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Sophie's World

Jostein Gaarder

Darwin and Freud

Kierkegaard and Marx

Our Own Time and The Garden Party

Summary

Darwin

Hilde wakes up Sunday morning and begins reading. After a brief interruption from Noah, who gives Sophie a picture of the animals he saved, Alberto continues talking about the naturalistic trend that included ##Darwin# ##Freud# and ##Marx# Darwin became well known as a natural scientist while in college, but it was his time aboard the HMS Beagle that was to change science forever. Darwin's major ideas were that all plants and animals had evolved from earlier forms and that this process occurs through natural selection. He used several arguments in favor of biological evolution, and it was a controversial topic, since it contradicted the Creation story in the Bible. Darwin considered the artificial selection that humans impose on domestic animals and came up with the idea that nature does the same thing. Animals that are best suited to their habitat will survive. However, this does not mean that those who survive are better, since they are better suited only to a particular environment. Any change in that environment might result in different features favored by nature and other animals surviving. Man now had to be viewed as descending from animals, something that involved a large change in people's worldview. Alberto describes life as a lottery and says that we can only see the winning combinations. All of the species alive are those that survived, and we do not see the extinct ones. Alberto also points out that no one really knows how life started. Darwin guessed that maybe some primordial soup of elements somehow spontaneously transformed into the first living cell. Scientists of today have more information but still think along similar lines. We have become aware of the process that created us. Alberto states that evolution has led to more and more complicated forms of life and suggests that this may not be accidental. We are all a part of the system of evolution.

Freud

Hilde loves the book, but she is unable to believe that Sophie and Alberto are nothing more than inventions in her father's mind. But she thinks her plan will give him a taste of his own medicine. Then she starts reading again. Alberto tells Sophie about Freud. Freud pointed out that we have unconscious drives that can affect our actions without us knowing about them. His psychoanalysis involved studying the human mind in order to help people deal with neuroses or other sorts of problems. Freud found that people had often repressed certain events in their life—buried them deep in their unconscious—and that these events were the cause of their malaise. Freud felt that our minds are made up of three parts. The id is our desire for pleasure. The ego takes reality into account and regulates the id. And the superego is the societal morality that regulates everything we do. Freud believed that the superego constantly comes into conflict with our desires and this conflict is a source of unease. Freudian slips of the tongue demonstrate that our unconscious can interfere in our actions—we often say things that we did not intend to say but that might be what we really mean. He suggested that dreams are a way of fulfilling our wishes. After Freud the unconscious became very important for art and literature. Alberto suggests that they can use the fact that Albert Knag does not know his own unconscious to escape, and he tells Sophie to distract the author while he works on their plan.

Analysis

Gaarder's decision to have Alberto lecture Sophie about Darwin and Freud—two figures who are undoubtedly tremendously important but who are not always considered philosophers—shows that Gaarder believes that we must all be philosophers. Sophie's World tells us that philosophy is the single most central discipline to life. It does not really matter whether someone is a philosopher or a cook by profession, as long as they thought about philosophical questions and had something to say about them. In fact, the person's ideas are really all that matters. Whether or not Darwin considered himself a philosopher does not matter, except to give us an idea of what he meant by the term. Because for Gaarder, anyone who thinks about some of the huge questions that have been asked in the book is a philosopher, and anyone who offers a vantage point for looking at those questions that has had a major impact is someone whom Sophie should study.

Gaarder orders the philosophers carefully. The chapter before Darwin is on Marx, who believesd that material forces drove history. Darwin's theory suggests that it is the ability to survive that is critical to a species' survival. The Romantics preceded Darwin. Their notion of a world spirit complements Hegel's idea of the dialectic. Then Kierkegaard wanted to return to an individualistic way of viewing things. Darwin's ideas can be viewed as a bridge between these ways of thinking. First of all, he returned man to nature, since we evolved from animals and are subject to the same natural selection that governs the rest of nature. The Romantics would have been pleased by this discovery. At the same time, however, Darwin points out that we do not know how life began and so each one of us is a part of the mystery of life. Thus the individual's role in life is not diminished, something that seems suitable to Kierkegaard. And we have become aware of the process of evolution itself, an idea that would have fit with Hegel's idea of the world spirit becoming conscious of itself. Furthermore, all of his ideas have as their framework the idea that the struggle for survival is the way that nature operates—Marx uses a similar train of thought to understand human life.

Darwin can be viewed as fitting in with the ideas of his time, precisely because he brought them all together in a way that was drastically new and challenging. Every thinker grows up in a certain context, and that context plays a major role in the development of ideas. By laying out the ideas of each thinker so clearly and presenting them in a manner that makes plain the connections between each one, Gaarder allows us to see how large the role of context is for a philosopher. Without disregarding the ingenuity of each individual thinker, it is striking to see how much we are all a product of our time. The ideas that pervade our time period, even though we probably cannot properly identify them while we are in that period, may to a large extent set up the problems that we are going to try to solve and delimit the solutions that we will find to them.

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a question we all ask

by pala909, August 08, 2012

For my whole life, I have questioned where God came from. I've always believed in a God and that He created us, but I could never wrap myself around the idea of where He Himself came from. One day, I asked my friend and his answer was quite helpful and it might also help you guys, he said, I think God was always there as the essence of "there". God doesn't exist like you and I exist. Based on the way we understand existence, God doesn't exist. That's why that question is so hard for us. When Moses asked God's name he said "I Am"
And t... Read more

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