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Sophie’s World - Philosophy and HappinessSophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness


Sophie’s World (1991)


Written by the Norwegian, Jostein Gaarder (1952- ), pictured right.


Fun facts

A worldwide best-selling novel that tells the history of Western philosophy through the eyes of an imaginary Norwegian teenager, Sophie.


Key characters

Sophie (Amundsen), a Norwegian teenager.

Alberto Knox, her philosophy lecturer.Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

Hilde Knag, a teenage girl.

Albert Knag, Hilde’s father.


The story

Sophie, aged 14, receives two notes in her mailbox, saying:

‘Who are you?’

‘Where does the world come from?’ 

Other philosophical questions follow.

She is convinced of their relevance to her life by the note sender (Alberto Knox) who;

  • teaches her Western philosophy. Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness
  • sends her teaching materials (lecture notes, videos etc) via his dog, Hermes.

He discusses:

Alberto values anybody who questions themselves and the world around them, because this is central to philosophy and a good lifeSophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

Sophie becomes confused when she finds mail addressed to a girl, Hilde Knag (who is the same age) and a scarf with her name on it.

One postcard tells Hilde that one day she will meet Sophie.

On her fifteenth birthday, Hilde receives a book,Sophie’s World, from her father, Albert Knag, which he has written for her to explain Western philosophy.

Hilde finishes reading this just as Sophie and Alberto finish their philosophy course and disappear.Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

Alberto had told Sophie that they had only existed in Albert's mind (similar to the Anglo-Irish philosopher, George Berkeley's pictured right idea that perhaps we exist only in the mind of God).  

Despite their disappearance, Alberto and Sophie’s spirit (and influence on Hilde) live on.  


Lessons for philosophy and happinessSophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness


1. Always ask and answer the right questions

Vital questions are:

  • why are you here?
  • what is a good life and how can we live it?

Sophie and Hilde discover that necessary for a good and happy life are:Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

  • ethics (rules for good living). 
  • duty (what you ought to do).
  • virtues (like love and courage).

 Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

2. Philosophy is fun

Sophie and Hilde’s passion for new philosophical knowledge increases as they discover its

  • importance.
  • relevance (to their lives).

 Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

3. Accept your own ignorance

Like the Greek philosopher, Socrates (pictured right), Sophie believes that to be wise you must accept that you know nothing.



4. Learning requires understandingSophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

Sophie and Hilde learn the uselessness of:

  • memorizing facts.
  • blindly accepting other people’s ideas.

They must:

  • understand new ideas.
  • discover for themselves their importance and relevance.


5. Perception is important

Sophie and Alberto aren’t real people, but their influence is perceived by Hilde and her father.

 Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

6. Thinking makes you human

Alberto teaches Sophie the idea of the French philosopher, René Descartes (pictured right), that the ability to think is the most important and essential thing that anyone possesses.


7. Free will can conquer fate

Sophie and Alberto escape their fate of remaining in Hilde’s father’s imagination by having a real influence on Hilde’s life through their spiritual presence.


8. Continually search for wisdomSophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness

Sophie and Hilde discover that you must:

  • never stop learning.
  • question everything.


Key quotes on philosophy and ethics

Philosophers ... believe that man cannot live by bread alone, Alberto.

Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feelings for the welfare of others, Alberto.

The important thing is not what you may think is precisely right or wrong. What matters is that you choose to have an opinion at all on what is right or wrong, Alberto.

Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker, Sophie.


Key quote on religion

Faith is the most important factor in religious questions, Alberto.

It is more important to accept each other’s beliefs than to ask why everyone does not believe the same thing, Sophie

Key quote on peace of mind

True enlightenment to man is like sunlight to the soul, (poetry on the first page of Sophie’s book)


Key quote on death

You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she (Sophie) thought. But it’s just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.


Key quote on strategy

The reasonable is that which is viable.


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com

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