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Green Eggs and Ham

by Dr. Seuss

Summary

This classic story explores questions about the origin of our preferences and about whether experience or reason best informs us.

Green Eggs and Ham is about Sam-I-Am’s attempt to convince the narrator to try green eggs and ham. He spends most of the book offering the unnamed narrator different locations and dining partners to try the delicacy. In the end, the narrator relents and eats the green eggs and ham and ends up loving the food.

Read aloud video by Storytime with Miss Jeannie

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Green Eggs and Ham is a much-loved classic by Dr. Seuss, which is not only fun to read but also raises important questions about the relationship between beliefs and experiences. Sam-I-Am spends the entire book offering green eggs and ham to the narrator, who adamantly refuses to try the delicacy because he does not like Sam-I-Am. Sam-I-Am offers to serve the dish in a number of different locations with a number of different partners. However, his persistence does not succeed until the very end, when the narrator finally caves in and tries it, only to find he loves it, and will eat it anywhere and with anyone. He also overcomes his dislike for Sam-I-Am.

This book raises the question of the role that experience plays in the formation of our beliefs. This topic is discussed in the area of philosophy, known as the theory of knowledge or epistemology. Although the book raises the issue in regard to beliefs about food, the ideas can be applied to beliefs about anything. For example, we can taste something and decide that we don’t like a particular food. However, in other cases, we can simply read about something, like getting into a car crash, for example, and come to the conclusion that we do not want to ever be in a car crash. In this case, we did not need to experience the crash to decide that we don’t want it to happen to us.

There are two main positions that philosophers may take in this discussion. The first is that experience is necessary in establishing our judgments. The second is claiming that sometimes experience may not be necessary to determine what we think, for we can rely on reason alone.

Some philosophers might justify the narrator’s actions by asserting that it is possible not to like something even when you have not tried it. In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that it’s possible to form judgments through reason without recourse to experience. For instance, we do not necessarily need to be in a car accident to decide that we do not want to experience one.

Alternatively, other philosophers may claim that experience is important when we are making judgments. They can use the narrator as an example, claiming that once he had tried green eggs and ham, he realized that he, in fact, loved the food. Here, philosophers are claiming that experience is necessary for establishing beliefs.

The aim of the questions below is to get children thinking about the role of experience in establishing our beliefs. They should be thinking about when and where we need experiences to justify our beliefs, and when actual experiences are not necessary for the beliefs. The questions begin with a set of warm-up questions to get the children to begin thinking about the idea of judgments.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Preferences

  1. Why does the narrator not eat green eggs and ham?
  2. Do you think the narrator would have tried green eggs and ham if someone other than Sam-I-Am was offering them?
  3. Is it fair to refuse to do something just because someone you dislike likes it?
  4. Sam-I-Am gives the narrator a lot of options of how to eat his green eggs and ham; he gives him choices about where to eat and who to eat with. Is it possible to like something in one environment or with someone, but not like it in another? (For example, have you ever really liked a film in the cinema, but when you buy it on DVD, it is not as good?)
  5. Is it fair of Sam-I-Am to keep pestering the narrator to try green eggs and ham? Should he have left him alone after the first time the narrator said he does not like green eggs and ham?

Experience

  1. Do you have to experience something to decide whether you like or dislike it?
  2. If not, how many times do you need to try something? Is it possible that sometimes, even though you may not like something the first time, it may grow on you?
  3. The narrator claims he does not like green eggs and ham, even though he has never tried them. Do people in real life offer opinions about things, even if they have never experienced them? Why do they do this?
  4. At the end of the book, the narrator declares he likes green eggs and ham after trying them. Is it okay to change your mind about something?

Reason

  1. Is it possible to form opinions and ideas about things with having tried it?
  2. If you have not experienced something, what do you need to do in order to form an opinion about it?
  3. Is it enough to base your opinions on what other people think?
  4. Are judgments based on experience worth more than then opinions based on reason?

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

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

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham featuring a fuzzy creature with a tall hat and a plate of green eggs and ham. He is bending over to examine the dish carefully. 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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