 4/5

Overall, I appreciate the hybrid concept but the execution fell flat for me. If I were to approach it afresh, I would read the first few chapters as is and then create my own abridged history version by only reading the informational sections. In fact, I'd probably rather buy that textbook to begin with.


  • Seems to contradict the philosophical wonders at simplest things by dismissing trivial daily work/existence

Topics to Pursue

  • John Locke theory of senses #researchTopic
  • Socratic school
  • Hume
  • Kant
  • Hegel
  • Kierkegaard and theory of three stages


  • "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."
  • =="The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder."==
  • "...the world will have become a habit. A pity, if you ask me."
  • =="The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all. It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. And in doing so, we lose something central."==
  • "Everything we can see in the sky is a cosmic fossil from thousands and millions of years ago. ==The only thing an astrologer can do is predict the past.’=="
WARNING: This note is currently under construction. Venture past this point at your own risk.

Don't learn philosophy, learn to think philosophically

  • "Sophie found philosophy doubly exciting because she was able to follow all the ideas by using her own common sense – without having to remember everything she had learned at school. ==She decided that philosophy was not something you can learn; but perhaps you can learn to think philosophically.=="
  • =="Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker.’"==
  • ‘All true philosophers should keep their eyes open. Even if we have never seen a white crow, we should never stop looking for it. ==And one day, even a skeptic like me could be obliged to accept a phenomenon I did not believe in before. If I did not keep this possibility open I would be dogmatic, and not a true philosopher.==’

[[!The right question is more telling than an answer]]

  • =="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."==
  • "‘Nobody can answer questions like that anyway.’ ‘Yes but we don’t even learn to ask them!’"


  • "‘Everything flows,’ said Heraclitus. Everything is in constant flux and movement, nothing is abiding. Therefore we ‘cannot step twice into the same river.’ When I step into the river for the second time, neither I nor the river are the same."
  • "So there is ‘something of everything’ in every single cell. The whole exists in each tiny part."


  • "He never wrote a single line. Yet he is one of the philosophers who has had the greatest influence on European thought," --> Socrates
  • "Socrates himself said, ==‘One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.’=="
  • "==...we can only have inexact conceptions of things we perceive with our senses.== But we can have true knowledge of things we understand with our reason. The sum of the angles in a triangle will remain 180 degrees to the end of time. And similarly the ‘idea’ horse will walk on four legs even if all the horses in the sensory world break a leg."
  • "...he did say that a state that does not educate and train women is like a man who only trains his right arm."
  • "According to Aristotle, nonliving things can only change through external influence. Only living things have the potentiality for change."
  • "Aristotle’s erroneous view of the sexes was doubly harmful because it was his – rather than Plato’s – view that held sway throughout the Middle Ages. The church thus inherited a view of women that is entirely without foundation in the Bible. Jesus was certainly no woman hater!"

[[!Do related languages lead to related ideas]]?

  • syncretism or the fusion of creeds.
  • Related languages often lead to related ideas.

The book as a cradle of knowledge

  • "‘An incunabulum?’ ‘Actually, it means “cradle.” The word is used about books printed in the cradle days of printing. That is, before 1500.’"
  • "The book as a cradle of knowledge"
  • "And these three discoveries – the compass, firearms, and the printing press – were essential preconditions for this new period we call the Renaissance.’"

[[!The empirical method]]

  • "Every investigation of natural phenomena must be based on observation, experience, and experiment. We call this the empirical method.’"
  • New scientific method of renaissance
  • ==“Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured,” said the Italian Galileo Galilei==

[[!Thoughts are intangible]]

  • ==“I’ve been out in space many times but I’ve never seen God or angels.” And the brain surgeon said, “And I’ve operated on many clever brains but I’ve never seen a single thought.”’==
  • "...thoughts are not things that can be operated on or broken down into ever smaller parts. ==It is not easy, for example, to surgically remove a delusion==. It grows too deep, as it were, for surgery. An important seventeenth century philosopher named ==Leibniz pointed out that the difference between the material and the spiritual is precisely that the material can be broken up into smaller and smaller bits, but the soul cannot even be divided into two.’=="
  • "To achieve this can require the breaking down of a compound problem into as many single factors as possible. Then we can take our point of departure in the simplest idea of all."


  • "We said that the most important of the senses for Indo-Europeans was sight. How important hearing was to the Semitic cultures is just as interesting."

John Locke & Hume

  • "Locke calls these secondary qualities. ==Sensations like these – color, smell, taste, sound – do not reproduce the real qualities that are inherent in the things themselves. They reproduce only the effect of the outer reality on our senses.’=="
  • First, where we get our ideas from, and secondly, whether we can rely on what our senses tell us.’
  • ==‘Hume begins by establishing that man has two different types of perceptions, namely impressions and ideas. By “impressions” he means the immediate sensation of external reality. By “ideas” he means the recollection of such impressions.’==
  • ‘Hume emphasizes further that both an impression and an idea can be either simple or complex. You remember we talked about an apple in connection with Locke. The direct experience of an apple is an example of a complex impression.’
  • "From which impression does this idea originate? First of all he had to find out which “single ideas” went into the making of a complex idea."

Laws of Nature

  • "When we speak of the “laws of nature” or of “cause and effect,” we are actually speaking of what we expect, rather than what is “reasonable.” The laws of nature are neither reasonable nor unreasonable, they simply are."


  • "‘What you did was to draw a conclusion from a descriptive sentence – “That person wants to live too” – to what we call a normative sentence: “Therefore you ought not to kill them.” From the point of view of reason this is nonsense. You might just as well say “There are lots of people who cheat on their taxes, therefore I ought to cheat on my taxes too.” ==Hume said you can never draw conclusions from is sentences to ought sentences.=="
  • Cultural optimism?
  • =="We can never have certain knowledge of things “in themselves.” We can only know how things “appear” to us."==
  • "He also called these three stages of knowledge thesis, antithesis, and synthesis."
  • ‘They proposed a thesis. Why? Because women had already begun to rebel. ==There’s no need to have an opinion on something everyone agrees on.== And the more grossly they expressed themselves about women’s inferiority, the stronger became the negation.’
  • =="You might say that the very best that can happen is to have energetic opponents. The more extreme they become, the more powerful the reaction they will have to face."==

On Belief & Truth

  • "To Kierkegaard, Christianity was both so overwhelming and so irrational that it had to be an either/or. It was not good being “rather” or “to some extent” religious. ==Because either Jesus rose on Easter Day – or he did not. And if he really did rise from the dead, if he really died for our sake – then this is so overwhelming that it must permeate our entire life.’=="
  • ==Kierkegaard wrote: “If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe."==
  • ==“the truth is always in the minority,”==

Knowledge without action is incomplete

  • ==“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” - Marx==
  • "Instead of great speculative systems, we had what we call an existential philosophy or a philosophy of action."

Analysis strangles imagination

  • Surrealism #researchTopic
  • archeology of the soul #researchTopic
  • ==surrealism comes from the French, and means “super realism.”==
  • "when imagination gets strangled by reasoned deliberation."
  • "‘In one sense, the surrealist artist is also a medium, that is to say, a means or a link. He is a medium of his own unconscious. But ==perhaps there is an element of the unconscious in every creative process...=="
  • “super realism,” in which the boundaries between dream and reality were dissolved.
  • "But all too frequently, reason throttles the imagination, and that’s serious because without imagination, nothing really new will ever be created."

All perception is biased

  • =="This is because we contribute our own meaning – or our own interests – when we perceive our surroundings"==