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Fish is Fish

By Leo Lionni, Dragonfly Books


Two friends, a tadpole and a fish, live in a pond until the tadpole becomes a frog and leaves. He brings back fantastic descriptions of the outside world and the fish tries to explore this other world for himself. However, he finds out that he cannot breathe outside the water and is saved by the frog.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Amani Talwar

There are actually a few philosophical issues in this story. This module describes only two. Please contact us if you are interested in expanding it.

When the frog describes birds, cows and people, the fish imagines them as fishlike creatures with a few special features. Most children would say that such creatures do not exist. You can ask how they can be sure of this, which would lead to a discussion about how we know what we know.

The story clearly shows that there is one thing that the frog can do but the fish cannot: breathe outside of water. You can start an interesting discussion about whether this limitation makes the fish inferior to the frog. This can be extended to a conversation about human capabilities and what it means not to be able to do something that others can.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Look at the kinds of creatures the fish is imagining.

  1. Do you think it is possible that these creatures exist? Why or why not?
  2. Is it possible to know that something exists without having seen it yourself? How do we decide this? What are some different ways that we come to have knowledge?
  3. Sometimes, we read stories about things we have never seen or experienced before. For example, most of us have read stories in which animals speak to each other in English, although none of us have seen talking animals before. It’s easy to imagine this in our heads. But how do we know that what we are imagining is not real? Could it be real?
  4. Have you ever had a dream that felt so real when you were dreaming, you thought it was real life? If it felt real but was still a dream, how do you know you’re not dreaming now?

The fish finds out that he cannot breathe outside water, although the frog can.

  1. Are there things the fish can do that the frog cannot?
  2. Do you think the frog is better than the fish?
  3. Does it make sense to compare the frog and the fish?
  4. Have you ever tried doing something and then realized you just can’t do it, even though some other people can?
  5. Some people are better than others at certain things, like shooting baskets or skipping rope. If a person is better at something than other people, does that make her a better person?

This book module deals with ethics, specifically friendship. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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