Sophies World Critical Review Essay

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Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy

Jostein Gaarder, Author, Paulette Miller, Translator, Paulette Moller, Translator Farrar Straus Giroux $25 (403p) ISBN 978-0-374-26642-4
This long, dense novel, a bestseller in the author's native Norway, offers a summary history of philosophy embedded in a philosophical mystery disguised as a children's book-but only sophisticated young adults would be remotely interested. Sophie Amundsen is about to turn 15 when she receives a letter from one Alberto Knox, a philosopher who undertakes to educate her in his craft. Sections in which we read the text of Knox's lessons to Sophie about the pre-Socratics, Plato and St. Augustine alternate with those in which we find out about Sophie's life with her well-meaning mother. Soon, though, Sophie begins receiving other, stranger missives addressed to one Hilde Moller Knag from her absent father, Albert. As Alberto Knox's lessons approach this century, he and Sophie come to suspect that they are merely characters in a novel written by Albert for his daughter. Teacher and pupil hatch a plot to understand and possibly escape from their situation; and from there, matters get only weirder. Norwegian philosophy professor Gaarder's notion of making a history of philosophy accessible is a good one. Unfortunately, it's occasionally undermined by the dry language he uses to describe the works of various thinkers and by an idiosyncratic bias that gives one paragraph to Nietzsche but dozens to Sartre, breezing right by Wittgenstein and the most influential philosophy of this century, logical positivism. Many readers, regardless of their age, may be tempted to skip over the lessons, which aren't well integrated with the more interesting and unusual metafictional story line. Author tour. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1994
Release date: 09/01/1994
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Sophie awakens the next morning, still incredulous of what she saw in the video. When she retreats to her den, Hermes arrives with a new lesson, this one on Plato’s Academy.

Plato, Socrates’ pupil, founded a school on Socrates’ teaching, called The Academy. Philosophy, mathematics, and gymnastics were the subjects taught.

Plato taught that there were two worlds: the temporary material world and the eternal world of ideas. The world of ideas contained the ideas, or "Forms," from which all material things were patterned. Thus, though our senses may deceive us and give us an incomplete picture of material things, through reason we can comprehend the ideal world.

Plato also believed that man had an immortal soul, which belonged to the world of reason. He also taught that man’s soul existed in the ideal world prior to birth. At birth, man forgot the world of ideas and spent his entire life trying to return to that world.

Plato taught the Myth of the Cave. In this scenario, men dwelt in a cave, seeing shadows on the wall at the back of the cave. Man must break free and turn toward the light making the shadows and thus discover that reality that was making the shadows.

Plato’s ideal state consisted of three parts: rulers, auxiliaries, and laborers. The rulers would be philosopher kings. Also, in this ideal state, women would be equal, although he later modified this view due to political pressure.

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