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Sophie's World

by: Jostein Gaarder

Kierkegaard and Marx



Hilde goes downstairs to eat lunch with her mom. She has decided to play a trick on her father and finds out when he lands in Copenhagen. Hilde is careful not to make her mother suspicious and then explains that she must get back to reading. Alberto is ready to tell Sophie about the next philosopher when ##Alice in Wonderland# knocks on the door and gives Sophie two potions to drink. She drinks from them, and the first makes her feel as if everything were one. Alberto explains that it is Idealism, or the ##Romantics# world spirit. The other bottle makes each object appear to be a world unto itself. It is therefore individualism, according to Alberto, and both views are right.

Kierkegaard felt that ##Hegel# and the Romantics had moved away from a person's responsibility for their own life. He was angered by people's ambivalence about religion. Kierkegaard felt Christianity could either be believed in or not, and that the two options are exclusive. He founded existentialism, the philosophy that is concerned with the existence of each individual. He felt objective truths were useless and that each person could only attempt to discern what is true for himself. Reason is not that important, since we worry about things that it cannot decide. Kierkegaard was a nonconformist and argued against the conformity in society. He believed life consists of an aesthetic stage, an ethical stage, and a religious stage, and we must decide to move between them. Existentialism flourished after ##Kierkegaard#


Hilde calls some friends of their family to enlist help in her plan. Then, after going out with her mother, she reads on. Sophie returns home and tells her mother she met the philosopher again. Her mother tells her there is a letter for her from the UN Battalion, and Sophie manages to stop her mom from worrying. The letter contains two lines of poetry that Sophie does not understand. On Thursday, June 21 Alberto calls and tells Sophie he has almost figured out a way to get them out. She asks about it but he points out that it must happen behind the scenes because Albert Knag is aware of every printed word. On her way to meet Alberto, Sophie encounters Ebenezer Scrooge and the little match girl from a Hans Christian Anderson tale.

Marx, Alberto tells Sophie, was a historical materialist. He wanted philosophy to be practical. Marx believed that economic forces caused change in society. He defined society in terms of material bases and a superstructure of culture. The bases support the superstructure, but there is an interaction between the two, and so Marx is considered a dialectical materialist. He pointed out that the natural resources of a society determine what the society will produce and what type of society it will be. Those who have control of the means of production determine societal norms, and this is usually the ruling class. Marx felt there was always conflict between two classes in society and in his day it was between capitalists and workers. Change, he felt, was only possible through a revolution, and it was necessary because the workers were not laboring for themselves—they were exploited by the capitalists. Soon Alberto calls for a new chapter.


Gaarder uses the two bottles that Alice in Wonderland gives to Sophie to show us that there is no simple way to see the world. One of them causes Sophie to look at the world holistically, is if everything were interrelated. The other bottle causes her to see each individual entity as a world of its own. Alberto tells Sophie that both views are correct. We could very easily view the world from a single perspective, but this would result in missing much of what can be seen from a different way of looking at things. Kierkegaard rejected the world spirit of the Romantics and Hegel and wanted the focus to return to the individual. It is important to continue to view things from the point of view of the person. However, there is something to the holistic way that the Romantics viewed the world. We do live in communities as Hegel believed, and so perhaps seeing things from a perspective bigger than ones own can also be helpful. The point is not to try to find the best way to look at the world but rather that it is important to continually look at it in a new way. Alberto has told Sophie this same thing in many different ways throughout the book, and the potions make it clear that there is something to be gained from each of those two different vantage points.

In fact, based on Alberto's lectures one could say that the goal of philosophy is to find a new way of looking at a certain situation in order to provide a new insight. There are likely an infinite number of ways that we could look at things, and it is critical that we keep in mind the fact that any one viewpoint is necessarily limited. Because of this fact, it is also inevitable that there will be just criticisms of any philosopher. Every philosopher will seem correct as far as some of his conclusions go, but his viewpoint can always be brought into question. Therefore, asking questions is most important, because when we ask ourselves a question that can have no single answer perhaps it forces us to consider things from a different perspective. And when we look at things in a new way we are keeping our minds open. No one person can see things from all perspectives, and a philosopher has to take a stance at some point, but it is important to keep in mind the perspectives that have come before you. Kant, for example, combined the rationalist and the empiricist viewpoints into a single system. So he was able to take a look at two different views and come up with his own based upon them. Marx, however, felt that Kant's sort of philosophy came from the wrong perspective because it did not provide any practical advice. He represents yet another way of viewing things. Gaarder wants us to be aware of as much as possible but above all to keep an open mind so that we are always receptive to a fresh perspective.