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Those Shoes

by Maribeth Boelts

Summary

Those Shoes introduces a discussion about generosity, the conflict between altruism and selfishness, and about distributive justice.

Jeremy really wants a pair of black, high-top shoes. His Grandma tells him that they can’t afford the expensive shoes because he needs winter boots. When Jeremy’s old shoes break, his guidance counselor gives him a pair of shoes that everyone makes fun of–except Antonio. Jeremy goes to the thrift stores and finds a pair of those black, high-top shoes, but they are too small. At school, Jeremy notices that Antonio’s shoes are duct taped together at recess. Jeremy eventually decides to give his shoes to Antonio. When it snows, Jeremy remembers that he has new boots.

Read aloud video by Reading for Rainy Days

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Generosity

Toward the end of the story, we see Jeremy is faced with a dilemma–he sees that the only classmate who did not laugh at him when he was basically forced to wear the Velcro shoes a teacher gave to him was also the only other student who did not have the new, all-the-rage shoes. Not only that, but Jeremy notices that Antonio has his shoes falling apart. This introduces the idea of generosity. Jeremy is obviously upset that his feet do not fit into the shoes he wanted so badly, and when he sees the opportunity to give them to Antonio, he had to convince himself and tried to talk himself out of it more than once. Still, he ended up giving the shoes to Antonio. Does this make Jeremy generous? Is it possible to be both jealous/angry at a situation and still be generous in that situation, or do you have to have selfless reasons for what you are doing? There is also an argument to be made about the idea that Jeremy possibly felt like he had to give the shoes to Antonio since they did not fit him and Antonio needed new shoes. If this is true, would that still allow us to say that Jeremy was generous? Some argue that being generous is in the act itself and not in the reasoning behind your decision, while others believe that the reasons behind your actions also play an important role.

Altruism/Selflessness

Throughout the story, we see more than one instance where Jeremy could have, and arguably should have, been more considerate for the well-being of others. When he wanted the shoes that his grandma could not afford, should he have been more concerned with his grandma being sad about not being able to buy him the shoes that he wants? When Jeremy has an argument with himself about giving the shoes to Antonio, should he have been okay with having nice shoes even though someone else did not? What about the extent to which we help others? Jeremy did end up giving his shoes that he bought with his own money to Antonio since his shoes were falling apart and the new shoes did not fit Jeremy, but was there some sort of obligation to do so?

Distributive Justice

In the story, most of the class has the same pair of black high top shoes except Jeremy and Antonio. It is important to note that Jeremy and Antonio wanted the shoes, but could not afford them. Is it fair that some people have the nice shoes while their classmates cannot afford them? There are those who would argue that it is fair so long as the people who got the nice shoes did not get them unjustly (did not steal them, lie to get them, etc.). On the other hand, people may argue that everyone should be on the same level (and thus, get equal distribution of all items) so as to reduce the feeling of superiority and account for the x-factor of income that some people (importantly children) cannot control. The larger question here is how should goods be distributed among people? What is our goal for society? Is our goal equality of goods, or equality of opportunity? Or perhaps it is not about equality at all, but rather making sure everyone has enough.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Generosity

  1. Was Jeremy generous?
  2. What did Jeremy mean when he kept chanting “I will not do it”?
  3. Can Jeremy be angry/jealous but still generous?
  4. Does his anger make Jeremy “less” generous?
  5. Why did Jeremy give Antonio the shoes?
  6. Would Jeremy still be a good person if he didn’t give away his shoes?
  7. Are you a good person if you are generous because it makes YOU feel good?
  8. Does it matter why you’re generous? If I give money to a poor person on the street and do so because I want others to think well of me, am I generous?
  9. If I give money out of concern for the poor person’s well being, am I generous?
  10. Is it ever a bad thing to be generous?
  11. Can generosity hurt you or the people you’re trying to help?
  12. Can you ever be too generous?
  13. If a rich person and a poor person gave the same amount, is one of them more generous?

Altruism/Selflessness

  1. Should Jeremy have given the shoes to Antonio?
  2. Is it okay that Jeremy had nice shoes and Antonio did not?
  3. Would it be okay if Jeremy did not give the shoes to Antonio?
  4. Should we worry if someone is poor? Why?
  5. Should we try to help poor people? Why?
  6. If someone has nice things and someone else they know does not, should the person who has nice things give to the person who doesn’t?
  7. If yes, how much should the person with the nice things give?

Distributive Justice

  1. If Tony can afford two pairs of nice shoes and Anthony cannot afford any, should Anthony have to buy Tony a pair?
  2. Is it fair if Tony has nice shoes and Anthony does not?
  3. How should we divide five pencils between five people?
  4. How should we divide five pencils between six people?
  5. Should everyone always get an equal amount of stuff?
  6. Does it matter if someone in a group already had a pencil? Or should we just split the pencils we have equally?
  7. Imagine that you live in a two bedroom house and others live in a five bedroom house. Would it be better if everyone lived in a two bedroom house? Why?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Lindsey Chavez and Mark Leedy. Edited May 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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