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Sophie's World  苏菲的世界-Sophie's World

Kierkegaard .... Europe is on the road to bankruptcy Hilde looked at her watch. It was already past four o'clock. She laid the ring binder on her desk and ran downstairs to the kitchen. She had to get down to the boathouse before her mother got tired of waiting for her. She glanced at the brass mirror as she passed. She quickly put the kettle on for tea and fixed some sandwiches. She had made up her mind to play a few tricks on her father. Hilde was beginning to feel more and more allied with Sophie and Alberto. Her plan would start when he got to Copenhagen. She went down to the boathouse with a large tray. "Here's our brunch," she said. Her mother was holding a block wrapped in sandpaper. She pushed a stray lock of hair back from her forehead. There was sand in her hair too. "Let's drop dinner, then." They sat down outside on the dock and began to eat. "When's Dad arriving?" asked Hilde after a while. "On Saturday. I thought you knew that." "But what time? Didn't you say he was changing planes in Copenhagen?" "That's right. Her mother took a bite of her sandwich. "He gets to Copenhagen at about five. The plane to Kristiansand leaves at a quarter to eight. He'll probably land at Kjevik at half-past nine." "So he has a few hours at Kastrup ..." "Yes, why?" "Nothing. I was just wondering." When Hilde thought a suitable interval had elapsed, she said casually, "Have you heard from Anne and Ole lately?" "They call from time to time. They are coming home on vacation sometime in July." "Not before?" "No, I don't think so." "So they'll be in Copenhagen this week... ?" "Why all these questions, Hilde?" "No reason. Just small talk." "You mentioned Copenhagen twice." "I did?" "We talked about Dad touching down in ..." "That's probably why I thought of Anne and Ole." As soon as they finished eating, Hilde collected the mugs and plates on the tray. "I have to get on with my reading, Mom." "I guess you must." Was there a touch of reproach in her voice? They had talked about fixing up the boat together before Dad came home. "Dad almost made me promise to finish the book before he got home." "It's a little crazy. When he's away, he doesn't have to order us around back home." "If you only knew how much he orders people around," said Hilde enigmatically, "and you can't imagine how much he enjoys it." She returned to her room and went on reading. Suddenly Sophie heard a knock on the door. Alberto looked at her severely. "We don't wish to be disturbed." The knocking became louder. "I am going to tell you about a Danish philosopher who was infuriated by Hegel's philosophy," said Alberto. The knocking on the door grew so violent that the whole door shook. "It's the major, of course, sending some phantasm to see whether we swallow the bait," said Alberto. "It costs him no effort at all." "But if we don't open the door and see who it is, it won't cost him any effort to tear the whole place down either." "You might have a point there. We'd better open the door then." They went to the door. Since the knocking had been so forceful, Sophie expected to see a very large person. But standing on the front step was a little girl with long fair hair, wearing a blue dress. She had a small bottle in each hand. One bottle was red, the other blue. "Hi," said Sophie. "Who are you?" "My name is Alice," said the girl, curtseying shyly. "I thought so," said Alberto, nodding. "It's Alice in Wonderland." "How did she find her way to us?" Alice explained: "Wonderland is a completely borderless country. That means that Wonderland is everywhere--rather like the UN. It should be an honorary member of the UN. We should have representatives on all committees, because the UN also arose out of people's wonder." "Hm ... that major!" muttered Alberto. "And what brings you here?" asked Sophie. "I am to give Sophie these little philosophy bottles." She handed the bottles to Sophie. There was red liquid in one and blue in the other. The label on the red bottle read DRINK ME, and on the blue one the label read DRINK ME too. The next second a white rabbit came hurrying past the cabin. It walked upright on two legs and was dressed in a waistcoat and jacket. Just in front of the cabin it took a pocket watch out of its waistcoat pocket and said: "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" Then it ran on. Alice began to run after it. Just before she ran into the woods, she curtsied and said, "Now it's starting again."  "Say hello to Dinah and the Queen," Sophie called after her. Alberto and Sophie remained standing on the front step, examining the bottles. "DRINK ME and DRINK ME too," read Sophie. "I don't know if I dare. They might be poisonous." Alberto merely shrugged his shoulders. "They come from the major, and everything that comes from the major is purely in the mind. So it's only pretend-juice." Sophie took the cap off the red bottle and put it cautiously to her lips. The juice had a strangely sweet taste, but that wasn't all. As she drank, something started to happen to her surroundings. It felt as if the lake and the woods and the cabin all merged into one. Soon it seemed that everything she saw was one person, and that person was Sophie herself. She glanced up at Alberto, but he too seemed to be part of Sophie's soul. "Curiouser and curiouser," she said. "Everything looks like it did before, but now it's all one thing. I feel as if everything is one thought." Alberto nodded--but it seemed to Sophie that it was she nodding to herself. "It is Pantheism or Idealism," he said. "It is the Romantics' world spirit. They experienced everything as one big 'ego.' It is also Hegel--who was critical of the individual, and who saw everything as the expression of the one and only world reason." "Should I drink from the other bottle too?" "It says so on the label." Sophie took the cap off the blue bottle and took a large gulp. This juice tasted fresher and sharper than the other. Again everything around her changed suddenly. Instantly the effects of the red bottle disappeared and everything slid back to its normal place. Alberto was Alberto, the trees were back in the woods and the water looked like a lake again. But it only lasted for a second, because things went on sliding away from each other. The woods were no longer woods and every little tree now seemed like a world in itself. The tiniest twig was like a fairy-tale world about which a thousand stories could be told. The little lake suddenly became a boundless ocean-- not in depth or breadth, but in its glittering detail and the intricate patterns of its waves. Sophie felt she might spend a lifetime staring at this water and to her dying day it would still remain an unfathomable mystery. She looked up at the crown of a tree. Three little sparrows were engrossed in a curious game. Was it hide-and-seek? Sophie had known in a way that there were birds in this tree, even after she had drunk from the red bottle, but she had not really seen them properly. The red juice had erased all contrasts and all individual differences. Sophie jumped down from the large flat stone step they were standing on and bent over to look at the grass. There she discovered another new world--like a deep-sea diver opening his eyes under water for the first time. In amongst the twigs and straws of grass, the moss was teeming with tiny details. Sophie watched a spider make its way over the moss, surefooted and purposeful, a red plant louse running up and down a blade of grass, and a whole army of ants laboring in a united effort in the grass. But each tiny ant moved its legs in its own particular manner. The most curious of all was the sight that met her eyes when she stood up again and looked at Alberto, still standing on the front step of the cabin. In Alberto she now saw a wondrous person--he was like a being from another planet, or an enchanted figure out of a fairy tale. At the same time she experienced herself in a completely new way as a unique individual. She was more than just a human being, a fifteen-year-old girl. She was Sophie Amundsen, and only she was that. "What do you see?" asked Alberto. "I see that you're a strange bird." "You think so?" "I don't think I'll ever get to understand what it's like being another person. No two people in the whole world are alike." "And the woods?" "They don't seem the same any more. They're like a whole universe of wondrous tales."  "It is as I suspected. The blue bottle is individualism. It is, for example, S0ren Kierkegaard's reaction to the idealism of the Romantics. But it also encompasses another Dane who lived at the same time as Kierkegaard, the famous fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. He had the same sharp eye for nature's incredible richness of detail. A philosopher who saw the same thing more than a century earlier was the German Leibniz. He reacted against the idealistic philosophy of Spinoza just as Kierkegaard reacted against Hegel." "I hear you, but you sound so funny that I feel like laughing." "That's understandable, just take another sip from the red bottle. Come on, let's sit here on the step. We'll talk a bit about Kierkegaard before we stop for today." Sophie sat on the step beside Alberto. She drank a little from the red bottle and things began to merge together again. They actually merged rather too much; once more she got the feeling that no differences mattered at all. But she only had to touch the blue bottle to her lips again, and the world about her looked more or less as it did when Alice arrived with the two bottles. "But which is true?" she now asked. "Is it the red or the blue bottle that gives the true picture?" "Both the red and the blue, Sophie. We cannot say the Romantics were wrong in holding that there is only one reality. But maybe they were a little bit narrow in their outlook." "What about the blue bottle?" "I think Kierkegaard must have taken a few hefty swigs from that one. He certainly had a sharp eye for the significance of the individual. We are more than 'children of our time.' And moreover, every single one of us is a unique individual who only lives once." "And Hegel had not made much of that?" "No, he was more interested in the broad scope of history. This was just what made Kierkegaard so indignant. He thought that both the idealism of the Romantics and Hegel's 'historicism' had obscured the individual's responsibility for his own life. Therefore to Kierkegaard, Hegel and the Romantics were tarred with the same brush."  "I can see why he was so mad." "S0ren Kierkegaard was born in 1813 and was subjected to a very severe upbringing by his father. His religious melancholia was a legacy from this father." "That sounds ominous." "It was because of this melancholia that he felt obliged to break off his engagement, something the Copenhagen bourgeoisie did not look kindly on. So from early on he became an outcast and an object of scorn. However, he gradually learned to give as good as he got, and he became increasingly what Ibsen later on described as 'an enemy of the people.' " "All because of a broken engagement?" "No, not only because of that. Toward the end of his life, especially, he became aggressively critical of society. 'The whole of Europe is on the road to bankruptcy,' he said. He believed he was living in an age utterly devoid of passion and commitment. He was particularly incensed by the vapidness of the established Danish Lutheran Church. He was merciless in his criticism of what you might call 'Sunday Christianity.' " "Nowadays we talk of 'confirmation Christianity.' Most kids only get confirmed because of all the presents they get." "Yes, you've got the point. To Kierkegaard, Christianity was both so overwhelming and so irrational that it had to be an either/or. It was not good being 'rather' or 'to some extent' religious. Because either Jesus rose on Easter Day--or he did not. And if he really did rise from the dead, if he really died for our sake--then this is so overwhelming that it must permeate our entire life." "Yes, I think I understand." "But Kierkegaard saw how both the church and people in general had a noncommittal approach to religious questions. To Kierkegaard, religion and knowledge were like fire and water. It was not enough to believe that Christianity is 'true.' Having a Christian faith meant following a Christian way of life." "What did that have to do with Hegel?" "You're right. Maybe we started at the wrong end." "So I suggest you go into reverse and start again."  "Kierkegaard began his study of theology when he was seventeen, but he became increasingly absorbed in philosophical questions. When he was twenty-seven he took his master's degree with the dissertation 'On the Concept of Irony.' In this work he did battle with Romantic irony and the Romantics' uncommitted play with illusion. He posited 'Socratic irony' in contrast. Even though Socrates had made use of irony to great effect, it had the purpose of eliciting the fundamental truths about life. Unlike the Romantics, Socrates was what Kierkegaard called an 'existential' thinker. That is to say, a thinker who draws his entire existence into his philosophical reflection." "So?" "After breaking off his engagement in 1841, Kierkegaard went to Berlin where he attended Schelling's lectures." "Did he meet Hegel?" "No, Hegel had died ten years earlier, but his ideas were predominant in Berlin and in many parts of Europe. His 'system' was being used as a kind of all-purpose explanation for every type of question. Kierkegaard indicated that the sort of 'objective truths' that Hegelianism was concerned with were totally irrelevant to the personal life of the individual." "What kind of truths are relevant, then?" "According to Kierkegaard, rather than searching for the Truth with a capital T, it is more important to find the kind of truths that are meaningful to the individual's life. It is important to find 'the truth for me.' He thus sets the individual, or each and every man, up against the 'system.' Kierkegaard thought Hegel had forgotten that he was a man. This is what he wrote about the Hegelian professor: "While the ponderous Sir Professor explains the entire mystery of life, he has in distraction forgotten his own name; that he is a man, neither more nor less, not a fantastic three-eighths of a paragraph." "And what, according to Kierkegaard, is a man?" "It's not possible to say in general terms. A broad description of human nature or human beings was totally without interest to Kierkegaard. The only important thing was each man's 'own existence.' And you don't experience your own existence behind a desk. It's only when we act--and especially when we make significant choices--that we relate to our own existence. There is a story about Buddha that illustrates what Kierkegaard meant." "About Buddha?" "Yes, since Buddha's philosophy also took man's existence as its starting point. There was once a monk who asked Buddha if he could give clearer answers to fundamental questions on what the world is and what a man is. Buddha answered by likening the monk to a man who gets pierced by a poisoned arrow. The wounded man would have no theoretical interest in what the arrow was made of, what kind of poison it was dipped in, or which direction it came from." "He would most likely want somebody to pull it out and treat the wound." "Yes, he would. That would be existentially important to him. Both Buddha and Kierkegaard had a strong sense of only existing for a brief moment. And as I said, then you don't sit down behind a desk and philosophize about the nature of the world spirit." "No, of course not." "Kierkegaard also said that truth is 'subjective.' By this he did not mean that it doesn't matter what we think or believe. He meant that the really important truths are personal. Only these truths are 'true for me.' " "Could you give an example of a subjective truth?" "An important question is, for example, whether Christianity is true. This is not a question one can relate to theoretically or academically. For a person who 'under-stands himself in life,' it is a question of life and death. It is not something you sit and discuss for discussion's sake. It is something to be approached with the greatest passion and sincerity." "Understandable." "If you fall into the water, you have no theoretical interest in whether or not you will drown. It is neither 'interesting' nor 'uninteresting' whether there are alligators in the water. It is a question of life or death." "I get it, thank you very much."  "So we must therefore distinguish between the philosophical question of whether God exists and the individual's relationship to the same question, a situation in which each and every man is utterly alone. Fundamental questions such as these can only be approached through faith. Things we can know through reason, or knowledge, are according to Kierkegaard totally unimportant." "I think you'd better explain that." "Eight plus four is twelve. We can be absolutely certain of this. That's an example of the sort of 'reasoned truth' that every philosopher since Descartes had talked about. But do we include it in our daily prayers? Is it something we will lie pondering over when we are dying? Not at all. Truths like those can be both 'objective' and 'general,' but they are nevertheless totally immaterial to each man's existence." "What about faith?" "You can never know whether a person forgives you when you wrong them. Therefore it is existentially important to you. It is a question you are intensely concerned with. Neither can you know whether a person loves you. It's something you just have to believe or hope. But these things are more important to you than the fact that the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees. You don't think about the law of cause and effect or about modes of perception when you are in the middle of your first kiss." "You'd be very odd if you did." "Faith is the most important factor in religious questions. Kierkegaard wrote: 'If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe. If I wish to preserve myself in faith I must constantly be intent upon holding fast the objective uncertainty, so as to remain out upon the deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, still preserving my faith.' " "That's heavy stuff." "Many had previously tried to prove the existence of God--or at any rate to bring him within the bounds of rationality. But if you content yourself with some such proof or logical argument, you suffer a loss of faith, and with it, a loss of religious passion. Because what matters is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it is true for you. The same thought was expressed in the Middle Ages in the maxim: credo quid absurdum." "You don't say." "It means I believe because it is irrational. If Christianity had appealed to our reason, and not to other sides of us, it would not be a question of faith." "No, I understand that now." "So we have looked at what Kierkegaard meant by 'existential,' what he meant by 'subjective truth,' and what his concept of 'faith' was. These three concepts were formulated as a criticism of philosophical tradition in general, and of Hegel in particular. But they also embodied a trenchant 'social criticism.' The individual in modern urban society had become 'the public,' he said, and the predominant characteristic of the crowd, or the masses, was all their noncommittal 'talk.' Today we would probably use the word 'conformity'; that is when everybody 'thinks' and 'believes in' the same things without having any deeper feeling about it." "I wonder what Kierkegaard would have said to Joanna's parents." "He was not always kind in his judgments. He had a sharp pen and a bitter sense of irony. For example, he could say things like 'the crowd is the untruth,' or 'the truth is always in the minority/ and that most people had a superficial approach to life." "It's one thing to collect Barbie dolls. But it's worse to be one." "That brings us to Kierkegaard's theory of what he called the three stages on life's way." "Pardon me?" "Kierkegaard believed that there were three different forms of life. He himself used the term stages. He calls them the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage, and the religious stage. He used the term 'stage' to emphasize that one can live at one of the two lower stages and then suddenly leap to a higher stage. Many people live at the same stage all their life." "I bet there's an explanation on the way. I'm anxious to know which stage I'm at."  "He who lives at the aesthetic stage lives for the moment and grasps every opportunity of enjoyment. Good is whatever is beautiful, satisfying, or pleasant. This person lives wholly in the world of the senses, and is a slave to his own desires and moods. Everything that is boring is bad." "Yes thanks, I think I know that attitude." "The typical Romantic is thus also the typical aesthete, since there is more to it than pure sensory enjoyment. A person who has a reflective approach to reality--or for that matter to his art or the philosophy he or she is engaged in--is living at the aesthetic stage. It is even possible to have an aesthetic, or 'reflective,' attitude to sorrow and suffering. In which case vanity has taken over. Ibsen's Peer Gynt is the portrait of a typical aesthete." "I think I see what you mean." "Do you know anyone like that?" "Not completely. But I think maybe it sounds a little like the major." "Maybe so, maybe so, Sophie ... Although that was another example of his rather sickly Romantic irony. You should wash your mouth out." "What?" "All right, it wasn't your fault." "Keep going, then." "A person who lives at the aesthetic stage can easily experience angst, or a sense of dread, and a feeling of emptiness. If this happens, there is also hope. According to Kierkegaard, angst is almost positive. It is an expression of the fact that the individual is in an 'existential situation,' and can now elect to make the great leap to a higher stage. But it either happens or it doesn't. It doesn't help to be on the verge of making the leap if you don't do it completely. It is a matter of 'either/or.' But nobody can do it for you. It is your own choice." "It's a little like deciding to quit drinking or doing drugs." "Yes, it could be like that. Kierkegaard's description of this 'category of decision' can be somewhat reminiscent of Socrates' view that all true insight comes from within. The choice that leads a person to leap from an aesthetic approach to an ethical or religious approach must come from within. Ibsen depicts this in Peer Gynt. Another masterly description of how existential choice springs from inner need and despair can be found in Dosfoevsfcy's great novel Crime and Punishment." "The best you can do is choose a different form of life." "And so perhaps you will begin to live at the ethical stage. This is characterized by seriousness and consistency of moral choices. This approach is not unlike Kant's ethics of duty. You try to live by the law of morals. Kierkegaard, like Kant, drew attention first and foremost to human temperament. 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. The aesthete's only concern is whether something is fun or boring." "Isn't there a risk of becoming too serious, living like that?" "Decidedly! Kierkegaard never claimed that the ethical stage was satisfactory. Even a dutiful person will eventually get tired of always being dedicated and meticulous. Lots of people experience that sort of fatigue reaction late in life. Some relapse into the reflective life of their aesthetic stage. "But others make a new leap to the religious stage. They take the 'jump into the abyss' of Faith's 'seventy thousand fathoms.' They choose faith in preference to aesthetic pleasure and reason's call of duty. And although it can be 'terrible to jump into the open arms of the living God,' as Kierkegaard put it, it is the only path to redemption." "Christianity, you mean." "Yes, because to Kierkegaard, the religious stage was Christianity. But he also became significant to non-Christian thinkers. Existentialism, inspired by the Danish philosopher, flourished widely in the twentieth century." Sophie glanced at her watch. "It's nearly seven. I have to run. Mom will be frantic." She waved to the philosopher and ran down to the boat.

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