Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 21 : Hume | Summary



Sophie next learns about the 18th-century philosopher David Hume (1711–76), who proposed that humans return to their "spontaneous experience of the world." Alberto uses the example of an angel. Humans have seen human figures, and they have seen wings. Both of those exist. However, the combination of the human figure and the wings is a human construct of the mind because no one has actually experienced it. Hume thought such "false ideas" should be "committed to the flames," and he kept his mind open with regard to natural laws. Hume expected a stone to fall every time it is dropped, but he recognized he would never experience it always falling. There is a difference between experiencing the fall (and the expectations that arise) and experiencing the law itself.


Alberto has long warned Sophie of not jumping to conclusions, and in this chapter, the reader learns this warning is based on Hume's philosophy. He has made this warning to prepare her for the "turning point" that Albert announced in the previous chapter, which will occur in the next chapter. Because Hume's philosophy is so open-minded, Alberto uses it to ease Sophie into accepting the idea that Sophie's reality cannot be counted on to be actual reality. Just because Sophie has always experienced it as such does not make it so. Hume might have pointed that out because humans have limited empirical knowledge of the world they must adjust their expectations accordingly.

At the same time Gaarder is easing the careful reader into the reveal of his big twist—the point where the novel becomes something other than what the reader has come to expect. Hume might say the reader cannot rely on the expectations Gaarder has built up for them, and just because one has never experienced something before it does not mean that thing cannot happen. Via philosophy, Gaarder has paved the way for the reader to experience a whole new reality.

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