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Sophie's World

Jostein Gaarder

The Renaissance and The Baroque

Two Cultures and The Middle Ages

Descartes, Spinoza, and Locke


The Renaissance

Sophie gets back to Joanna's house and then heads home. Just before taking a nap, she looks into the mirror from the major's cabin and sees Hilde's image behind her own. She dreams that she sees Hilde meet her father and that Hilde's father looks a lot like Alberto. In the dream she finds a gold crucifix and when she wakes up it is under her pillow. The next morning Hermes comes and guides Sophie to Alberto. Just before going inside she finds a postcard addressed to Hilde from her father, postmarked on June 15. He tells his daughter that Sophie is going to the philosopher's house and tells her he is sorry she lost her gold crucifix. She goes into Alberto's house and finds that the postcard angers him, but he tells her the crucifix was just a "cheap trick." Alberto says that Hilde's father has tremendous power.

Then he tells her about the Renaissance. It was a time characterized by a belief in humanity, with a focus on the individual. All cultural life flourished, and Rome was rebuilt. People felt that God was present throughout nature, a belief called pantheism. The idea of an empirical method was born in the Renaissance, and it resulted in an emphasis on investigation and experimentation. The practical value of scientific knowledge became important, and led to scientific innovation that has continued to the present day. The innovations have been both good and bad, but there is no way to return to the days before such inventions. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo all paved the way for Newton's full description of the physical universe. The heavenly spheres were no longer heavenly and the same law of gravity applied throughout the universe. Earth could no longer be viewed as holding a particularly special place in the universe. People's relationship to God became more personal, and the Protestant Reformation demonstrated that the normal view of the Church was no longer acceptable for all. At the end of his talk Alberto twice calls Sophie Hilde, and he tells her that Hilde's father is putting words into their mouths. She asks if she is Hilde but he avoids her question. Sophie realizes she has no money but then finds ten crowns, exactly the amount she needs to get on the bus. She wonders how it got there, and why.

The Baroque

On Tuesday, May 29th, a major in the Norwegian UN Battalion is killed in Lebanon and Sophie thinks it may have been Hilde's father. Her mother tries to find out what is wrong, and they get into an argument that resolves nothing. Then they talk some and they decide to have a birthday party for Sophie on Midsummer's Eve. Sophie finally explains to her mother about Alberto and the philosophy course, although she does not mention Hilde. Sophie's mother convinces her to invite Alberto to the party. In school on Thursday Sophie gets handed back an exam that she did very well on, and a postcard falls out of her booklet. Hilde's father tells his daughter that when she reads the card they will have already spoken about the tragic death in Lebanon. He also tells her he is glad that she has lost nothing lately except for ten crowns and that he will try to help her find even that. That afternoon, Hermes comes and takes Sophie back to Alberto's house. At the spot where she found the ten crowns, Sophie finds another postcard. Hilde's father tells his daughter the money she lost likely turned up at that spot and suggests that it may have been found by a girl who needed it. Alberto gets angry over the card and then describes the Baroque, a period of many wars and a concern with the fleeting nature of life. People believed life was like a theater. Philosophy was characterized by conflict between idealism, the belief that existence is spiritual, and materialism, the belief that only material phenomena really exist.


It has become clear that Hilde's father is amazingly powerful, in a way that seems impossible to us. Everything that he has done suggests that he is some sort of a deity. However, the explanation that he is a god does not seem plausible. If that were true, then it seems unlikely that he would bother to torment Sophie and Alberto in such devious ways. Furthermore, Hilde's role is even more difficult to understand. It appears that she and Sophie are in some way connected, just as Alberto and Hilde's father are connected, but the connection remains beyond our reach. Gaarder manages to make Hilde's father's interventions in Sophie's life seem increasingly more improbable while the necessity of some incredible connection becomes more and more certain. The problem is that we cannot possibly reason out the events that have taken place. Yet, since everything is surrounded by philosophy, there is a certainty that there must be some sort of philosophical explanation. The novel stays focused on the key philosophical questions that were introduced at the beginning of the novel—who are you? and where does the world come from?

Sophie and Alberto have covered around two millennia of philosophical thought, but they have never come upon a satisfactory answer to the major questions. Thus Alberto and Sophie study each new philosopher with similar questions and mind, and the reader in turn is forced to look at each one without taking anything for granted. Philosophy then is not necessarily viewed as progressive, as science often is, but rather as a continual attempt to offer answers to questions that have always troubled humanity. In fact, Gaarder has found a way to place a clear distinction between philosophy and science. We generally trace the roots of Western science back to ancient Greek thought and tend to view things as adding up cumulatively from then. Not much advance occurred during the Middle Ages and then with the Renaissance and the empirical method science really took off. But Gaarder seems to suggest that philosophy, although in the west it starts from the same roots, asks questions that science cannot answer. Some philosophical questions have been answered by science, but it is possible that there are some that science will not be able to touch, and these are the questions that the book is most concerned with. Although philosophy has progressed, in the sense that each new philosopher has taken into account the arguments of the preceding ones, the same questions persist throughout the history of philosophy. Philosophy is a continual task for humanity. It is the asking of questions that may not be answerable in an attempt to better understand our existence. And the literal importance that it has for Sophie and Alberto can be taken as a metaphor for just how critical it is for everyone.

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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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