Chapter 1 Summary
Sophie Amundsen lives with her mother in a suburban house. Her father, an oil tanker captain, is seldom home. Her mother works outside the home and comes home late in the afternoon. To make up for being alone some much, she is given several animals, including a cat called Sherekan.
Coming home from school one day, she looks in the mailbox and finds a letter (without a return address or stamp) addressed to her. Inside is a note with one question: "Who are you?" This perplexes Sophie, who takes the letter to her secret hiding place in the hedge that she calls her "den." She ponders over the question, coming up with several answers, none of which she thinks is satisfactory.
Thinking that perhaps there might be another letter, Sophie checks the mailbox again, and indeed does find another letter, this one asking "Where does the world come from?" Again, Sophie muses of the possible answers, both scientific and religious. She realizes that the universe must have come from something, but at what point does something come from nothing?
Checking the mailbox again, she finds a postcard, addressed in care of her to Hilde Knag Moller. It is a birthday card from Hilde’s father, apologizing that he could not be there for her birthday, and also for sending the card through Sophie, because it was "the easiest way."
Sophie is completely confused at this point. Where did the letters come from? What were the answers to the questions in the letters? Who is Hilde?
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
Sophie is preoccupied with the questions she has received in the mail. Sophie returns home to find a large brown envelope in the mailbox. It is addressed to her and labeled, "Course in Philosophy. Handle with care." She takes it to her "den" and finds typewritten pages asking, "What Is Philosophy?"
The letter presents her with the idea that the only thing necessary to be a philosopher is to have a sense of wonder, both about the world and about oneself. The writer states that most people lose this capacity as they grow older.
The philosopher compares the universe to a white rabbit pulled out of a top hat by a magician. While we as observers are filled with wonder at the trick, more than anything we wonder, "How did he do that?" We want to know how and why. That is the basis of all philosophy.
We as individuals are microscopic insects burrowed deep in the rabbit’s fur. A relative few crawl up the hairs. Most are content to remain in the depths of the fur, or else, having climbed to the top, crawl back down into its safety. The true philosopher climbs up the hair to look into the eyes of the magician.
Sophie is overwhelmed by this thought. She has never thought so hard in her life. When her mother comes home from work, Sophie asks her if she has ever wondered where we came from and why we are here. Mrs. Amundsen is concerned, not liking the tone Sophie has taken. She asks Sophie if she is taking drugs. Sophie just laughs.
(The entire section is 267 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Sophie finds another packet from the philosopher, this time on the ancient myths. The philosopher states that, in all cultures, people wanted explanations for why nature worked the way it did. Rather than coming up with a scientific explanation, they developed myths, which in turn were either based on religions or gave rise to religions.
The myths first wanted to explain natural phenomena, such as why it rains. They invented stories of the gods and goddesses and their fights against evil forces. The philosopher gives examples from Nordic mythology.
In the same way, ancient Greeks developed myths to explain the seasons, weather, and so on. Homer and Hesiod were the first to write down the myths around 700 BC, thus enabling people to discuss them. With the coming of slavery, citizens were freed to concentrate more on politics and culture.
Eventually, ancient Greek philosophers began to question the myths. They began to think that the gods acted too much like human beings, thus stating that the myths were simply inventions of humans. These early philosophers began to look for explanations not found in cultural myths or religious beliefs. They began to question politics and culture and how man should be governed. Contemplation went from being founded on myths to being established on reason.
Sophie is intrigued about the myth-makers. She imagines that she knows nothing about science and creates her own mythological explanation for the changing of the seasons.
(The entire section is 238 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
In the next lesson, the philosopher asks Sophie questions concerning the basic substance of the natural world. He then introduces her to the natural philosophers.
He explains that all philosophers have a "project," a specific question they want answered. The natural philosophers were focused on the processes of the natural world. They believed that something cannot come from nothing. They believed that there was a basic substance from which all things were made. What that substance was is where they disagreed.
Thales, the first philosopher, thought that all things come from water. Anaximander believed that there was something called the "boundless" from which all things had their origin. Anaximenes taught the source of all things to be air.
Around 500 BC, the Eleatics flourished. Parmenides thought that everything that exists has always existed, and nothing can change. He believed that reason, rather than senses, are more reliable. On the other hand, Heraclitus believed that everything changes, and that our senses are reliable.
Empedocles refined the philosophy of both Parmenides and Heraclitus. He taught that things change, but their basic substance does not. He taught that there are four basic substances: air, water, earth, and fire. Different combinations of these made up all of nature.
Anaxagora believed that there was an even more basic substance—"seeds." From these seeds everything existed, bound together by a force he identified as "love."
(The entire section is 228 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
Sophie receives a new question the next morning: "Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?" That afternoon the lesson arrives: "The Atom Theory." The philosopher discusses the last of the natural philosophers, Democritus (c. 460-370 BC), who believed that transformations in nature could not be caused by any fundamental change, but rather a rearrangement of some type of basic "building block" (like Legos), which he named "atoms." Democritus believed that these atoms were indestructible and eternal. He also believed that they were solid and of varying shapes and can be combined in different forms.
The philosopher points out that scientists have discovered that Democritus was more or less correct, though we now know that atoms can indeed be broken down into smaller particles.
Democritus also taught that there was no force or soul that intervenes in the creating process. All that is, is the material world. Thus he is called a "materialist."
Democritus went on to explain that our sense perceptions were due to the movement of atoms across space, atoms penetrating our sense organs. He also believed that the soul is not immortal, but is strictly a product of thought. Thus, when the brain dies, the "soul atoms" dispersed.
Sophie is intrigued by the similarity of Legos with Democritus’s atoms. However, she is unsure about his premise about the nonexistence of the soul or any spiritual force.
(The entire section is 232 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
When Sophie receives the next envelope, she notices that it is wet around the edges, with two holes in it. Inside are three questions: "Do you believe in Fate? Is sickness the punishment of the gods? What forces govern the course of history?"
Sophie writes a letter to the philosopher in return, inviting him to her house when her mother is home. She sneaks out and puts it in the mailbox at night.
In the middle of the night, Sophie looks out the window and spots an old man in a beret putting a letter in her mailbox and taking the letter Sophie had written him. She goes to the mailbox to retrieve the letter.
The topic of this lesson is Fate, or fatalism, which the Greeks held in the matters of sickness and of history. The Greeks believed they could learn their fate by consulting an oracle, such as the one at Delphi. Over the temple at Delphi was the inscription "Know thyself." This served as a reminder that man is merely mortal and cannot escape his destiny.
However, historians like Herodotus and Thucydides were trying to wean people away from superstition in the matter of historical events. Hippocrates was doing the same in the field of medicine, showing that sickness is a natural occurrence, rather than a punishment from the gods.
Sophie awakens the next morning, wondering if she had really seen the philosopher or dreamed it. When she looks under her bed to retrieve the letter, she finds a red scarf she has never seen before. It is labeled with the name "Hilde."
(The entire section is 266 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Sophie receives a letter from the philosopher, who reveals his name as Alberto Knox, declining her invitation with regrets. Sophie also learns that the reason some letters are wet with two holes in them is that they are brought by Knox’s dog, Hermes.
The next lesson concerns Socrates. Before Socrates, a group called the Sophists taught philosophy for money. Protagoras taught that "Man is the measure of all things," meaning that a thing is good or bad only in relation to a person’s needs. They did not believe in absolute norms for what is right or wrong.
Socrates (470-399 BC) was born in Athens of a midwife. Of unattractive appearance, he is nevertheless an intriguing person. What is known about Socrates is from the writings of others (mainly his pupil Plato) since he wrote nothing himself. Socrates taught by the art of discourse, pretending to be ignorant, asking questions, catching people in the illogic of their arguments.
Socrates believed he had an inner "Divine Voice," namely his conscience. He stated that he was incapable of doing anything against this Divine Voice’s instruction, especially against other people.
Socrates presented himself as not one who is wiser than others, but simply as someone who loves wisdom. He stated, "One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing." He believed that evil is simply the lack of knowledge. People do wrong because they don’t know any better, and no one can be happy if he or she act against his or her better judgment.
(The entire section is 258 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
When Sophie next visits her den, she finds not a letter but a videocassette. When she views it, she sees scenes of Athens, with a short, middle-aged man with a black beard and blue beret, whom she knows is Alberto Knox.
Knox proceeds to show Sophie the sites in Athens. First, they visit the Acropolis, where the temple of Athene is. He then shows her the Dionysos Theater, where the early Greek dramas were performed. He gives her a short lesson on ancient Greek dramatists such as Sophocles.
Knox then takes Sophie to the Areopagos, where the high court of justice was held. It was here that Paul preached in the first century AD.
The next site is the agora, the old marketplace. It was here that Socrates did most of his teaching, stopping passersby to ask them random questions.
With that, Knox magically transports himself back to Athens at the time of Socrates. Sophie wonders how he was able to do this, or whether it is some kind of elaborate special effects trick. Knox points out to her two men, one being Socrates and the other his pupil Plato. Knox speaks to Plato, introducing him to Sophie. Plato then asks Sophie how cookies can be identical and why all horses are the same. He then asks her whether man has an immortal soul, and whether men and women are equally sensible.
At the end of the video, Sophie is overwhelmed by how eccentric her philosophy teacher is.
(The entire section is 248 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
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.
(The entire section is 244 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Sophie decides to travel down the path that Hermes followed to find out where he goes. She comes to a lake with a rowboat. On the opposite shore she spies a cabin. She climbs into the rowboat and rows across the lake. After pulling the boat up on the shore (though not very high up), she goes to the cabin. When she receives no answer to her knock on the door, she enters the cabin. She realizes that this is the home of Alberto Knox and Hermes.
On the wall Sophie sees a picture of a house and garden. The picture is labeled "Bjerkeley." Beside it she sees another picture of an old man. This one is titled "Berkeley."
Sophie looks into the mirror on the wall and is surprised when the girl reflected in the mirror winks both eyes at her. Hearing barking, she quickly leaves, but not before spotting on the table a green wallet belonging to Hilde and an envelope addressed to herself. Grabbing the envelope she races out of the cabin only to discover that the boat has floated away. She manages to run around the lake and reaches home.
In the envelope she finds more questions from the philosopher. She contemplates the answers to the questions while telling her mother where she has been and the truth about the "boyfriend" her mother thinks she has. Finally, Sophie and her mother plan her fifteenth birthday party.
(The entire section is 240 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Sophie receives a letter from the philosopher, saying that he understands her curiosity and is not angry, but he will now have to move.
Included is a lesson on Aristotle, who was a pupil of Plato’s. Aristotle disagreed with his teacher as to objects in the natural world having an "idea" existing on another plane of existence. Aristotle believed that there was indeed a "form," but it was within the object itself and was recognized by humans through the senses and then categorized.
Aristotle believed that each thing had a form that was specific to its unique characteristics.
Aristotle was also concerned with finding the causes of existence. There was the material cause (what a thing was made of), the efficient cause (what makes a thing behave in a certain way), and the formal cause (the final form of a thing). He also considered the final cause, which is an object’s purpose.
Aristotle even wrote about ethics, or what is the best possible life a man can achieve. Aristotle believed that a person’s purpose was to achieve happiness, which was achieved by using all abilities and capabilities.
As for society, Aristotle held to three good forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. However, he did not view women as equal to men, as Plato did.
After reading the lesson, Sophie is inspired to clean up and categorize the things in her room.
(The entire section is 235 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Sophie discovers another postcard to Hilde from her father, but she notices that it is postmarked June 15. She remembers that all the other postcards carried the same date, even though it was a month away.
The next lesson from Alberto Knox is on Hellenism—Greek influence that covered religion and science as well as philosophy. In religion, the focus was now on salvation from death. Many religions and cults, including Christianity, were born in this climate. Science advanced tremendously, with Alexandria in Egypt being the center of study.
During this time, the Cynics arose. This school of philosophy believed that true happiness did not lie in material possessions, wealth, or even health. Stemming from this, the Stoics gained a vast influence, especially during the Roman Empire. The Stoics believed that everyone is governed by natural law. Since there is no escaping this law, true wisdom is found in accepting it and going on to achieve happiness.
The Epicureans, however, believed that pleasure was good, whereas pain was evil. Although they placed they highest good on pleasure, they recognized that some self-denial and sacrifice may be required to achieve a higher pleasure.
Neoplatonism revived much of Plato’s teaching and influenced the development of Christianity. Mysticism became an experience in all three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Adherents to these religions endeavor to achieve union with God on another plane.
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Since there is no school because of a national holiday, Joanna proposes that she and Sophie take a camping trip. Sophie has not heard from Alberto Knox for several days and is reluctant to be gone from home for very long, in case he should leave another message or lesson, but she agrees.
Sophie suggests a camping spot near the major’s cabin. Sophie leads them to the cabin, which is abandoned. On closer inspection, Sophie finds the key to the door and enters with Joanna. All is empty, but Sophie lights a candle found on the stove. Sophie convinces Joanna to look into the "magic" mirror, but they see only their reflections.
They spot a box on the floor, which turns out to be full of postcards. Sophie is distraught, warning Joanna not to touch them, but she picks them up and reads them. They are all from Lebanon, addressed to Hilde, carrying different postmark dates.
The first postcards hint that Hilde’s father is returning home soon, and is working on the birthday surprise he has planned for her. He mentions their "mutual friend." On the final postcard there is a postscript. It states that he is sending duplicate cards to a girl called Sophie, in preparation for the day Sophie and Hilde will meet. It also mentions that Sophie has a friend named Joanna.
Frightened, the girls leave the cabin, but not before Sophie takes the mirror with her. The next morning they return home, and Sophie hangs the mirror in the bedroom. The next day, Sophie finds a new lesson in her den.
(The entire section is 267 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
The philosopher teaches Sophie about the two most influential cultures on modern society, the Indo-European and the Semitic. Indo-European culture is reflected in that of ancient Greece, with its emphasis on sight. The visual representation of the gods was a major focus, resulting in visual arts—painting, sculpture, and so on—that are still evident. The Semitic culture, mainly through the Jews, was centered around hearing. The Scriptures speak about "hearing the word of God" and discourage visual representations of the holy.
Knox then reviews with Sophie the history of Israel, as portrayed in the Old Testament. The covenant they made with God was repeatedly broken by the Israelites, so history was changed by the punishment for their disobedience.
With the coming of Christ, the blending of the Indo-European and Semitic cultures resulted in the spread of Christianity. Stemming from the Semitic culture of the Jews, Christianity was heavily influenced by Greek culture, especially Neoplatonism. With the missionary work of Paul, Christianity spread throughout the formerly Hellenistic world of the Middle East and into Europe. The struggle to determine to what extent the Old Covenant should be reflected in the New Covenant was resolved in various creeds written under the authority of the centralized Christian Church. These creeds brought relative harmony to the Christian Church and Europe as well, establishing the foundations for the development of a distinctly European culture in the Middle Ages.
(The entire section is 234 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
A postcard to Hilde is blown against Sophie’s window, telling Hilde that Sophie still does not understand how it all hangs together. Then Sophie receives a phone call from the philosopher, stating that there will be no more letters. They must meet in person because "Hilde’s father is closing in." Unsure of what this sinister warning means, Sophie agrees to meet Knox the next morning at St. Mary’s Church.
After the fall of Rome, culture declined throughout Europe, leading to the Dark Ages. The Church closed Plato’s Academy at Athens, leading to a break between Christianity and Greek philosophy. However, Greek culture, especially in the sciences, was preserved in the Muslim culture and in the eastern Greek Orthodox culture centered at Constantinople.
In Europe, the church struggled with the role of reason in faith, starting with Augustine of Hippo, who blended Christianity with Neoplatonism. He taught that man has no ability to save himself, but he has the responsibility to accept God’s salvation. Augustine explained his philosophy in his book The City of God.
In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas brought together the philosophy of Aristotle with Christianity. He taught that there was no reason for conflict between the ancient philosophies and Christianity, that both taught essentially the same thing in many areas. Aquinas adopted Aristotle’s attitude toward women, but some ancient Christians believed that God was not truly "male." He had a "female" side as well. Knox tells Sophie about "Sophia," the personification of God’s wisdom.
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
After the "sleepover," Sophie returns home to take a nap. She dreams about a girl on a dock, who leaves behind a gold crucifix. When Sophie awakes, she finds the identical necklace on her bed.
Following Hermes downtown, Sophie meets Alberto Knox in his apartment, where Knox now teaches her about the Renaissance, a time in which the ideas of antiquity are "reborn."
In the field of science, man’s understanding of the universe is drastically revised. It is the sun, not the Earth, that is believed to be the center of the universe. This shifts man’s belief in himself and his position in the cosmos. The scientific method is also developed, with experimentation becoming paramount. Through this, physical laws are discovered, such as gravitation and inertia.
Man becomes the source of all that is studied, leading to a new humanism. Also, religion seeks to find the source of its faith. Martin Luther returned to the original Greek of the New Testament to read and translate the Scriptures and sparked the Reformation.
New technologies led to the voyages of discovery. This also led to the exploitation of non-European cultures by the European discoverers.
During their study, Knox refers several times to Hilde’s father, stating that he is evidently watching their every move and may even be controlling events themselves (such as the postcards). Sophie is disturbed by this, especially when Knox accidentally calls her "Hilde" twice.
(The entire section is 238 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Sophie continues to find postcards from Hilde’s father, but she does not know how they are getting to her. She tells her mother the entire account of Knox and his philosophy lessons. She and her mother then plan a birthday party for her on Midsummer’s Eve.
When Sophie returns to Knox’s apartment, he teaches her about the 17th century's Baroque period, the name of which comes from a term describing an irregular pearl. It was a time characterized by extremes—a life of luxury and a life of spiritual seclusion. The ephemeral nature of life was a focus, with the motif of the theater often recurring, particularly in the works of Shakespeare. The main question of the period is "what is real and what is but a dream?"
Thomas Hobbes presented the idea that only matter exists, thus supporting the philosophy of materialism. This view of the universe and mankind as machines spread in the scientific world. All that exists is predetermined, whether by the machine or by God. This is called determinism, in which there is no free will.
However, there was still a strong strain of spirituality existent. There was also an acknowledged separation between the spiritual and the material, but the nature and characteristics of each continued to elude philosophers. The two greatest philosophers of the day were Descartes and Spinoza.
(The entire section is 227 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Sophie discovers that Descartes was similar to Socrates in that they both believed that all they knew for sure was that they knew nothing for sure. Descartes held that it was reasonable to doubt everything in principle because of this. He believed that only true knowledge could come from reason. The fact that he was able to think proved to him that he existed ("I think, therefore I am"). In the same way, he believed in God because his imperfect mind could only conceive of a perfect entity if that perfect entity was outside of his own imperfect self.
Descartes also believed (contrary to many in the Baroque period) that life is not a dream, but a reality outside of and independent of oneself. There are only two realities: the reality of matter and the reality of thought. These are dependent on each other and must work in harmony. Though man may be an automaton, he is a thinking automaton controlled by the mind. Because of this, human beings can rise above their bodily needs and behave rationally.
While working on Alberto’s computer, Sophie and Alberto receive a message from Hilde’s father (whose name is revealed to be Albert Knag). Alberto is incensed that he continues to invade their reality and tries to control it. Both notice the similarity between Hilde’s father’s name and Alberto Knox.
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Knox and Sophie discuss Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher of the 17th century. Spinoza believed that both Christianity and Judaism were kept alive only by the regulations and rituals of the organized church. He was the first to interpret the Bible with the historical-critical interpretation, denying its inspiration by God. He believed that the teachings of Jesus were the religion of reason, but Christianity had corrupted them by its rigidity.
Spinoza believed that it was essential to see things from the "perspective of eternity." He believed that nature was not God himself, but in God. In a sense, therefore, he was a pantheist, but not in its strictest sense. Everything can be reduced to a single entity that he called "Substance" (meaning God or Nature). Since he believed that the two are identical, he was a monist, there being only one nature.
Everything in nature is either thought or an extension of thought. The reality experienced by our senses is modes of the attribute of thought or extension. God is the inner cause of all that happens.
Man has inherent abilities that are determined by nature. He finds happiness only when he has the freedom to develop his innate abilities. Ridding ourselves of our passions will help us to achieve happiness.
At the end of their discussion, while eating fruit, Sophie finds a message from Hilde’s father written on the inside of a banana peel. As Sophie departs for home, Knox once again slips and calls her "Hilde."
(The entire section is 248 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
When Sophie returns home late, she decides to show her mother the video of Knox in Athens in order to calm her fears. Mrs. Amundsen is intrigued and once again pacified.
As Sophie is next going to visit the philosopher, Hermes (who is accompanying her) speaks, saying, "Happy Birthday, Hilde!" She is furious that Hilde’s father is interfering more and more in her world.
Knox tells Sophie of the empiricists, who believed that what is known is derived only from the senses. The primary empiricist was John Locke, who believed that people are born with a blank slate ("tabula rasa") on which are imprinted all that they subsequently learn. Locke wondered how we get our ideas. He believed that we take in simple ideas of sense through reflection. Reflection is the process whereby we learn from our senses. At first we have simple sensations, but by repetition they become more complex sensations. Thus "learning" takes place. All knowledge can therefore be traced back to these simple sensations.
While primary qualities are the same for everyone (such as height and weight), secondary qualities can vary from individual to individual. Likewise, certain ethical principles (e.g., inalienable rights) applied to everyone. These ideas led to the Enlightenment in the next century.
(The entire section is 210 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
The conversation about the British empiricists continues as Knox tells Sophie about David Hume, who lived from 1711 to 1776.
Hume believed that all experiences were the bases of perceptions, which can be either impressions (based on external reality) or ideas (the recollection of such impressions). These perceptions started out as simple ideas. For example, a person may perceive a human body and also wings. By combining these simple ideas into the idea of an "angel," he has created a complex idea, based not on reality, but on a "cut-and-paste" idea. In short, the mind cannot create that which is not real: it can only mix simple ideas.
Because of this, Hume rejected Descartes's proof of the existence of God. Hume was an agnostic, who stated that God cannot be proved or disproved. Faith was totally divorced from reason.
Hume also believed that because one gained new simple ideas and developed more complex ideas, the only reality is change. Human personality changes over time, as new experiences are added. Hume also rejected the idea of the immortal soul.
The laws of nature are based on repeated observation, but cannot be completely understood. Starting from this premise, Hume said that one cannot use a descriptive statement (that which is) to state a normative statement (that which ought to be). This line of reasoning has led to the justification of many atrocities throughout history.
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
Knox tells Sophie about George Berkeley, an Irish bishop and philosopher who lived from 1685 to 1753. Though Berkeley felt that the current philosophy was a threat to Christianity and faith, he was one of the most consistent of the British empiricists. He did not believe that the material world is the only reality. He believed that matter cannot truly be perceived; instead, we can only perceive the sensations caused by matter. The actual cause of reality (including ourselves) was ideas in the mind of God. Berkeley also questioned whether time and space had any absolute or independent existence outside the mind of God.
With the discussion of Berkeley, Sophie begins to get some idea of the scope of her existence, especially in light of the strange things that have been happening lately. She and Knox come to the conclusion that Albert Knag, Hilde’s father, is in fact their "god," in the sense Berkeley envisioned. They are products of Knag’s mind. Knag has been writing about them, slipping in messages to Hilde in preparation for her birthday. To Knag, Hilde is his "angel," the one Knag’s mind turns to. The existence of Sophie’s world is a product of Knag’s writing based on ideas in his mind.
As Sophie realizes this, the strange things continue. She thinks that she once again hears Hermes speak. A storm arises. As Sophie runs home, her mother catches her in terror.
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
The point of view shifts to Hilde on her fifteenth birthday at her home called “Bjerkely.” Hilde has awakened on her birthday. She finds on her bed a birthday present from her father. On opening it, she discovers a binder filled with typewritten pages. It is a book written especially for her by her father. It is called Sophie’s World. Hilde begins to read of Sophie’s adventures.
The history of philosophy is briefly reviewed as Hilde reads the book. She reads again the postcards her father had sent her in preparation for the book. She recognizes items from her own life that her father has inserted: a lost scarf, her lost money, the mirror in which Hilde has at times tried to catch her self blinking, and so on.
Hilde is enthralled by the book and reads all morning. She can barely look up when her mother comes in with breakfast and her own birthday present. Mrs. Knag is curious about the book as well, since her husband has not told her what he was preparing for Hilde for her birthday.
Hilde begins to react to the story as if it were real. Her emotions become tied to the events recounted in the story, even resenting that Sophie has read all her father’s postcards. When Hilde reads about Sophie’s dream of Bjerkely and the finding of the crucifix, Hilde checks to see if the crucifix is still in her jewelry case. It is gone. Hilde then comes to the conclusion that Sophie is not just a character invented in her father’s mind. Sophie is real.
(The entire section is 270 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Hilde discovers that her mother had found her crucifix down by the dock a few weeks before and mentioned it to Hilde’s father. However, when she goes to return it to Hilde, she discovers that it is missing.
Hilde continues reading her father’s book, in which Knox now informs Sophie of the Enlightenment. Centered in France, the Enlightenment focused on seven ideas. The first was its opposition to authority. The Enlightenment ideals led to many revolutions, such as the French Revolution of 1789. The acceptance of rationalism was another key point. Man’s reason was paramount, and all must be judged by reason. The Enlightenment movement itself began to spread, first in England, then to France, and lastly to Germany. The philosophers in these countries wrote and spread knowledge throughout the world. Cultural optimism was the fourth point. Mankind is progressing, and with ever-increasing knowledge, brought about by education, society will only improve.
There was also a return to nature. With the formulation of Deism, in which God created the world and then did not interact with it, natural religions began to spread. God was in nature rather than separate from it. Despite the focus on nature, most Enlightenment philosophers believed in God and in the immortality of the soul.
Lastly, human rights led to an age of reform. The rights of women continued to be a major battleground, though these were not achieved in any appreciable form until the twentieth century.
(The entire section is 243 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Hilde’s father calls her on the night of her birthday. She is enthusiastic about her present, but she objects when he says that Sophie and Alberto do not really exist. Before retiring, Hilde reads about Immanuel Kant.
Kant believed that time and space are two forms of intuition, which precede all experience. Before we experience anything, we can know that we will perceive it as a phenomenon within time and space. Yet he believed that our reality did not exist separately from us. We can never know of the material world before we perceive it, which must be based on the internal conditions of each of us.
Kant also taught that, contrary to animals, we focus on causes rather than effects. He also believed that there are always two contrasting viewpoints that are equally likely and unlikely, depending on what our reason tells us. Yet reason has its limitations, just as does experience. In that gap lies faith. Though Kant agreed that one cannot either prove or disprove the existence of God based on reason or perception, one cannot ignore the possibility of God based on faith.
Kant taught that moral law exists outside of ourselves, however. Within that moral law lies freedom. When we freely make a moral choice, this is in direct contrast to the slavery of our needs and appetites. Kant’s ethics can be summed up thus: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a Universal Law of Nature.”
(The entire section is 251 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
Hilde continues to read about Sophie, who is now planning her birthday party. When she meets again with Knox, they discuss the Romantic period of the late eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. This was the last time that Europe took a common philosophical approach.
Beginning in Germany, Romanticism was a reaction against the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason. The Romantics focused on feelings, experience, and imagination. They personified nature, holding it to be an evolving organism all its own.
Romanticism affected many areas of life. In the arts, the music was keenly in tune with emotions, from passion to yearning. In literature as well Romanticism focused on being one with nature and the dark side of life. The yearning for something distant and unattainable joined with mysticism (through a fascination with the Orient) was a prime vehicle. History also was viewed as a developing organism, as opposed to the Enlightenment’s view of a static history. Each nation had its own “soul,” which led to many revolutions and independence movements throughout Europe, as well as the collecting of folktales and songs that embodied the national spirit.
Major Knag continues to intrude in Sophie’s world. Sophie and Knox are now fully aware that they are but characters in a book, but speculate that the major himself might be a character in the mind of another hidden author. Sophie and Knox try to communicate with Hilde, urging her to rebel against her father.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Hilde reads about Hegel, who lived from 1770 to 1831. Hegel believed that there is no universal truth. Instead, truth is subjective, dependent on the person and the time in history in which he is born. Each period in history had its own “truth,” with man’s search for truth progressing every higher to an eventual complete self-knowledge. The "world spirit" is gradually coming to a consciousness of itself and its own intrinsic values. Thus, history is purposeful.
In philosophy, an idea (thesis) is put forward, stating an extreme. In reaction to this, another thesis is put forth that is completely opposite to the thesis. This opposite is called the “antithesis.” The third and final stage of knowledge results when a new thesis is formed from the true tenets of both the thesis and the antithesis, thus forming a “synthesis.” In the process, negative thinking uncovers the flaws of all ideas, thus preserving the best that is in each. Whatever survives is right, or else whatever is right survives. Individuals born into that time in history are thus a product of history. The individual is not important outside of his place in the historical setting. It is not the individual who finds his spirit, but rather the world spirit that finds itself. The subjective spirit first finds itself in the individual. The objective spirit next arises within the family or civil society. The highest state is absolute spirit, found in art, religion, and philosophy.
(The entire section is 242 words.)
Chapter 28 Summary
Hilde begins to formulate a plan to join Sophie and Knox against her father.
Sophie and Knox discuss the first existential philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard reacted strongly to Hegel’s views. Sophie and Knox are interrupted by Alice in Wonderland, who gives Sophie two bottles. One bottle allows her to experience the extremes of Hegel’s connection to everything, in which Sophie is all there is. The other represents Kierkegaard’s individualism, causing Sophie to see the wonders in the smallest objects.
In defining his philosophy, Kierkegaard stressed that each person’s existence was the starting point. All truths were subjective in that they were personal to this existence (as opposed to being impersonal truths which could be rejected). Those truths which were defined by logic or reason were not important.
Kierkegaard’s understanding of faith was the acceptance of these subjective truths. Reason alone could not grasp subjective truth. This search for truth led one through three stages. The first stage, the aesthetic stage, is a time in which the individual lives for the moment and seeks only enjoyment and pleasure. As the individual is ready to leap onto the next stage, he experiences dread (angst). This encourages him to develop into the next stage, the ethical stage, a time of making serious ethical choices. From there he takes a “leap of faith” to the religious stage, which Kierkegaard felt was the only path to redemption.
(The entire section is 237 words.)
Chapter 29 Summary
Hilde calls her family friend Anne in Copenhagen and arranges the surprise revenge on her father as he passes through there on his way home.
Sophie and Joanna continue to plan for Sophie’s birthday party. Later, Knox calls her and invites her over for some more conversation. On her way there, Sophie encounters Scrooge (representing the capitalist) and the Little Match Girl (representing the proletariat of the Communist philosophy).
Knox explains to Sophie the teachings of Karl Marx. Marx expanded Hegel’s philosophy into historical materialism. He believed that material, economic, and social relations are the basis of society. The way a society thinks is its superstructure.
The most basic level of society is its conditions of production (natural resources and conditions available to a society). Next is the means of production (the technology and tools a society owns). The final level is the owners of the production (the capitalists). In a capitalist society, the owners control the production and the expense of the workers (the proletariat). In Marxism, the proletariat takes over the means of production, eventually giving ownership to all people.
Socialist democracy was very influential in Europe, where the revolution was slow and thus improved the working conditions of all. In Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, Marxism took a more violent turn, with armed revolution.
(The entire section is 219 words.)
Chapter 30 Summary
Hilde reads the next chapter, in which Knox explains to Sophie the ramifications of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Darwin was born in England in 1809. After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in theology, he sailed on a five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle. This trip went around the world, with Darwin collecting wildlife specimens. Examining the variations in each species, Darwin developed his theory of evolution of all species from a single source, though he did not publish his work, The Origin of Species, until many years later. Darwin proposed that over time, small variations in a species provided traits that enabled it to survive better in its environment. Some variations were harmful, thus eliminating that branch. However, those traits that were helpful were passed on to their progeny, leading to evolution.
Darwin was troubled at not being able to discover the process that ran evolution. Eventually he realized that natural selection was the vehicle. The species with the best adaptations survived.
Controversy arose from Darwin’s work, threatening the stability of the Church. Evolution as envisioned by Darwin separated creation from God, as well as reimagining the age of the earth. By the time Darwin published The Descent of Man, in which he applied evolution to human beings, the public was somewhat more accepting of his theories. Eventually it became widely accepted, as genetic mutations became evident as a prime contributing factor to the favorable traits.
(The entire section is 238 words.)
Chapter 31 Summary
In response to the chapter on Darwin, Hilde is upset and feels meaningless and unimportant in the vast universe.
After an encounter with the Emperor with No Clothes, Knox tells Sophie about the findings of Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that man is not driven by reason alone, but by his needs. A baby is born as totally pleasure driven (what he called “id”). As he grows older, he learns to repress those needs in conformity to society’s demands (the superego). Sexual desires especially are repressed. Once driven into the unconscious, these repressed needs affect his daily behavior, causing problems and neuroses. Through psychoanalysis, these repressed feelings are confronted and dealt with, allowing him to move on.
Repressed needs come to the surface in two main ways. First, through parapraxes, or slips of the tongue. While one is consciously not thinking of something, it may come out in conversation in a totally random manner. These parapraxes reveal the repressed wishes.
Repression is most commonly revealed through dreams. In his work The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud explained the process of analyzing dreams to reveal innermost thoughts and neuroses.
Defense mechanisms are used by people to retain the repressed memories. Rather than face them, they use things like rationalization to explain them away. This leads to psychological difficulties until they are dealt with openly.
Knox asks Sophie to try to distract Knag on her way home, as Knox has plans to formulate.
(The entire section is 240 words.)
Chapter 32 Summary
Hilde awakens recalling a dream, similar to Sophie’s experience of sitting on Hilde’s dock and finding the crucifix.
On her way home, Sophie tries to distract the major by climbing a tree. She is met by a goose who magically whisks her around the countryside, returning her to the base of the tree
Knox calls, wanting to meet Sophie in town at a café. This setting is used to relate various philosophical movements in the twentieth century. Existentialism was the foundational movement of much philosophical thought and art. The German philosopher Nietzsche declared that “God is dead,” meaning that he considered religion and prior philosophy to be denials of man’s responsibility for his actions. Jean Paul Sartre taught that man’s existence is the starting point of everything, making existentialism “humanism” in its purest form. He acknowledged that mankind is the only living creature that is conscious of its own existence. Yet he also feels alienated by his world, in that it does not completely make sense and yet is responsible for everything that he is and does.
Existentialism affected the arts in many ways. The theatre of the absurd reflected the meaninglessness and absurdity of life. It took everyday events and showed that life had no order or reason. This was intended to shock the audience into creating their own meaning.
This has brought the end of the course of philosophy but not of philosophy itself. Many movements are reinterpretations of past thought, applied to a modern-day culture. Many pseudo-philosophies are also prevalent, influencing in small ways the modern world.
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Chapter 33 Summary
Sophie shows her mother a book that Knox had bought for her in town; the book is called Sophie’s World. On the way home, they pass a group of protesters with signs warning of the major’s return.
Sophie and her mother prepare for the party. The guests begin to arrive, some friends of Sophie’s from school, as well as Joanna’s parents. Knox has not yet arrived. Sophie wants to wait, but her mother insists on beginning. Just as she sits people at the table, Knox arrives. Sophie’s mother introduces him to the other guests.
Odd things begin to occur. Joanna kisses one of the boys, and they eventually go off to the bushes to make love. Her parents are surprised but accepting.
Knox rises to make a speech. He explains to the guests that they are all fictional characters invented by the major for the amusement of his daughter. All that they see is nonexistent. Joanna’s father, a financial adviser, is not pleased at having his Mercedes called worthless.
Knox announces that he and Sophie are leaving. Since they do not exist, no one will actually miss anyone. Mrs. Amundsen understands why Sophie must leave, knowing that she has no life left with her. Sophie feeds her pets one last time, sheds a few tears, and says good-bye to her mother. Random chaos ensues at the party, and in the midst of the chaos, Knox and Sophie disappear.
(The entire section is 244 words.)
Chapter 34 Summary
Hilde tries to find out what happened to Sophie and Knox after they left the party. She continues to read.
Sophie and Knox make their way to Oslo, only to discover that they cannot converse with the real world. They eventually escape, find a car, and take off for Hilde’s home.
Major Knag arrives at the Katsrup Airport in Copenhagen. There he finds a series of letters placed around the airport. The letters are from Hilde, giving him instructions on things to buy. Knag is mildly angry, though he realizes the Hilde is just giving him a taste of his own medicine. She is manipulating him just as he manipulated Sophie and Knox in Sophie’s world.
Sophie and Knox continue driving furiously, unconcerned about accidents. Knox points out that they are not real, so they cannot encounter any real cars. They are safe from harm and will always be the age they are now. They stop for a bite to eat, only to discover that this too is denied them, as they are spirits. However, they encounter a woman who is also an escaped fictional character. She leads them to a gathering of people like themselves. Soon they continue on their journey.
Major Knag eventually reaches his home. At the same time, Sophie and Knox arrive there as well. Sophie tries to communicate to Hilde, but is unable to make herself heard. Yet Hilde thinks that she hears something, but she is not sure what it is.
After their reunion, Knag and Hilde, along with her mother, celebrate the major’s return.
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Chapter 35 Summary
After the celebration, Knag and Hilde sit on the glider and discuss the universe. The major tells Hilde about the immense size of the universe. Because of the distance, the light from distant starts takes many years to reach Earth. Therefore, when one looks at a star, one is seeing it, not as it is at that very instant, but as it was when the light rays left it, which may have been millions or even billions of years ago. In the same way, any intelligent being looking at Earth would not see it as it is now, but as it was in the past.
The major also tells Hilde about the Big Bang, in which all matter in the universe was gathered at one point and then exploded. The stars and planets and other matter in the universe are now moving outward. The major speculates on whether it will keep on expanding or will eventually move together again.
Sophie and Knox observe the major and Hilde talking. Knox points out the irony that, as the major and Hilde had viewed them without Sophie and Knox knowing it, now Sophie and Knox are doing the same. Sophie tries to get Hilde’s attention by hitting her on the head with a wrench. Hilde feels it as a small sting. Sophie and Knox try to go out rowing in the boat, but cannot seem to untie it from the dock. As Hilde is talking to her father, she notices that at last the boat has come loose and is drifting out into the lake. She and her father decide that they will both swim out and get it.
(The entire section is 277 words.)