Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (No email: June 18-July 8; Aug. 1-15)
Sophie’s World is a novel about the history of philosophy. I won’t go into detail here to explain philosophy because you will know what it is after reading a few chapters of the book. But here is one way to understand why philosophy is important: The greatest philosopher, Socrates, once said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophy is how we examine our lives to find out who we really are and how we can take charge of our world.
I have chosen Sophie’s World because it is fun to read and it provides a foundation for the AP English Literature and Composition class. It has a twist in the story line about half-way through that will leave you shocked and amazed (If you read fast, please don’t spoil it for others!) But more importantly, if you read this book, it will change your life (and raise your test scores too). If you do not read it, it will harm your grade for the first quarter of AP English Literature and you will have trouble following the rest of the course.
Not only will this book cause you to ponder the most significant questions about human life, but it will also provide you with an intriguing story about a fifteen-year-old Norwegian girl who receives instruction in philosophy from a mysterious, anonymous “philosopher.” Sophie’s World is available in the Chicago Public Library system, or it can be purchased from your favorite bookseller.
There are several assignments that go along with reading this book. These assignments are mainly to make sure that you get the most out of this book and to let me see what you are capable of. I will be looking at these to understand your interests and skills at the start of this class. Specifically, these assignments relate to your ability to:
read and finish a book in which serious ideas are discussed.
use note-taking to help your understanding
use writing assignments in order to express and develop your thinking
apply what you read and learn in school to your everyday life
Take notes on every group of chapters by answering the study guide questions.
Answer the 3 “research topic” questions (one page each).
Write the final assignment about how reading this book has changed your life.
Prepare for the open-book test in September.
Note-taking Please read the handout entitled Sophie’s World “Three Baskets” Reading Instructions
While reading Sophie’s World, you need to take notes about the plot and the philosophy that you learn since you will be given an open-note test on the book in September. To prepare for this test and to get the most out of the book, answer the study guide questions below (in a notebook or on separate paper).
Keeping good notes will help you to understand and remember the issues in the book… and you will need to present sections of your notes for a conference grade at the beginning of the year. You will also have an open-notestest on the book. The test questions will be based on the study questions. It will test your knowledge of the important questions asked by each philosopher and the answers they came up with, as well as how exactly they agreed or disagreed with each other.
How long should your notes be? A sentence or two is usually enough. There are 3 one-page essays on “Research Topics” included in the study questions, but the other questions do not need long answers. You should focus on understanding the important questions asked by each philosopher and the answers they came up with, as well as how exactly they agreed or disagreed with each other.
Three one-page “research topic” essays
(300 words double spaced): Which of the philosophers discussed in chapters 3-6 of Sophie’s World do you agree with the most?
(300 words, double-spaced or write this in the form of a 2-3 page play in which one character explains Plato’s theory to another): How does Plato’s theory of forms (or ideas) help to explain things you experience every day?
(300 words, double-spaced or write this in the form of a 2-3 page play in which one character uses some specific example to explain Aristotle’s four causes to another character): Apply Aristotle’s four causes to an object in your life.
Final Writing Assignment: When you are done with the book, write a 2-3 page (600-900 words) paper about how reading this book has changed the way you think or the way you see the world. With every writing assignment in this class—unless I specifically say otherwise—you should give specific examples and “quotations from the book” (with page numbers in parentheses).
Study Questions Chapter 1 and 2
What were the questions in the first two envelopes Sophie found?
"Could anything have always existed?" What is the objection against this possibility?
What were the three problems with which Sophie was presented in the first chapter?
"Man cannot live by bread alone." It is suggested that we all need something else other than material sustenance and care. What?
What is said to be the best way of approaching philosophy?
What can reading what other people have believed help us to do?
A Greek philosopher who lived more that 2,000 years ago (Plato) believed that philosophy had its origin in what?
What is the only thing we require to be good philosophers?
Why do Thomas and his mother react so differently to his father's odd behavior?
What does myth attempt to give people? Is this all it is or does?
By whom and when was much of Greek mythology written down?
Who was an early exponent of the view that myths were nothing but human notions and who suggested that men have created the gods in their own image?
In what environment did people begin to ask philosophical questions without recourse to ancient myths?
What was the aim of the early Greek philosophers?
What are the three new questions that Sophie is presented?
Why were the earliest Greek philosophers called "natural philosophers?"
What common belief did these philosophers share?
What is the most interesting part about the thought of these early philosophers?
Who is the first philosopher we know of and what did he think was the source of all things?
What did Anaximander (C. 6th BCE) think about our world?
Who thought that the source of all things must be air or vapor?
What did this last theory have in common with Thales (C. 6th BCE)?
What do we call "the problem of change?"
What did Parmenides (c. 540-480 BCE) think about existence?
What is a rationalist?
What did Heraclitus (c. 540-480 BCE) think was the most basic characteristic of nature? Without what would the world cease to exist?
What term did Heraclitus often use instead of "God?"
Who believed that nature consisted of earth, water, fire, and air? (see SW: Four Elements)
What observations led the Greeks to believe that fire was also essential elements in the physical world?
What two things did Empedocles (490-430 BCE) believe to be at work in nature?
Who held that nature is made up of an infinite number of minute, invisible particles? What else did he believe to be at work "creating animals and humans, flowers and trees?"
Why did Sophie find philosophy doubly exciting?
Chapter 5 and 6:
What is the next, single question Sophie is asked?
Who is called "the last of the great natural philosophers?" What did he call the tiny, invisible, and eternal building blocks that he believed to build up everything? In what did he agree with Parmenides?
What is a materialist?
What marked the end of Greek natural philosophy?
What new question did Democritus raise?
What are the next three questions Sophie is posed?
In what did Democritus not believe?
What does it imply if God or fate are thought to govern the course of history?
What is fatalism?
What does the belief in oracles imply?
What was believed about the oracle at Delphi?
What did the inscription over the oracle at Delphi remind people?
Research Topic (300 words double spaced): Which of the philosophers discussed in chapters 3-6 of Sophie’s World do you agree with the most?
Who were Herodotus (484-424) and Thucydides (460-400 BCE)?
Who was said to be the founder of Greek medicine?
What were the next four short sentences Sophie was given to think about?
Who were the three great classical philosophers?
What were the natural philosophers also called?
Who was the first of the great philosophers to be born in Athens? What group dominated the Athenian scene at the time?
What is required in order for democracy to work?
What one characteristic did the Sophists have in common with the natural philosophers?
What view is called skepticism?
Who said, "Man is the measure of all things?"
What claim created bitter wrangling in Athens? How did Socrates respond to this?
How is the life of Socrates known to us?
What has inspired thinkers in the Western world for nearly 2,500 years?
How did Socrates see his philosophic task?
Of what was Socrates accused?
What are the similarities between Socrates and Jesus?
What does "philo-sopher" actually mean?
What does the philosopher know in reality? What one statement of Socrates on this topic are you asked to remember?
Who are said to be the most subversive people?
What faces mankind and what two possibilities present themselves in response to this?
Why was Socrates a rationalist?
Chapter 8 and 9
What does the word Acropolis mean?
What is probably the oldest theatre in Europe and what was performed there?
How can it be claimed that "the whole of European civilization was founded in this modest area" (the agora in ancient Athens)?
What four tasks does Plato present to Sophie?
What must be true if a baker makes fifty absolutely identical cookies?
What happened when Plato was 29?
What was Plato's first deed as a philosopher?
What was the name of the school that Plato set up?
What did the Sophist claim about perceptions of right and wrong?
What did Plato believe about absolutely everything that belongs to the material world?
What is the difference between a particular horse and the "form" of the horse?
Plato believed that all things are fashioned after (what)?
Research Topic (one page typed, double-spaced or write this in the form of a short play in which one character explains Plato’s theory to another): Use Plato’s theory of forms (or ideas) to explain something you experience every day.
Plato's remarkable view is known as the theory of the forms. How is this theory different from our ordinary beliefs and feelings about physical reality?
What is Plato's point about knowledge as applied to the senses and to reason?
What did Plato believe about all natural phenomena?
What was the "cave dwellers" relation to the "shadow play?"
What was Plato's point about the cave and the natural world?
What characterizes every aspect of Plato's philosophy?
What did Plato believe concerning women?
Who was the first to discuss and criticize Plato's theories?
Chapters 10 and 11:
What are the next five questions posed of Sophie?
What two answers does Sophie propose to the question "why does it rain?" What is the difference between these two?
To what fact is the significance of Aristotle for European civilization in part due?
What discipline did Aristotle found as a science?
What was the "idea" or "form" of, for example, horse, to Aristotle?
What did Aristotle point out about all things that exist in consciousness?
Research Topic (one page typed, double spaced or write this in the form of a short play in which one character uses some specific example to explain Aristotle’s four causes to another character): Apply Aristotle’s four causes to an object in your life.
What are "innate ideas?" What did Aristotle hold regarding them?
What did Aristotle think about causes in nature"
On what was Aristotle's logic based?
What are Aristotle's criteria when he divides natural phenomena into various categories?
What is Aristotle's answer to the question, "What does it require to live a good life?"
What is the "Golden Mean?"
What did Aristotle claim about women?
Why was Aristotle's view of the sexes "doubly harmful?"
What is the case if you don't think?
Chapters 12 and 13:
What four tasks and questions is Sophie given next?
What does Sophie write about conscience? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
To what can common sense and conscience both be compared?
To what does the tern Hellenism refer?
To what do we often refer as Late Antiquity?
Why did Greek culture and philosophy come to play an important role long after the political influence of Greece was past?
What characterized Hellenism?
What characterized Late Antiquity?
Of what were Athens and Alexandria respective centers?
What was the main emphasis and central philosophical project of the new civilization?
What did Antisthenes found in Athens around 400 BCE? What did they emphasize?
Who was Diogenes?
Who was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy?
In what did the Stoics side with Socrates against the Sophists?
In what did the Stoics contrast with Plato's clear dualism?
What did the Stoics emphasize about all natural processes?
Who did the Epicureans follow? What did he emphasize?
What did the enjoyment of life require, according to the Epicureans?
How is the word epicurean used nowadays?
Who was the most important figure in Neoplatonism? What did he believe about the world?
What is a mystical experience?
What is Western mysticism? What is emphasized in it?
What is Eastern mysticism? What is emphasized in it?
Are people who adhere to particular religions the only ones who tell of mystical experiences?
Chapters 14 and 15:
To what do the Jews belong? To what do the Greeks and Romans belong?
What does the Hindu Indian Veda, Greek philosophy, and Scandinavian mythology (eg. Snorri Sturluson's mythology) have in common? To what do they all have leanings?
What is a fundamental belief in many Indo-European cultures?
What fundamental idea do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share? What other view is common to these Semitic belief systems?
What did the Indo-Europeans always do which the Semitic cultures characteristically never did?
Who received the title Messiah and why?
What happened between 586 and 539 BCE?
How did Jesus distinguish himself from other "messiahs?"
What does the word "Christ" actually mean?
How long did it take for the entire Hellenistic world to become Christian?
What is stated as one central tenet of the Christian creed?
From what year was Christianity the official religion throughout the entire Roman Empire?
Of what did the year 529 CE become a symbol? Why?
When were the first universities founded?
What happened to trade and economy in the Middle Ages?
What did Medieval philosophers take for granted?
On what did almost all medieval philosophy center?
In whose life can we observe the actual transition from Late Antiquity to Early Middle Ages? What largely influenced his philosophy?
With what did the "City of God" become identical?
Who kept the tradition of Aristotle alive during the Middle Ages?
Who was the greatest and most significant philosopher of the later Middle Ages?
What was the relationship of theology and philosophy at the time?
What was done for Aristotle which had been done for Plato by St. Augustine? By Whom?
What was discovered in 1827?
What is the female side of God called in Greek?
Who was Albert the Great?
What began to happen not very long after St. Thomas Aquinas?
What do we mean by the Renaissance? What three things are said to be its essential preconditions and why?
How did the Renaissance resemble Greek philosophy?
What fact "created a whole new approach to the physical world?"
What is said to be a precondition for all the technical development that took place after the Renaissance? What does this mean?
Who said, "Knowledge is power?"
Who wrote On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published in 1543?
Who first emphasized that the same physical laws apply everywhere throughout the universe? What else did he prove?
What was Galileo's greatest significance?
Who provided the final description of the solar system and the planetary orbits? What law did he formulate and what does this law state?
Why does the moon continue to orbit the earth? What did this prove that Kepler had earlier emphasized? With what did this "do away?"
What came to be thought since it was said that there was no absolute center to the universe?
What was a characteristic renaissance feature that Martin Luther shared?
Chapters 17 and 18:
What is generally referred to as the Baroque period?
What two Latin expressions were favorites of the Baroque period?
What is said to be a feature typical of Baroque texts and why is this reminiscent a distinction of Plato's?
What do we call the position that what exists is at bottom spiritual?
What do we call the position that all real things derive from concrete material substances?
How is the mechanistic world view described?
What do we call the position that everything that happens is predetermined?
What precise difference between the material and the spiritual did Leibniz point out?
Which philosophers are said to be the greatest of the 17th century and which question did they struggle with?
What conviction did Descartes share with Socrates?
Why is there said to be a direct line of descent from Socrates and Plato via St. Augustine to Descartes?
What can one say without exaggeration about Descartes?
What was Descartes main concern and what other great question preoccupied him?
What happened the more mechanistic the physical world was seen to be?
What was the original meaning of the words soul and spirit?
When was the radical division of soul and body introduced?
Of what was an explanation required regarding the soul and the body?
Descartes maintained that we cannot accept anything as true unless what?
Of what else apart from modern philosophy was Descartes considered the father?
What did Descartes think concerning the reliability of the senses?
Of what one thing was Descartes certain?
What does Cogito ergo sum mean?
Of what did Descartes conclude that he had a clear and distinct idea in his mind? Where must this idea have originated according to Descartes?
What is the relationship of existence to a perfect being, according to Descartes?
What did Descartes maintain about forms of reality?
Chapters 19, 20, and 21 (Rationalists):
What was Spinoza the first to apply? To what?
What did Spinoza say about God and nature?
What operation of Descartes did Spinoza reject?
What did Spinoza claim about "thought" and "extension?"
What did Spinoza mean by a "mode?"
What sort of view of the natural world did Spinoza have?
According to Spinoza, we can live as free beings only when we what?
What else might a rationalist believe apart from that reason is the primary source of knowledge?
What view do we call empiricism?
Who were the most important empiricists?
What two things did Locke try to clarify?
What did Locke believe about all knowledge that cannot be traced back to a simple sensation?
Between which two qualities did Locke distinguish? How are these qualities described?
What principle was Locke the first to advocate? What divisions does it include?
Who is said to stand out as the most important of the empiricists? He is also significant for what else?
He begins by establishing what regarding perceptions?
What did Hume think of thoughts and ideas that could not be traced back to sense perception?
What does Hume claim about our experience of the law of gravity?
On what does Hume concentrate when he discussed the force of habit?
What did Hume claim about the relationship of descriptive, "is" sentences and normative "ought" sentences?
Of what is acting responsible a matter, according to Hume?
Chapters 22 and 23:
What did Berkeley say about existence, perception, and matter?
What did Berkeley say about the cause of all our ideas? What is their one cause? What does this imply?
"He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth" (Goethe).
Consider what this means for class discussion.
Chapters 24 and 25:
Where was the "philosophical center of gravity" in Europe and at what times?
What are the key words concerning the Enlightenment? How is each one explained?
Alberto discusses one more term before the last of the key words of the Enlightenment. What is this? What does it mean?
What did Kant mean when he said that "there are certain conditions governing the mind's operation which influence the way we experience the world?"
What did Kant call our two "forms of intuition?" What are they first and foremost?
What did Kant call his claim that it is not only mind that conforms to things but things also conform to the mind?
What important distinction did Kant make?
What, according to Kant, are the two elements that contribute to human knowledge of the world?
What did Kant show regarding weighty questions as to the nature of reality?
What was Kant's response to the arguments for the existence of God proposed by Descartes and Aquinas?
What did Kant believe to be essential for morality?
"If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would be so stupid that we couldn't understand it." Discuss.
Just as we are all intelligent beings perceiving everything as having a causal relation, we all have access to the same what? What does Kant call this? How does he formulate it?
Kant's Categorical Imperative reminds Sophie of "the Golden Rule." What is this? Is it the same as Kant's universal law? Discuss.
"Only when we follow our 'practical reason'-which enables us to make moral choices-do we exercise our free will, because when we conform to moral law, it is we who make the law we are conforming to." Discuss.
When did the Romantic epoch occur? Does this mean that there is no longer any Romanticism?
What was the Romantics' view concerning art and philosophy?
What did Novalis say about the world and reality?
Chapters 27 and 28:
What does Hegel mean when he talks of "world spirit?"
What did all the philosophical systems before Hegel have in common?
Hegel suggested that it cannot be claimed that any particular thought is correct for ever. Does this mean that everything is equally right or equally wrong?
Towards what is Hegel's "world spirit" developing?
What did Hegel call the three stages of knowledge?
What did Hegel believe regarding the individual, the community, and language?
By what three stages does the world spirit become conscious of itself?
How did Kierkegaard react to Hegel and the Romantics? What made him indignant about them?
What was Socrates according to Kierkegaard? What did he mean?
What happens, according to Kierkegaard, if you content yourself with some logical proof of the existence of God? What matters instead?
What forms or stages of life did Kierkegaard believe in? How are they described?
Chapters 29 and 30:
What was Marx's response to Hegel's idea that the world spirit drives history forward?
What levels in the bases of society did Marx identify?
What was the relationship between man and nature according to Hegel?
When did the idea of evolution begin to be widely accepted? Who was its leading spokesman?
What particular book did Darwin have with him on his voyage on the Beagle? What did this book hold?
What do animal breeders do when they create and maintain particular breeds?
What was Darwin's explanation for how evolution happened?
Does Darwin's account of evolution imply that everything gets better and better?
How can we sum up Darwin's theory of evolution in a few sentences?
Chapters 31 and 32:
If we are consistently disturbed during the dreaming phase of our sleep we become nervous and irritable. What does this seem to mean?
"All too frequently reason throttles the imagination, and that's serious because without the imagination, nothing really new will ever be created. I believe imagination is like a Darwinian system." Discuss.
What was the key word in Sartre's philosophy? What does this mean?
"Existence take priority over essence." Humanity must therefore create itself because our nature or essence is not fixed in advance. Discuss.
Sophie suggests that "it is quite normal to feel depressed or that everything is just too boring." Why? What does she mean?
What does freedom oblige us to do?
Sartre claimed that there is no innate (predetermined) meaning to life. Does this mean that he thought nothing mattered or that anything is then permissible?
The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess was one of the founders of what?
Chapters 33, 34 and 35:
"It is a widespread misunderstanding that spirit is a thing that is more 'airy' than vapor. On the contrary, spirit is more solid than ice. ... "Spirit can pass through steel doors. No tanks or bombers can crush anything that is of spirit." What do you think?
In what ways can Sophie and Hilde be seen to represent philosophy, philosophers, and even ourselves as philosophers?
Imagine that this book was actually written by one of the philosophers discussed in it. Which philosopher would have been most likely to be the author? It has been said that the story of Sophie’s World dramatizes the philosophy of Berkeley. You could agree or disagree with this statement or you could suggest another philosopher whose ideas seem to be consistent with the strange events in the book.