Ever since the beginning of humanity as we know it, people have been trying to find reasonable and logical answers to some questions that have always troubled their minds and haunted their thoughts. These questions are considered philosophical questions, which brings us to focus on philosophy, a faculty of thoughts that is frequently pursuing answers to life’s most significant unexplained inquiries. Sophie’s world is a great novel that enlightens us with all the philosophers’ points of view, and it allows me, the reader, to have control over what to accept and what to reject from the theories presented.
To begin with, the first philosopher that grabbed my attention was Descartes, since his way of thinking and dealing with philosophical questions was unique. Descartes believed that nothing can be proven to be correct without reason, since reason was the only way to prove certainty. Therefore, he doubted everything and didn’t rely on any previous philosopher, which allowed him to build his own philosophical system. For me to relate to Descartes manner of thinking, I created a similar situation in my head. If I were an engineer and I was given an unfinished project to work on with unlimited resources, I’d rather repeat the whole project all over again than continue from where the previous engineer had ended. This is due to the fact that I cannot place my whole trust in that engineer and since I may have another method that could result in a perfect project. In Descartes’ situation, the unfinished project is the answers for the philosophical questions, and his way of thinking is different from the philosophers that lived before him, hence he doubted everything and began from scratch, which allowed his theories to be purely based on his thoughts. Descartes was also a mathematician, and he solved his problems in philosophy just like he proved a mathematical theorem, using reason.
Moreover, he discussed the presence of God in his theories and one thought that stuck in my head was the presence of the idea of a perfect entity in our heads. Descartes said that this idea could not have come from his own mind since how can an imperfect being create a perfect entity on his own. This allowed him to believe that God himself placed the idea of the perfect entity in our heads which proves his existence. To put this into perspective, if you keep telling a child that this rollercoaster ride for adults is the best ride you can ever go on and plant this idea in his head over and over, he will eventually start telling all of his friends about it. However, this child didn’t even go on the ride in the first place to experience it. This means that the children hearing about this ride will think that it is better than all other rides they have been on, even though they do not know how it feels like and have never experienced it, just because that adult told them about it. This illustration explains Descartes’ thoughts better where the perfect entity is heaven and God is the only one that knows how it feels like, thus he displays it to as perfect which allows us to put all our hope into experiencing it one day, even though no one can ever know what it is like to be in a perfect entity. In my opinion, I believe that Descartes’ approach towards philosophy is the best way to deal with these kinds of questions because I always tend to search for evidence or proof that is built on reason before accepting something and Descartes provides these in his theories. In the novel, Sophie doesn’t always accept the philosophers’ theories, but she questions everything she hears which allows me to look at each theory from another insight and helps me make a better judgement on the subject I’m reading about.
Furthermore, the best part in this novel that I have read so far is the chapter about Spinoza. This philosopher gave a whole new perspective about life in ways I never thought I could imagine. Spinoza rejected Descartes’ theory of the body-mind dualism and said that God isn’t a figure that works outside our world, but he is part of everyone and everything. I have been thinking about this topic for about a year now but I could never put my thoughts into words. However, while I was reading this, I realized that Spinoza was saying exactly what I thought. The world has created a false visualization that God is this mighty being that lives outside our universe and controls everything we do. On the contrary, I believe God is the inner voice in every single one of us or in other words, our soul. Moreover, we have told ourselves that we have what we call “free will”. However, this idea of being “free” is limited and therefore we have to put a limitation on how much of freedom we can have. For instance, a person can decide to not believe in God and think that they are free, or they can decide to become vegan and think that they are free. Nevertheless, are they free to choose if they get hungry or not? Are they free to choose if they get cold in winter or not? God may not be present in their lives directly, but nature which is another form of “God” cannot be avoided and hence you can only have “free will” to a certain extent. Spinoza gives an example about two trees, one that is planted in good soil and gets water, and another that is in bad soil and in a dark place. If we were to ask someone which tree is better and free, they would choose the first one for sure. Nonetheless, that tree is only free to grow as much as it wants and spread its branches freely, but it doesn’t have control over what fruits it can grow or the fact that it will eventually die. This shows the presence of God, or nature, in all living things in the universe, even if it isn’t realized easily, and Spinoza thinks that the reason behind that is that we have more complex reasons for what we do that we do not take into the presence of God into consideration much. Everything we do from the most basic actions to the complex ones are linked to nature in some way. I was once asked if humans are given choices in life or are forced to live the way they do.
At first I thought that we certainly had choices since we decide how to live, but I understood the real meaning behind that question later. It’s true that we have choices and we live freely, but all these choices lead to one destination which brings me to think that do the choices we make even matter? Just as Spinoza said, life tricks us into believing that we have control over it but we are like a river, no matter how many times we change our path we are going to reach the ocean in the end. Spinoza is one of the few philosophers that were able to influence my thoughts in some way, since his theories make sense and gave me a kind of satisfaction to know that someone thought in a similar way to me. While Alberto was telling Sophie about Spinoza, we realize that she gets lost in what she’s hearing and has a hard time comprehending what she is being told, and I think that the reason behind that is that Sophie, like the majority of us, was raised on certain beliefs and understandings of life, and when we listen to another person’s beliefs we tend to reject them directly since we do not want to be proved wrong, thus the secret of understanding philosophy is accepting all different thoughts and think about them before we decide to accept or reject them.
Last but not least, one philosopher that had a different mindset than Descartes and Spinoza and had interesting thoughts and theories was Locke. This British philosopher stated that when we are born our mind is like an empty file waiting to fill up with senses and experiences, and by that he attacked people that believed that we have an innate set of ideas that exists before we have any experience at all, or in other words; rationalists. Locke believed that all our ideas, thoughts, and especially theories we come up with are based on our senses. If that were true, how does Locke explain the existence of God if no one has ever experienced his presence or “sensed” him? He said that even if our thoughts aren’t fully based on our senses, they can be partially related to an experience we had. For example, one of the most common thoughts amongst humans is the description of heaven. People want to know what heaven looks like and what it contains, even though no one has been to heaven and came back to earth to share their experience with us. Therefore, I realized that we linked the description of heaven to whatever materials or feelings we find superior on earth, from the golden tiles to the mansions for every person to the feeling of peace and the absence of pain. This is because we think of heaven as perfect and we tend to put everything nearly perfect in our lives in it and ignore the others. However, our lives are nowhere near the freedom and perfection in heaven, and we can’t possibly know how it feels or looks like. Locke compared our thoughts to searching for gold, most of what you dig is sand and clay, but inside them are the particles of gold, which are the parts of a thought that comes from our senses. In addition, now that Locke was sure that any theory that wasn’t based on senses should be rejected, another questions appeared.
How can we be sure that something comes from senses if every single person can sense the same thing differently? First of all, he distinguished between what we call primary and secondary qualities. By primary qualities he meant anything that is the same for all humans. For instance, the weight, height, or texture of an object is the same for everyone. On the other hand, secondary qualities can vary between every person and can cause some problems sometimes because we want other people to sense something the same way we do. To illustrate, a while back there was this trend on social media about a video where some people heard the word “Yanni” while others heard the word “Laurel”. If you were in a room full of people and all of them heard “Laurel” and only you heard “Yanni”, no one would believe you and they would start thinking that you are a liar. Nevertheless, you cannot control what you can hear and even though you are different from everyone else this doesn’t mean you are wrong. This ideology can also be applied in philosophy when regarding secondary qualities, since each person has their own senses and we can’t be sure that it is false. Locke also believed that the idea of God was created from human reason, but I honestly disagree with that because even if it is true that humans built characteristics for God from their reason, God exists with or without humans knowing and is independent of any variable of life. The only thing we can change is the way we view him, and that changes from religion to religion.
In conclusion, this segment of Sophie’s world really helped have a better understanding of philosophy and somehow made me understand my thoughts. I’ve always had some thoughts about the existence of people and the presence of God, and I realized while reading that some philosophers had ideas close to mine, which is the reason I enjoyed this novel. I felt like I was learning about myself more than I was learning about them. However, some theories have opened my eyes to new questions I never thought existed and I hope to find answers for them in the future.