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“Owl and the Moon” from Owl at Ho..

by Arnold Lobel

Summary

“Owl and the Moon” serves as an excellent starting point for philosophical discussion about friendship, knowledge, and truth.

Owl lives by himself in a warm little house. One evening, when Owl goes for a walk one night, he makes a friend that follows him all the way home.

Read aloud video by Becky Shattuck

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

“Owl and the Moon”, the last of five stories in Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home, serves as an excellent starting point for philosophical discussion about friendship, knowledge, and truth with elementary students. In this story, the moon follows Owl home. Owl tells the moon to go home, but when the moon goes behind a cloud, he is sad and wants the moon to come back.

The topic of friendship is very pertinent in the lives of children and one that philosophers have debated for a long time. “How might ‘friendship’ be looked at from a philosophical perspective?”, you may ask. Questions such as, “What is the nature of friendship?”, “What are the rules of friendship?”, and “What constitutes a friend?”, are all philosophical questions. Can colleagues be friends–online strangers, parents, even the moon?

Aristotle wrote about the different kinds of friendship–Friendships of Utility, Friendships of Pleasure, and Friendships of Virtue. Not all philosophers, however, believe in this model. Kant, for example, believes that people do not seek friendship simply for friendship’s sake, but rather, to serve a greater purpose and to satisfy some selfish need. Friendships are not possible from Kant’s perspective. Discussion of the terms of friendships is an excellent way to segue into a discussion about the different kinds of friendship. Wondering about terms of friendship will get children thinking about what, if anything, we owe our friends. This book deals especially with reciprocity in friendship because a living (personified) animal wants to be friends with an inanimate thing. In discussion, children will need to think about whether or not every friendship has the same terms or if the terms change for different kinds of friendships.

Another topic that “Owl and the Moon” addresses is the question of how we know what we know and what makes something true. Owl says, “If I am looking at you, moon, then you must be looking back at me.” Kant argued that “[k]nowledge is an objective interpretation of reality, but it is not reality itself.” This aspect of the story may spark an interesting discussion about Owl’s perceptions. How does Owl know that the moon can really see him? Can the moon see Owl in reality, or is it just Owl’s interpretation? Although Owl believes that the moon is indeed looking back at him, some would argue that it might not be the case in reality. This also raises the issue of truth and what makes something true. Some would argue that something is true because you believe it is true. Others would say that only a theory that is provable through science can be deemed true.

In summary, the friendship between Owl and the moon, as described in Arnold Lobel’s story, can be an excellent place to start discussion with your students about some of these philosophical questions regarding the terms and types of friendship, as well as knowledge and truth.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Friendship

The moon is very far away from Owl. He can see the light of the moon shining down on him, but he can’t touch it.

  1. Can the moon be your friend?
  2. Do you think that the moon thinks Owl is his friend?
  3. Can you still be friends with someone or something if they do not think that you are friends?
  4. Can you be friends with someone or something that you can’t touch?
  5. What kinds of things can be your friends?
  6. Think about your own friends–what makes them a good friend?
  7. How do you know that they are your friend?
  8. Should we expect things from our friends? If so, what kinds of things?
  9. Why do we have friends?
  10. Do we make friends on purpose or by accident?
  11. Do you think that there are different kinds of friends?
  12. Think about your own friends. Are your relationships with each one different in some way? How?
  13. What kind of friendship do Owl and the moon have?

Owl keeps telling the moon that it must go away because he is going home. When the moon does go away, he is sad.

  1. Have you ever said goodbye to a friend? If so, how did you feel?
  2. Can someone be your friend when they are gone?
  3. If they are gone, how do you know that they are still your friend?

Knowledge

Owl believes that the moon is looking back at him because he is looking at the moon.

  1. Do you think the moon can look back at Owl? Why or why not?
  2. How does Owl “know” that the moon is looking back?
  3. Does Owl’s belief that the moon is looking at him make it true?
  4. Is a belief the same as knowledge?
  5. What makes something true?
  6. Can something be true because you believe that it is true?
  7. Can something be true if there is no proof of it?
  8. How would we find out if the moon is Owl’s friend?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Sulaiha Schwartz. 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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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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