Sophie’s World - Philosophy and Happiness
Sophie’s World (1991)
Written by the Norwegian, Jostein Gaarder (1952- ),
A worldwide best-selling novel that tells the history of Western philosophy through the eyes of
an imaginary Norwegian teenager, Sophie.
Sophie (Amundsen), a Norwegian teenager.
Alberto Knox, her philosophy lecturer.
Hilde Knag, a teenage girl.
Albert Knag, Hilde’s father.
Sophie, aged 14, receives two notes in her mailbox, saying:
‘Who are you?’
‘Where does the world come from?’
Other philosophical questions follow.
She is convinced of their relevance to her life by the note sender (Alberto Knox) who;
- teaches her Western philosophy.
- sends her teaching materials (lecture notes, videos etc) via his dog, Hermes.
Alberto values anybody who questions themselves and the world around them, because
this is central to philosophy and a good life
Sophie becomes confused when she finds mail addressed to a girl, Hilde Knag (who is the
same age) and a scarf with her name on it.
One postcard tells Hilde that one day she will meet Sophie.
On her fifteenth birthday, Hilde receives a book,Sophie’s World, from her father,
Albert Knag, which he has written for her to explain Western philosophy.
Hilde finishes reading this just as Sophie and Alberto finish their philosophy course
Alberto had told Sophie that they had only existed in Albert's mind (similar to
the Anglo-Irish philosopher, George
Berkeley's pictured right idea that perhaps we exist only in the mind of God).
Despite their disappearance, Alberto and Sophie’s spirit (and influence on Hilde) live on.
Lessons for philosophy and happiness
1. Always ask and answer the right questions
Vital questions are:
- what is a good life and how can we live it?
Sophie and Hilde discover that necessary for a good and happy life are:
- ethics (rules for good living).
- duty (what you ought to do).
- virtues (like love and courage).
2. Philosophy is fun
Sophie and Hilde’s passion for new philosophical knowledge increases as they discover its
- relevance (to their lives).
3. Accept your own ignorance
Like the Greek philosopher, Socrates (pictured right), Sophie believes that to be
wise you must accept that you know nothing.
4. Learning requires understanding
Sophie and Hilde learn the uselessness of:
- blindly accepting other people’s ideas.
- discover for themselves their importance and relevance.
5. Perception is important
Sophie and Alberto aren’t real people, but their influence is perceived by Hilde and her
6. Thinking makes you human
Alberto teaches Sophie the idea of the French philosopher, René Descartes (pictured
right), that the ability to think is the most important and essential thing that anyone
7. Free will can conquer fate
Sophie and Alberto escape their fate of remaining in Hilde’s father’s imagination by having a real influence on
Hilde’s life through their spiritual presence.
8. Continually search for wisdom
Sophie and Hilde discover that you must:
Key quotes on philosophy and ethics
Philosophers ... believe that man cannot live by bread alone, Alberto.
Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feelings for the welfare of
The important thing is not what you may think is precisely right or wrong. What matters is that you choose to
have an opinion at all on what is right or wrong, Alberto.
Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and
Key quote on religion
Faith is the most important factor in religious questions, Alberto.
It is more important to accept each other’s beliefs than to ask why everyone does not believe the same thing,
Key quote on peace of
True enlightenment to man is like sunlight to the soul, (poetry on the first page of Sophie’s book)
Key quote on
You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she (Sophie) thought. But it’s just as
impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.
Key quote on strategy
The reasonable is that which is viable.
Two literature websites to