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May 17, 2023

Practical Knowledge of "Sophie's World" Reading Notes

Practical Knowledge of

"Sophie's World" is a philosophical novel that uses the dialogue and storyline between a mysterious man and Sophie to explain the history of philosophy. While the plot of the story may not match that of a pure suspense novel, its quality of practical knowledge is indeed substantial. This article extracts some of the most valuable practical knowledge from the book for readers who want to learn about the history of philosophy but do not want to spend too much time reading the novel. The following are the practical knowledge sections:


  1. The Magician's Hat

This world is like a white rabbit pulled out of a magician's hat - except that this rabbit is so colossal that it takes billions of years to conjure up. All creatures are born at the tip of one of its hairs, and they are amazed by this incredible magic trick. However, as they grow older, they delve deeper into the fur of the rabbit and settle down there. They feel very comfortable there and are reluctant to climb back up to the fragile top of the rabbit's hair. Only philosophers embark on this perilous journey, striving for the pinnacle of language and existence. Some people fall off along the way, but others cling to the rabbit's fur with all their might, shouting loudly at those who nestle in the depths of the soft, comfortable fur and indulge in food and drink.


  1. Mythology

Before the emergence of science, people could only create myths to explain the changes in nature.


  1. Natural Philosophers

Early Greek philosophers were concerned with the themes of nature and its cycles and changes that they were called natural philosophers.


  • Thales: Believed that water was the source of all things and that everything had a god in it.
  • Anaximander: Suggested that the matter that formed everything might not be any of the things that have been created but rather an unnamed substance.
  • Anaximenes: Argued that the source of all things must be "air" or "gas."


(All three of these philosophers from Miletus believed that the world is made up of a fundamental substance.)


  • Parmenides: Denies any change in anything, hence our sensory cognition is unreliable.
  • Heraclitus: Everything is changing ("everything flows"), and our sensory cognition is reliable.
  • Empedocles: Nature consists of four roots: earth, air, fire, and water. Two forces in nature --love and hate -- bring things together and split them apart.
  • Anaxagoras: Nature is composed of countless tiny particles invisible to the naked eye, and everything can be broken down into smaller parts. Even in the smallest parts, there are ingredients of other things (such as genes in cells or holograms).
  • Democritus: Nature is composed of infinitely small units that can come together and break apart repeatedly. Nothing changes, nothing comes from nothingness, and nothing disappears.


  1. Fate

The ancient Greeks believed that fate not only controlled individuals' lives but also influenced the history of the world.


  1. Socrates (BC 469 - BC399 )

By pretending to be ignorant, Socrates forced people he encountered to use their own common sense, enabling him to constantly expose weaknesses in their thinking. The wisest person is the one who knows they are ignorant, and true knowledge comes from within oneself rather than being taught by others.


  1. Plato ( BC427 - BC347 )

Plato was concerned with the relationship between eternal and unchanging things and things that are in flux.

Plato's Theory of Forms: Behind the material world, there must be a reality (the world of forms) that contains eternal and unchanging patterns behind various natural phenomena.

We cannot have true knowledge of things that are constantly changing. We can only have opinions or judgments about concrete things in the sensory world. The only things we can really know are those that we can understand with reason.

Humans are creatures with dual natures. Our bodies are in flux, and our senses based on the body are unreliable. But we also have an immortal soul, which is the realm of reason. Because the soul is not material, it can explore the world of forms. Plato believed that all natural phenomena are only shadows of eternal forms or ideas, and every creature is an imperfect replica of an eternal form in the world of forms.


  1. Aristotle ( BC384 - BC322 )

He believed that our reason is completely empty before we have sensory experience of things, so humans do not have innate "ideas". Every change in nature is the result of matter changing from "potential" to "actual". The "form" of a thing not only indicates its potential but also its limits.

He believed that every natural thing has a purpose, an existent cause.

He thoroughly classified everything in the natural world.

He advocated the Golden Mean -- people cannot be cowardly or reckless, but must be brave. People cannot be stingy or wasteful, but must be generous.


  1. Greek Culture

The characteristic of Greek culture is that the boundaries between countries and cultures have been erased.

The religious beliefs formed during the Greek cultural period share a common feature: they often teach people how to obtain redemption and avoid death.

People in this era believed that the wisdom of philosophy not only had its own benefits but also could help humans escape pessimism and fear of death. Therefore, the boundary between religion and philosophy gradually disappeared.

Greek science was also influenced by various cultures. Alexander had a large library, making it a stronghold of mathematics, astronomy, biology, and medicine.

Greek philosophy was devoted to solving what true happiness is and how to achieve it - there were four schools:

Cynicism: Believes that people do not need to worry about their health, should not suffer from life, aging, sickness, and death, nor should they be worried about other people's pain and make themselves suffer. Today, "cynicism" means sincere contempt for humanity, implying an attitude and behavior of indifference to others' suffering.


Stoicism: Believes that everyone is a small part of universal knowledge, and everyone is like a "small universe," a microcosm of the "big universe."

All human beings are subject to divine law. In their view, the laws of various countries at that time were just imperfect laws that imitated natural laws.

They do not believe that there is any conflict between "spirit" and "matter" and advocate that there is only one nature in the universe. They emphasize that all natural phenomena, such as life, aging, sickness, and death, are just following the unchanging laws of nature, so humans must learn to accept their fate. Today we still use the term "stoic calmness" to describe those who do not act emotionally.

Epicureanism: Emphasizes that when considering whether an action brings pleasure, we must also consider its possible side effects. They believe that if we pursue short-term pleasure, we must consider whether there are other ways to achieve greater, more lasting, or stronger pleasure. In addition, if we want to live happily, we must follow the principles of self-regulation, moderation, and peace advocated by the ancient Greeks. Personal desires must be restrained, and a peaceful state of mind can help us endure pain. As the saying goes: "God is not to be feared, death is not to be feared, misfortune is easy to endure, and happiness is easy to seek."


Neo-Platonism: The representative figure is Proclus, who believes that the world spans two poles. One end is the divine light he calls "God," and the other end is complete darkness that cannot receive any light from God. However, his view is that this dark world actually does not exist; it only lacks light. Only the present moment exists, and time is fleeting. Just as light will gradually weaken and eventually extinguish, there is also a corner of the world where the divine light cannot shine. According to his saying, the soul is illuminated by this divine light, while the matter is in the non-existent dark world, and the forms of nature are slightly illuminated by the divine light.


  1. Middle Ages (4th-14th Century)

The Middle Ages was a long "thousand-year night" that enveloped Europe between ancient times and the Renaissance - a dark period. The Roman Empire was divided into three different cultures, with Latin Christendom leading in Western Europe with Rome as its capital, Greek Christendom in Eastern Europe with Constantinople as its capital, and Arabic-speaking Islamic culture in North Africa and the Middle East.

Two major medieval philosophers:

St. Augustine: Christianized Plato. He pointed out that reason has limits in religious matters. Christianity is a divine mystery that we can only understand through faith. If we believe in Christ, God will "illuminate" our souls and enable us to have a mystical understanding of God. He believed that Plato's so-called "forms" already existed in God's mind among God's creations, thus preserving Plato's view of forms.

He advocated an unbridgeable distance between God and the world. He emphasized that people are spiritual beings with both bodies and souls.


St. Thomas Aquinas: Christianized Aristotle. He entered the philosophical world of Aristotle and interpreted the Bible in his own words, cleverly integrating faith and knowledge.

He believed that philosophy, reason, Christian revelation and faith were not in conflict. The teachings of Christianity and the truths of philosophy are often connected. Therefore, the truth we deduce through reasoning is often the same as the truth stated in the Bible.


  1. Renaissance (14th-16th Century)

The Renaissance refers to the phenomenon of cultural prosperity that began in the late 14th century. It was a rebirth of ancient art and culture, but more importantly, it was a renaissance of humanism, a return to the origin of humanism. In the Middle Ages, God was the starting point for everything. Humanism in the Renaissance put people at the center. At that time, people's views were: we are not only human, but also unique individuals. The goal is to break down all barriers and taboos, which is different from the tranquility, moderation, and restraint emphasized by ancient humanism.

They believed that the study of natural phenomena must be based on observation, experience, and experimentation, which they called "empiricism."


  1. Baroque Period (17th Century)

"Baroque" originally meant "irregularly shaped pearl." The main feature of the Baroque period (17th century) is the tension presented in various contrasting elements.


  1. Descartes (1596-1650, Rationalism)

Rationalists believe that the human soul is the basis of all knowledge.

Descartes advocated that only reason can give us true knowledge, while sensations are not so reliable. We should start by doubting everything, and one thing must be true: that he doubts. When he doubts, he must be thinking, and because he is thinking, he must be a thinking being, that is, "I think, therefore I am."

In his mind, he knew very clearly what a perfect entity was, a concept he had always had. But he believed that this concept obviously could not come from himself, for the concept of a perfect entity could not come from an imperfect person. Therefore, it must come from the perfect entity itself, namely God. Therefore, for Descartes, the existence of God is an obvious fact just as the existence of a thinking being is necessary.

He claimed that "God can guarantee" that everything we know through reason will necessarily correspond to the real world. The external real world has certain mathematical characteristics that we can perceive with reason, namely the characteristics of "quantity." As for the characteristics of "quality," they are related to our sensory experience and are therefore insufficient to describe the external real world.

Dualism: Descartes claimed that there are two different forms of reality (or "substances") in the universe. One substance is called thought or "soul," and the other is called "extension" or matter. The soul is purely conscious, does not occupy space, and therefore cannot be further decomposed into smaller units; while matter is purely extended, occupies space, and can be further decomposed into smaller units, but has no consciousness. Descartes believed that both entities come from God, because only God itself is independent and not subject to anything. However, "thought" and "extension" have no contact with each other. Thoughts are not affected by matter, and changes in matter are not affected by thoughts.


  1. Spinoza (1632-1677, Rationalism)

One of his main philosophical ideas was to look at things from an eternal perspective. He reminded himself that he was only a small part of the life of nature and a part of the vast universe.

He was a pantheist, believing that nature is God. God is not everything; everything is in God's hands.

Monism: He simplified the situation of nature and everything into a single entity. He believed that every object in nature is either thought or extension. Every phenomenon we see in daily life is a different mode of thought attribute or extension attribute. The so-called "mode" is the specific way in which an entity, God or nature manifests itself.

God rules the world through natural laws. Therefore, God is the inner cause of everything. This means that every event that occurs in the material world has its own necessity. Our freedom is influenced by internal potential and external opportunities.


  1. Locke (1632-1704, Empiricism)

Empiricists are those who obtain all knowledge about the world from sensory experience.

He believed that our mind is a blank slate before our senses perceive anything. He divided the nature of sensations into two types: "primary" and "secondary." "Primary qualities" refer to the attributes of the extended world, such as weight, motion, and quantity. "Secondary qualities" refer to sensations such as color, smell, taste, and sound, which do not truly reflect the inherent qualities of things themselves but only reflect the effects that external entities have on our senses.

Locke was the first to emphasize the separation of legislative power and executive power to prevent authoritarian politics.


  1. Hume (1711-1776, Empiricism)

He first concluded that there are two kinds of perceptions in human beings: impressions and ideas. "Impressions" refer to direct feelings of the outside world, while "ideas" refer to memories of impressions. He further emphasized that impressions and ideas may be simple or complex, and in fact, nothing is created by our minds. Our mind only puts different things together to create a false "idea."

He believed that our language and behavior are determined by emotions. Because we do not act based on reason, but rather on sympathy with the situation of others. In law, only those who lose their reason may be exempt from punishment, never those who lose their emotions.


  1. Berkeley (1685-1753, Empiricism)

He believed that humans have a "spirit." He argued that all of our ideas have a cause that we are not aware of, but this cause is not material, but spiritual.

Our soul may be the reason for the various concepts we have, just as we do when we dream. However, only another will or spirit in the world can form all the concepts that make up this "form" world. Everything exists because of this spirit, which is the cause of "all things in all things" and the existence of all things. This spirit is God.


  1. Enlightenment (18th century)


Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau were important figures in the Enlightenment movement. By this time, emerging natural science had already shown that nature is governed by reason, so philosophers believed that they also had a responsibility to establish the foundation of morality, religion, and ethics based on unchanging human reason. Thus, the Enlightenment movement was born.


  1. Kant (1724-1804)

Kant called "time" and "space" our two "intuitive forms." He emphasized that these two "forms" in our minds exist before all experience. In other words, we can know that what we perceive will be a phenomenon that occurs in time and space even before we experience anything because we cannot take off the glasses of reason. Time and space belong to the conditions of humanity. Time and space are ways for humans to perceive, not attributes of the material world.

Human ideas about the world are influenced by two factors. One is the external situation that we must know through senses, which we can call raw knowledge. The other factor is the internal situation of humans, such as the fact that everything we perceive happens within time and space, and conforms to the unchanging causality. We can call this form of knowledge.

"There are two things that fill me with wonder the more often I ponder them, their starry heavens above and the moral law within."


  1. Romanticism (late 18th century-mid 19th century)

Initially, it was to oppose the overly rational approach of philosophers in the Enlightenment period. It was believed that individuals could interpret life in their own way according to their own desires.

Romantics view nature as an organism, a whole that continuously develops its inner potential. Nature is like a flower that continually grows branches and petals or a poet who continuously recites poetry.


  1. Hegel (1770-1831, successor of Romanticism)

Hegel's "world spirit" or "world reason" refers to the sum of human ideas, where he describes the world spirit as human life, thought, and culture.

Hegel said that "truth is subjective," and he did not acknowledge any "truths" outside of human reason. He said that all knowledge is human knowledge. 

The history of ideas (or reason) is like a river. Human thinking is influenced by traditional trends and material conditions that push forward like a river. Therefore, you can never claim that any one idea is always right. It's just that, from where you stand, this kind of thinking may be correct.

There are three stages of knowledge: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Each new idea is usually based on the old ideas of previous people, and once a new idea is proposed, another idea in conflict with it will immediately emerge. This creates a tense situation between two opposing ideas, but this tension will be eliminated when someone proposes a new idea that combines the advantages of both.

Negative thinking means trying to find missing points in what others say. However, when we find a flaw in one point, we also save its strengths.


  1. Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

He believed that the only thing important in the world was each person's "own existence," and that really important truths were individual ones. We only need to seek those truths that have meaning for our own lives.

He believed that there were three different forms of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. People living in the aesthetic phase live for the present, so they seize every opportunity for pleasure. Such people live completely in the sensory world and are slaves to their own desires and emotions. The characteristic of people living in the ethical stage is that they take life seriously and consistently make moral choices. People should strive to live according to moral rules, and what is important is not what you think is right or wrong, but that you begin to care about the right and wrong of things. The ethical stage is not perfect, even if a person has been dedicated to living this way, they will eventually become tired of it. Some people return to the lifestyle of the aesthetic phase as a result. But some people progress to the religious stage, leaping into faith.


  1. Marx (1818-1883)

Marx referred to material, economic, and social conditions as the foundation of society, and social ideas, political systems, legal regulations, religion, morality, art, philosophy, and science as the superstructure of society. The superstructure of society can reflect its foundation. He believed that it was actually a society's economic forces that fostered change and pushed history forward.

Production conditions refer to the natural conditions and resources that a society can utilize. Production tools refer to equipment, tools, and machines. Production relations refer to the way people divide labor and distribute property. A society's political situation and ideology are determined by its mode of production. The concept of right and wrong is actually a product of the social foundation. The standard of right and wrong in a society is mainly determined by the ruling class in that society because the history of human society is a history of class struggle.


  1. Darwin (1809-1882)

The "raw materials" of biological evolution on Earth are the individual differences that continue to appear within the same species, coupled with the vast number of offspring that only a small portion can survive. The actual "mechanism" (or driving force) of evolution is the effect of natural selection in the competition for survival. This process of elimination ensures that the strongest or most suitable can survive.

Each of us is a small boat sailing through life carrying genes. When we safely transport the goods on our boat to the next port, we have not lived in vain.


  1. Freud (1856-1939)

He believed that human consciousness is only a small part of itself, and that there is also a subconscious beyond human consciousness.

Our dreams are not accidental. Our subconscious tries to communicate with our consciousness through dreams.