University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children
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Title and Author: The Real Thief by William Steig

Field of Philosophy: Ethics; Logic

Plot Summary: Gawain, a goose that is the Chief Guard of the Royal Treasury, is blamed when jewels from the Royal Treasury go missing. The Prime Minister, Adrian the cat, makes the following argument: (1) The only way to get into the Royal Treasury is through the door; (2) No locks were broken; (3) Only Gawain and the King have keys; (4) The King has no reason to rob his own treasury; (5) “It is unthinkable” for the King to be wrong about any earthly thing; therefore (6) Gawain must have done it. Gawain is found guilty of the theft and escapes after he is sentenced. The perspective then shifts to that of Gawain's friend, Derek the mouse, who is the real thief, and who has remained silent while Gawain was blamed.

Some discussion questions:

Friendship and Loyalty
What should Derek have done?
Why did Derek stay silent?
Was Derek a good friend to Gawain? What makes someone a good friend?
Was Derek punished for what he did? If so, how?
What were the consequences for the king of his own actions? Did the king have any obligations to Gawain? What were they?
Did the king and the court act unjustly?
Should Gawain have forgiven the king and the rest of the community?
What is forgiveness? Does forgiveness require forgetting? When does someone deserve forgiveness?

Logic
Does the conclusion (6) in Gawain’s argument follow from statements (1) through (5)? Why or why not?
What makes an argument persuasive?
Do all the statements in an argument have to be true for an argument to be a good one?