a me review of Sophie's World
Readable but flawed lightweight intro to Western philosophy
This book attempts to do an overview of philosophy suitable for teenagers or older, with an intertwined story to keep the material from getting too dry. It's a great idea, and succeeds to some degree (since it kept me reading until the end), but has its problems:
- The fictional characters in it are for the most part are unconvincing cardboard cutouts that trot around agreeing with and sounding like the author, and the story they're involved in is kind of dull for the first few hundred pages.
- Part of the message toward the end of the book is that we're now living in a global society, but the philosophy is almost entirely the standard European fare, with only a couple limited references to Buddhism giving it a wider scope. A big point is made about how tragic it is to not be aware of the last 3000 years of (Western) philosophy, but apparently it's not so tragic to be unaware of the last 3000 years of non-European philosophy.
- The book purports to value sexual equality. But the mothers depicted in the book are vapid and dismissed almost contemptuously, and the bulk of the book consists of wise old learned males pontificating to the young female protagonists. And the young female protagonists are often reduced to short exclamations about how amazing the things the wise old learned males are saying, or otherwise generally agreeing with the opinions of the author.
- There's much complaining about philosophy not being taught in schools, which sounds like a reasonable gripe. But also much whining about how nothing truly important is being taught in schools, which is odd considering the young female protagonists wouldn't be able to read any of their philosophy course that goes on throughout the book without having attended school. Reminds me of a dumb but successful businessman who claimed everything important he learned in school was on the football field.
- The young philosophers are often admonished to never leap to conclusions, but the author does so all the time. He seems to be someone who is interested in philosophy, but not very good at doing philosophy, so the book weakens as he drifts off from communicating what previous philosophers have said and starts saying his own stuff.
All in all, I would recommend it as a quick overview of pre-modern Western philosophy, useful for getting the reader sufficiently oriented to do further reading on specific subjects.