Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 11 : Aristotle | Summary



Sophie receives another packet from Alberto and a note saying he's not angry she found him, just annoyed that he has to move. Her next philosopher is Aristotle (384–322 BCE), the "last of the great Greek philosophers" and a great biologist. Aristotle felt that Plato wanted to reside only in the realm of ideas, whereas Aristotle did not want to discount the senses. He took Plato's Theory of Ideas and flipped it around. To him, ideas were merely reflections of things found in nature, essentially an idea from materialist philosophy.

Aristotle used logic to classify things and worked to sort everything in nature into various categories and subcategories. Nonliving things have no potential for change without outside influence, while organic, living things do. Aristotle also came up with the concept of the "unmoved mover"—his name for God or creator—who first set everything in motion.

In ethics Aristotle talked of the "Golden Mean" or the sweet spot between two extremes. In politics he put forward three ways of rule: monarchy, aristocracy, and polity (democracy). Unfortunately, his view on women was not as enlightened as Plato's. He thought they were "unfinished men."

After she finishes her packet Sophie cleans her room and tries unsuccessfully to discuss philosophy with her mother.


Gaarder often has Sophie do things that parallel her lessons, and since Aristotle was all about organization, Sophie responds "with an irresistible desire to clear up" her room. She reflects that she never questioned how to sort her things; like Aristotle, she uses logic and reason to put each object in its place. The only item that stands out is a knee-length stocking, which she figures must belong to Hilde. She is no longer surprised by such anomalies, and simply places it with her other "philosophy" stuff on the top shelf. This is the "only place in the room that she did not yet have complete control over." This reveals dramatic irony as it has been established in earlier chapters that Sophie merely has the illusion of control over her life—her strings are being pulled by the author. But ironic though it is, to exit her fictional reality her mind is exactly what she needs to gain control over, and philosophy is the key to this.

Sophie is becoming so enraptured with philosophical ideas that it is only natural she wants to share her enthusiasm. When she tries to share her learning with her mother, however, she is met with severe skepticism. Gaarder makes it clear this reaction is what all philosophers face. Sophie's mother even goes so far as to say Sophie "scares the living daylights out of [her]." Considering how philosophy ends up upending their entire reality, one could argue Sophie's mother is right to be scared.

Gaarder's playing of the game "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" is a simple, effective way to explain Aristotle's taxonomy of the natural world, a biological classification system that still exists today, over 2,000 years later. Of course, Gaarder is also quick to point out that even though the ancient philosophers got a surprising amount right, they also got much wrong—Aristotle's views on women being especially galling. This is the reason it is imperative for every budding philosopher to consider how each major philosopher's ideology agrees and disagrees with one's own worldview.

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