Hey, Little Ant
By Philip and Hannah Hoose, Tricycle Press
A young boy has decided to squish an ant and can think of many reasons why he should. But the ant has its own reasons for why he shouldn't. The boy has to make a decision, to squish or not to squish?
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Lauren Flinner
Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip and Hannah Hoose, raises some interesting issues about the role of respect in ethics. The main question of the book is, what makes something or someone worthy of respect? In the story, a young boy wants to squish an ant, suggesting that ants are not worthy of respect. The ant, on the other hand, does not want to be squished, and argues that ants are indeed creatures that should be respected. The question of whether or not this specific ant should be respected brings up the idea of animal rights in general. Are some individuals worth less than others? 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 beings, it is obvious that they should be respected. Critics of this theory claim that holding rationality as the fundamental criteria for respect does not ensure respect for mentally incapacitated humans or for animals. Some believe sentience is a better criterion for respect since it incorporates non-rational humans and animals. A sentient being can experience pleasure and pain, so if animals and humans are both sentient then they both deserve respect. But what does it mean to respect an animal? What kind of behavior toward an animal is morally acceptable? In drawing distinctions between humans and animals, philosophers are concerned with determining what rights belong to each. If humans have a moral status that protects then from gratuitous harm, do animals? If so, is this moral status granted to all animals, or just some? For instance, many people would be shocked at the notion of killing 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 is an opportunity for children to question the validity of the points raised by both the boy and the ant and whether or not their points are good reasons for giving or denying respect. A good way to begin discussing these issues would be to make a chart of the reasons that the boy gives for squishing the ant, the reasons that the ant gives for not being squished, and any other reasons the children can think of for either squishing or not squishing the ant that the book doesn’t mention. Then you can ask whether or not these are good reasons.
The book raises other interesting ethical issues, which are not directly tied to respect. One is the question of whether or not having the ability to do something means it should be done. The boy obviously has the power to squish the ant, but does that mean he should? Another is the notion of peer pressure. Just because all of his friends say he should do something, does that mean he should listen to them? Whose opinion do you respect?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
The boy and the ant each give reasons for what they think the boy should do.
The boy obviously looks down on the ant, calling him a "crook" and "just a speck."
The boy and the ant each list reasons why they are either different or similar.
Power and Responsibility
The boy has the power to squish the ant if he wants to, while the ant has to beg him not to.
The boy's friends pressure him to squish the ant.