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Gotta Go! Gotta Go!

by Sam Swope


A caterpillar’s journey introduces questions about free will, determinism, predestination, teleology, and fate.

This is the tale of a “creepy-crawly bug” (Monarch caterpillar), who says, “I don’t know much, but I know what I know. I gotta go! I gotta go! I gotta go to Mexico!” On her long trek, she meets a grasshopper and an ant, takes a “nice long rest” (metamorphosis), and finally reaches the hibernation grove in Mexico. She awakens in spring to “dance” with another creepy-crawly bug before heading north again to lay her eggs–”the reason for everything.”

Read aloud video by Ashley Lucas

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

This book raises some interesting philosophical questions about the differences between instinct and knowledge, as well as the issue of determinism. The discussion may rest primarily on the ideas of whether knowledge and instinct are different, whether there is such a thing as inherent knowledge, and may even drift into the differences between conscious and subconscious actions (for example, knowing how to tie your shoes versus knowing how to breathe). The first question set addresses these issues. It is possible that the children will generally agree that instinct and learned knowledge are different; and in the absence of any conflict within the discussion, one might raise the question of how things are known, that is, how information is stored in the brain. This may prompt some of the children to change their answers in light of the idea that knowledge is all stored in relatively the same place. It’s possible that someone will raise the idea of emotional knowledge, or things you know from “your heart,” rather than your head, and this too may present some conflicts in belief among the students.

The second question set is about whether or not we are born with a purpose for our lives and about the issue of free will. In this line of questions, the issue of religion and “God’s plan” may arise. To preserve the safety and respect that is necessary for a community of inquiry, it will be important to remind the children to respect each others’ beliefs and also that it is okay to disagree with one another. One way to avoid getting lost in the debate about pre-destination is to focus on the idea of free will and ask the students what they think about free will, and whether we are always free to make our own decisions. Answers to some of those questions may include the idea of right and wrong, the law, and even future consequences (i.e. If you do something bad now will it affect you later? What if you do something good?). The philosophical issues of right and wrong, and the debate about freedom and destiny are ones that children can relate to as they are growing up and being taught by others what they “should” and “should not” do, and should be a good catalyst for class discussion.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

  1. Does anyone know what kind of butterfly the creepy-crawly bug is? (Answer: she’s a Monarch butterfly.)
  2. How do you think the creepy-crawly bug knew she had to go to Mexico? Why?
  3. How did she know how to get there?
  4. Do you think babies are born knowing certain things, or do we have to teach them everything?
  5. Do you think there is anything you knew since the day you were born?
  6. Are there different types of knowledge? That is, is it different to know something instinctively versus knowing something because you learned it?
  7. In order to say you know something, do you have to know that you know it?
  8. What do you think the creepy-crawly bug meant when she said, “sometimes it’s hard to know what you know.”
  9. Do you think we are also born to do something like the creepy-crawly bug was? What is our “Mexico”?
  10. (if yes to 9) Do we all have a different purpose, or could some people have the same one?
  11. (if no to 9) So are some things (animals, plants, certain people) born with a purpose and some not?
  12. (if yes to 9) The creepy-crawly bug says “If Mexico is where I’m going, and it is, then however I go, I’ll get there.” Do you think that’s true for us? Do our decisions matter?
  13. (if yes to 11) The creepy-crawly bug knew what she had to do. If we don’t know, or can’t tell, how do we know if we’re making the right decisions?
  14. (if yes to 12) If our decisions don’t affect where we end up in life, does it matter if we do bad things?
  15. Do you think things are different for people because they can make decisions for themselves? (Keyword: Free will.)
  16. Are you always free to make our own decisions? What can stop you from doing something you want to do? What if it’s a bad thing?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Katherine Krueger. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Gotta Go Gotta Go featuring a monarch butterfly caterpillar on a yellow background. She looks determined as she crawls toward the right side of the cover. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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