Plot Summary: Every day Toad waits patiently for the mail to arrive, but he never receives any mail. Toad tells Frog he is sad that he never receives mail. Toad decides that he will stop waiting for the mail each day, concluding that he shall never receive mail given that he has never received mail before. Meanwhile, Frog secretly sends Toad a letter, and tries to convince Toad to keep waiting for the mail. Frog tells Toad that he has sent him a letter, and he tells him what the letter says. Toad finally receives the letter several days later, and he feels very happy.
Posted In: Logic, Philosophy of Language
- Toad concludes that he will never receive mail in the future given that he has never received mail in the past. Is this conclusion correct?
- Imagine that Toad doesn’t receive any mail for fifty years. At that point, would it make sense for Toad to stop waiting for the mail? Why or why not?
- Would it be correct for someone to argue that it will never rain chocolate chips by pointing out that in all of recorded history, it has never rained chocolate chips?
- Why is Toad happy to receive a letter from Frog even though he already knows exactly what Frog’s letter was going to say?
- Have you ever written a letter to a friend or family member? How is writing a letter different from sending an email or calling someone on the phone?
- Imagine that you try to communicate something to someone else using different methods of communication: telling someone in person (speaking), sending that person an email, sending a text message, and writing a letter. Does the method we use to communicate something influence the meaning of what we are communicating?
Activity Suggestion (this works particularly well with younger students – second/third grade):
Before class, work with the classroom teacher (if you are coming into the classroom to do philosophy) to organize pairs of students who will write letters to one another. In class, read the story, then have students go to their desks and write letters to their partners. At the end, gather the letters and take them with you, without giving them to the students.
When you return for the next session (or after a week if you see the students multiple times a week), ask the students what it was like waiting for the letter. This can lead to interesting discussion about patience and what makes time move faster or slower. Deliver the letters and give the students an opportunity to read them and share their excitement with other students.
Here are some questions you can discuss once everyone has read their letters:
• How is reading a letter from someone different from talking with them in person?
• Did anyone write something in their letter that they wouldn’t say out loud? Why?
• Did anyone learn something they didn’t know from the letter they received?