University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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Title and Author: The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin

Field of Philosophy: Metaphysics; Epistemology

Plot Summary: A bear sees the signs of winter and realizes that it is time to hibernate. While he sleeps, a factory is built right over the top of his cave. Spring arrives, and he wakes up to find himself right in the middle of the factory. He immediately gets mistaken by the foreman for a worker and is told to get to work. To this he responds, "But I'm not a man, I'm a bear". He is then taken to each of his successive bosses, who try to convince him that he is just a "silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat", reaching all the way up to an elderly president of the factory who concludes he cannot be a bear because "all bears live in the zoo".

The bear is then taken to the zoo, hoping to gain support from his own species, but even the zoo bears claim he is not a bear, because if he was "he'd be behind bars like us". A similar conclusion is reached when he is taken to see circus bears. Eventually he concludes that he must be a "silly man", and goes to work at the factory. Eventually, the factory shuts down and he is left out in the cold--literally. He wishes he knew what a "silly man" would do to get warm. But, after a time, he finds a cave and enters, feeling comfortable and bear-like once more. As the bear is sleeping, he reflects on the events of the year, and comes to realize that even though everyone else thought he was a silly man, that did not make it so. "The truth is he was not a silly man...and he was not a silly bear, either.”

Some discussion questions:

How does a bear know it’s time to hibernate?
How does a bear know anything?
How do you know when it’s time for bed?
How do you know anything?
What is something you know you know?
What is something you believe but aren’t sure of?
How do you know that something is a bear?
How do you know that something is a silly man who needs a shave?
How can you convince something to believe what you do?
What do you do when everyone else believes something you don’t?
Could other people make you believe that you are a bear? Why or why not?
What is something that you know about yourself?
What is something that you wonder about yourself?
If everyone believes something does that make it true? Why or why not?