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The Gift of Nothing

By Patrick McDonnell, Little, Brown


Mooch the cat desperately wants to find a gift for his friend Earl the dog, but Earl already has everything. "What do you give a guy who has everything?" Mooch wonders. The answer, of course, is nothing! This simple story features characters from Patrick McDonnell's popular comic strip, Mutts, and has the same depth, charm, and heart that he gives to his daily readers.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Courtney Cioffredi and Tom Wartenberg

The Gift of Nothing illustrates just how puzzling the notion of nothing can be to both the philosopher and the layperson. After all, if nothing does not exist, how can we meaningfully talk about it? Doesn't nothing have to be a something in order for us to think about it? What does it mean when we say, "Oh, that's nothing to worry about?" In the book, [A] decides that nothing is just what [B] needs. How can this be?!

Philosophers have puzzled a great deal over what the concept of nothing means. Some have argued that it is not a real concept at all. Thus, we really should revise our ordinary ways of speaking to avoid the apparent paradoxes involved in talking about nothing. Others have asserted that we need to admit odd realms of existence in which nothing can actually be something. Clearly, this is a difficult notion to fully comprehend.

In discussing this book, it is helpful to stress the pleasure of thinking about the paradoxes surrounding the notion of nothing. Although this is a topic for serious philosophical discussion, it also involves brain-teasers that children can enjoy thinking about. Keeping this in mind can help make the discussion of this book really fun!

The Gift of Nothing also explores the meaning of friendship and the meaning of gifts. Questions can be posed as to what a friend is and what a gift is. Such questions can be used to get children to explore the idea that things might not be what actually make them happy. Perhaps it is the people and their relationships with them that really make them happy. It is, therefore, helpful to encourage children to think about holidays and birthdays and why we give gifts on such occasions. Is it to show that we care about the person and that we are happy to be with them? If so, is the gift truly important or could the real gift be spending time with them?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

By Courtney Cioffredi

The meaning of nothing

"But in a world filled with so many somethings, where could he find nothing?"

  1. Why did Frank say "There was nothing on TV"? Wasn't there something on TV?
  2. What does it mean when someone says there is nothing to do or nothing to buy at the store?
  3. How can we put nothing a box? Can you capture nothing?
  4. What is nothing? Is it something?
  5. Can you think of nothing or think about nothing? Do you always have to be thinking of something? Is thinking about things that do not exist thinking about nothing?
  6. What was inside the box that Mooch gave Earl? How do you know?
  7. If you cannot see something, does that mean that nothing is there? What might an example be?


  1. Was Mooch being a good friend when he gave Earl nothing?
  2. Might there be another gift that Mooch gave Earl? How do you know?
  3. Do you think Mooch gave Earl friendship rather than nothing as his gift?
  4. Do you have a good friend like Mooch?
  5. What makes someone a friend?
  6. What makes someone a good friend?
  7. Do you have friends who you are friends with for different reasons?
  8. What are the reasons you are friends with someone?

This book module deals with metaphysics and ethics, specifically friendship. It is appropriate for intermediate philosophers. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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