Course Hero. "Sophie's World Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 Oct. 2017. Web. 4 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sophies-World/>.
Course Hero. (2017, October 25). Sophie's World Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 4, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sophies-World/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Sophie's World Study Guide." October 25, 2017. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sophies-World/.
Course Hero, "Sophie's World Study Guide," October 25, 2017, accessed August 4, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Sophies-World/.
Philosophy asks all of life's important existential questions: Who are we? Why are we here? Is there free will or are people's lives predetermined? A novel, especially a fantasy novel, also asks such "what if" questions. Such a novel might wonder what would happen if a girl started getting letters from a mysterious philosopher about philosophy. It might also wonder what would occur if this girl found out she only existed in the mind of her creator. If Gaarder only wanted to talk about philosophy, he might have written a nonfiction book about its history. But Gaarder chose to write a metafictional fantasy novel about philosophy, one in which the central character must grapple with the nature of her own existence. It seems logical to conclude that Gaarder wrote Sophie's World in this manner because he wants readers to grapple with the nature of their own existence.
Existential questions concerned most philosophers, but George Berkeley is the one most closely associated with existential angst, and so it is no coincidence that Sophie discovers her fictional nature during Alberto's lecture on Berkeley. Berkeley believed man existed "only in the mind of God," and Sophie discovers she exists only in the mind of Albert, her "god creator." The reader is also aware Albert only exists in the mind of his author (Gaarder), and so it follows the reader must also ask if Gaarder (and the reader) only exists in the mind of some higher being (God).
But Gaarder also seems to ask if the nature of man's existence matters. He seems to suggest it is more what people choose to do with their existence that determines if they find meaning in it or not. Throughout it all, Gaarder stresses that the questions one asks while practicing philosophy are more important than any conclusions one may come to.
The first note Sophie receives from her mentor Alberto asks, "who are you?" Three seemingly simple words, but as Sophie discovers, there is no simple answer. As a character in a book, Sophie's identity is first given to her by her creator, Albert Knag. Albert models Sophie after his own daughter, Hilde. Both girls are 14 years old at the start of the novel, with their 15th birthdays approaching on June 15th. They are both also blond, studious, and inquisitive. But Sophie is created to serve Hilde: the philosophy course Sophie goes through with Alberto is meant to teach Hilde first and foremost.
In the first third of the novel, Sophie is blissfully unaware of this arrangement. She believes herself to be in control of her own actions and has no reason to doubt this. Her most pressing mystery is to figure out why Hilde's father is sending Hilde's mail to her. In her quest to find out more about Hilde's identity, she slowly figures out who she is herself. But Sophie is not content to settle down "deep in the rabbit's fur" and accept her identity as a fictional character, and an exploited one at that.
The increasingly absurdist landscape around her prompts her to look into herself "for something more genuine and true." In the chapter on Kierkegaard, Sophie drinks of the blue bottle of Kierkegaard's individualism and realizes she has worlds within herself. "She was Sophie Amundsen," she thinks, "and only she was that." She has gained self-knowledge, and throughout the novel Gaarder stresses that self-knowledge is the key to freedom and finding meaning.
Are humans controlled by fate and the whims of a higher being or are they free to act as they please? This is an essential question of philosophy and a main theme in Sophie's World. Alberto teaches Sophie that many philosophers throughout history have taken on this question, with varying views on the degree of free will mankind enjoys. Ancient people who relied on myths to give them the shape of the universe were fatalistic and believed their lives were predestined. Early determinist philosophers proposed some form of metaphysical fatalism—man is subject to nature's laws—or theological fatalism—man is subject to God's will. In the Middle Ages, St. Augustine allowed for some free will but also thought that "God has foreseen how we will live." Later, Kant thought man's morality allows him to exercise free will, deciding for himself what is moral, and soon after the Romanticists proposed that while playing, man made his own rules and therefore had creative freedom.
Sophie proves herself receptive to the question of free will from the first paragraph of the first chapter, asking herself, "surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?" This raises the question: If humans are like computers, are they programmed to react a certain way? Sophie has the chance later to interact directly with an artificial intelligence program called Laila, and she demands Laila let her speak with Albert. When Albert appears, does he do it because Sophie has the free will to demand it? Or did Sophie demand he appear because he "programmed" her to do it? Gaarder seems to suggest as long as Sophie remains in her "book," she remains inside Albert's head, which allows him to control all her actions. Therefore, she must journey to self-awareness via philosophy in order to break free of him.
One of the keys to Sophie's enlightenment seems to be found in the existentialist philosophers. Kierkegaard proposes that a leap to a fulfilled life is one that she can either take or not; only Sophie can take this leap. But is she really able to choose when Albert literally writes her actions? One might argue that here she follows Sartre. As Sartre is an atheist, he would not believe in Albert as a "creator god" anyway and would say she is free to create her own meaning in life. Eventually, she does just this, escaping Albert and choosing her own life. But does she really? Gaarder is still the overall author of Sophie's World, so that question remains open, as is the way of most philosophical questions. As Alberto puts it: "It is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them."