University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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Title and Author: The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen

Field of Philosophy: Aesthetics; Ethics;

Plot Summary: The classic nineteenth century fairy tale tells the story of a duckling who, when hatched along with his brothers and sisters, is ridiculed and ostracized because they perceive him as ugly. He wanders alone through the fall and winter, and suffers from fear, loneliness, and sadness. In the spring he flies away from the marsh and meets up with a group of swans, and realizes that he too has become a beautiful swan.

Some discussion questions:

Was the “ugly duckling” really ugly? If so, what made him ugly? Did he stop being ugly at the end of the story?
What does ugly mean?
Would the “ugly duckling” still be ugly if someone thought he was beautiful?
What is beauty?
How do we decide what is beautiful and what is not?
If you’re ugly, are you always ugly, and if you’re beautiful, are you always beautiful?
Are the following things beautiful?
-a sunrise
-The Mona Lisa
-a smile
-a song
-a feeling
-a thought
-a painting
If the ugly duckling believed he was beautiful, would that make him more likely to be seen as beautiful?
What does it mean to have “inner beauty?”
Can someone be a terrible person and still be beautiful? An extraordinarily wonderful person and be ugly?
Is there some objective standard of beauty—so that everyone in any time and place would agree that this particular person or object is beautiful—or does it depend on where and when you live, and on what you think? If it depends on individual perspectives and circumstances, is beauty real or is it just something people make up?
Why does beauty matter to us?
What does it feel like when something is beautiful to us? Is this always true?