Hey, Little Ant
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Hey, Little Ant introduces a number of topics: reasons to respect, power, responsibility, and peer pressure.
A young boy has decided to squish an ant and can think of many reasons why he should. But the ant has his own reasons for why he shouldn’t. The boy has to make a decision: to squish or not to squish?
Read aloud video by Ms. Eaton
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip and Hannah Hoose, raises some interesting issues about the role of respect in ethics. One broad important question raised by the book is: what makes something or someone worthy of respect? In the story, a young boy wants to squish an ant. The ant, on the other hand, does not want to be squished. The ant argues that ants are indeed creatures that should be respected and not squished. This raises the issue of the proper treatment of animals. Are some animals morally worth less than humans? Are humans and animals equally worthy of respect? Should all beings be treated the same? Do all creatures have certain indisputable rights?
Some philosophers put forth the idea that in order to be worthy of respect one must have the capacity to be rational. They argue that since humans are rational, humans deserve moral respect. Other philosophers argue that holding rationality as the fundamental criteria for respect does not explain why mentally incapacitated humans deserve moral respect. And so some different criterion is correct.
Some philosophers argue that sentience is a better criterion for respect since it guarantees that non-rational humans and rational humans are equally morally important. A sentient being can experience pleasure and pain, so if animals are also sentient then they deserve moral respect. But what kind of treatment is respectful of animals’ status? What kind of behavior towards an animal is morally acceptable? For example, is it morally okay to eat a cow? Or, can you squish an ant? Some philosophers draw distinctions between humans and animals to try to determine what rights, if any, belong to each. If humans have the right not to be gratuitously harmed, do animals have that right too? Is this a moral right that all animals have or just some animals? People treat different kinds of animals differently. Many people would be appalled at the notion of torturing a puppy, but are fine with killing a cow. Where does an ant fit in?
In Hey, Little Ant, the boy observes that ants are unlike humans. He reasons: humans are big and ants are small, humans have feelings and ants do not, and humans have meaningful relationships while ants do not. Discussing Hey, Little Ant provides an opportunity for children to consider the claims made by the boy and the ant. Children can consider whether or not their points are right, and whether or not their points are good reasons to squish or not squish the ant. A good way to begin discussing these issues would be to list the reasons that the boy gives for squishing the ant, list the reasons that the ant gives for not being squished, and list any other reasons the children can think of for either squishing or not squishing the ant that the book does not mention. Then you can ask whether or not these reasons are true and whether or not they are good reasons.
The book raises other interesting ethical issues as well. Is it okay to do something just because you can? The boy obviously has the power to squish the ant, but does that mean he should? What is the relationship between power and responsibility? Another topic raised by the book is peer pressure. If all your friends say you should do something, does that mean you should do it? Does their opinion matter? How much should it matter?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
Reasons to Respect
The boy looks down at the ant and calls him “a speck.”
- Should the boy squish the ant? Why or why not?
- What are some of the reasons the boy gives for squishing the ant? (Are the reasons true?) Do you think they are good reasons for squishing the ant?
- What are the reasons the ant gives for not being squished? (Are the reasons true?) Do you think they are good reasons for not being squished?
- Can you think of any other good reasons for squishing the ant or for not squishing the ant? Why are they good reasons?
- Is liking someone or something a reason to respect them?
- Is disliking someone or something a reason to disrespect them?
- Do the ant and the boy respect each other throughout the story? How?
- Does the boy have to not squish the ant in order to respect the ant?
Treatment of Animals
The boy and the ant offer reasons why they are either different or similar.
- How are the boy and the ant similar? How are they different?
- Is the boy more important than the ant? Is the ant more important than the boy? Are they equally important? Why?
- Are ants important? What about other animals? Why?
- Does the ant have a right to live? Why or why not?
- Does the ant have the right to be left alone? What about other animals for example kittens and spiders?
- Is it okay to kill animals for food? All animals or only some? If only some, what makes them different from the others?
Power and Responsibility
The boy has the power to squish the ant if he wants.
- Who is more powerful the boy or the ant? How?
- The boy can squish the ant. Does that mean it’s okay for him to squish the ant?
- Have you ever felt like the ant? What did that feel like?
- If your big brother is stronger than you, does that mean its okay for him to punch you?
- Can you think of anything that you have the power to do, but that you shouldn’t do? What keeps you from doing it?
- Are you more powerful than someone? Does that mean it’s okay for you to hurt them? Why or why not?
- Does being more powerful than someone else mean that you have responsibilities towards that individual? If so, what kind of responsibilities?
The boy’s friends pressure him to squish the ant.
- Should the boy always listen to his friends? Should the boy sometimes listen to his friends? If so, when?
- Do you always do what other people tell you to do?
- If enough people want you to do something, does that make it okay for you to do it? Does it depend on the thing?
- Do you do what your parents tell you to do? Why or why not? Is that different from listening to your friends?
Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Lauren Flinner archived here. Edited July 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.
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