“Style itself makes its claims, expresses its own sense of what matters. Literary form is not separable from philosophical content, but is, itself, a part of content – an integral part, then, of the search for and the statement of truth.” – Martha C. Nussbaum
Probably, the most celebrated work among all the children’s stories Arnold Lobel wrote is The Letter at the end of Frog and Toad Are Friends. Its focus is on friendship, but with the use of friendship as the central figure involves the moral stories about discernment of emotions and experiences of the others, ultimately leading the readers to the cultivation of empathetic feelings. Aristotle discusses that virtues are cultivated through habituation, a conscious repeated performance of noble deeds. Since it is more difficult to habituate oneself with a certain action at a later stage in one’s life, the development of a proper emotional response with regards to particular situations should be made at the earlier stage in life. If this is the case, and I believe it is, then the seeds of virtue theories should be found in children’s stories more often than in theory-driven books for adults.
The Frog and Toad Are Friends series is intended for the first graders to the third graders, and my first encounter with Frog and Toad was in the second grade. In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle emphasizes that the habituation of, or exposition to, the moral excellence in the early years of one’s life is absolutely essential to the development of a kind of moral character one need to lead a happy, virtuous life. These books, then, are what taught me the importance of emotions and consideration for others at the very early stage in my childhood, and ever since I met them the foundations for my ethical views have always been able to be traced back to these collections of books. My own experience attests that the books we read when we are young have so much influence in the formation of ethical views as well as cultivation of emotions and values in others. In this paper, I wish to explore how much of moral concepts held in virtue ethics are actually depicted in some of the great books in children’s literature, and discuss in detail how these stories can be viewed as promoting virtue theories rather than other ethical theories. In doing so, I will examine how the views from the articles we have read in the class are expressed in forms accessible to children. I will then conclude that the Frog and Toad series as a whole comprises a larger project of prompting virtue theories in children’s minds.
I: Meeting Frog and Toad
“We must instead look for instruction to exemplary,
experienced models of practical wisdom.” – Nussbaum
In The Letter, Frog sees his best friend, Toad, sitting on the front porch, looking very sad. It turns out that it is the time of the day when he sits and waits for a mail, even though no one has ever sent him a mail. And it makes Toad very unhappy. Toad explains, “Every day my mailbox is empty. That is why waiting for the mail is a sad time for me.” Frog sits with Toad for a while, both of them feeling sad.
There is much to be unpacked in the first few pages of the story, for it is teemed with ethical implications necessary in early education. I will first venture to divide the stories into three categories for an effective analysis: one that deals with problem solving, another that deals with carrying out of a project, and lastly one that deals with everyday events. The Letter is undoubtedly a story of problem solving, for i) Toad is having a problem, ii) Frog detects the problem and iii) Frog ventures to solve the problem. Like all other stories, the stages are threefold. The story begins with Frog’s noticing the particular circumstance and interpreting it properly, as this is the case seen consistently throughout all four books dealing with problem solving that Lobel had written. Such is the case with The Cookies, where Frog tries to help Toad overcome the desire to eat all of his cookies, and also is the case with The Kite, where Frog teaches Toad the right attitude in approaching a problem – that is, not to give into frustration and give up easily, a very important concept prevalent in virtue ethics that is closely tied into the habituation of character.
Accurate assessment of the that – the hoti (facts) stage – is the first step towards living ethically. Since how one will react to each situation depends on that premise – the discernment of facts – if one is mistaken about the subtleties of human emotions in a situation, whatever follows will be inappropriate. But, of course, the appropriate discernment of the particular does not make a person ethical, but only serves as a minor premise. The discussion of the minor and major premises in ethics is also illustrated in Akrasia and Pleasure by Rorty; there she, as well as other commentators, says that a minor premise is precisely the accurate assessment of a particular situation one finds herself in. The major premise, then, asks what sort of person one is. If one is a sort of person who values frienship, hence concerns for the other – as is the case here with Frog and Toad – then detecting that something is wrong is a minor premise that triggers one to initiate an action so as not to contradict with the major premise, i.e. concerns for one’s valued friends. Not detecting the subtleties in the other’s emotion is not getting the minor premise, hence failing to activate an action that accords with the constitution of the kind of person one is. Once one gets the minor premise right, she must also be predisposed to acting in accordance with her own emotional response. For this, habituation of and exposition to virtuous deeds come to aid her, for “a truly moral agent is not just the person who discerns what is the right thing to do, but the person who does this on the basis of a reflectively achieved ability to justify in terms of rules and principles under which the decisions and actions can be brought.” Indeed, what children’s stories do, or should aim at doing, is form in us a firm and unchanging character from which we deliberate actions from early, and hence very important, stage in our life. Nancy Sherman, in her article on The Habituation of Character, explains how musical education also important for Aristotle. This is because “music provides the child with exemplars of character, and allows the child to feel ‘from within’ what the emotions and actions of such characters are like,” and that literature as a piece of art, I believe, has the same capacity as well. Frog, in fact, is showing the readers what it means to be a good friend in the context of the particular situation in The Letters. He does not pretend to be sad when he sits next to Toad, waiting for a mail, but he genuinely feels sad. Again, there is much to be said about Frog’s characters in relation to the moral of the story. He is predisposed to rightly assess what the other is going through emotionally, and to feel appropriate emotional responses in each situation. This shows us not the importance of temporary imitation of feelings, but rather, the moral significance of how a good friend is in his constitution. It does not preach a mere mimetic education, but the first hand analysis of “what sorts of emotions and responses characterize different sorts of states.”
II: Experiencing with Frog and Toad
“People care for the books they read; and they are changed by what they care for – both during the time of reading and in countless later ways more difficult to discern.” – Nussbaum.
In the second part of the story, Frog shows us how a virtuous friend deals with the situation. After first having felt the sadness Toad was feeling, Frog tells Toad that he must go home, since he has something he must do. Once Frog gets to his home, he takes out a pencil and a piece of paper, writing something on it, and puts it in an envelope. With the words, “A Letter for Toad”, on the envelope, Frog runs out of his house and sees someone he knows – a snail – and asks him, “Please take this letter to Toad’s house and put it in his mailbox.”
In this section, Frog’s virtues are particularly well portrayed. Virtue ethics promotes a cultivation of character in a person, and how such acquired characters should be demonstrated as parts of natural traits of the person. That is to say, one cannot force or plan herself to feel in a certain way when such and such a situation arises. Rather, one must feel such and such emotional responses to the situation naturally, without even thinking about how one should feel in such and such a situation. But virtue ethics also prompts us to feel negative feelings, such as fear, to an extent. This is because one cannot be called courageous, for instance, if she does not fear anything at all. Feeling fear towards something is to recognize that what is at hand is somewhat fearful, and it is by overcoming such fear, one is called courageous for the first time. Indeed, it is necessary for one to have the proper habits of fear in order to be courageous. Frog here is able to do just that. By first having a genuine feeling of sadness with Toad, Frog does not jump into ‘performing’ a set of rules, as Utilitarian arguments or Kantian Ethics might propose to do, but rather he is first living in the moment with his best friend, experiencing the sad event together. Then, and only then, does he start to act to make his friend feel better. This is precisely because “practical matters are in their very nature indeterminable or indefinable,” and not because “ethics has not yet attained the precision of science; it should not even try for such precision.” Frog overcomes that sadness Toad is subject to, and soon is able to act in accordance with his major premise, i.e. his value of friendship. This is indeed a result of Frog’s character trait that he is able to feel sadness with his friend for an appropriate period of time, and then move on to carry out a specific task that the particular situation calls for. The right emotional response is needed for discernment of the particular subtleties in a situation, but imagination too plays a great role in figuring out what action is in fact needed in order to ease the tension found in these circumstances. For without imagination, even if one catches the emotional subtleties in a conflicted situation, she is not always able to come up with an appropriate solution. This is another point made in Nussbaum’s article where she says that “[f]or it is in the nature of imagination, as we have said, to recognize highly concrete and, frequently, uniquely particular objects,” hence, “to defend the priority of particulars is to inform us that imagination can play a role in deliberation that cannot be altogether replaced by the functioning of abstract thought.” Indeed, Frog rightly and accurately discerns what his friend is experiencing emotionally and prepares his way to an act that is ethically appropriate. In this way, we learn that discernment of the particulars is a precondition for acting ethically.
III: Frog’s Emotional Response
“Aristotle does not think that the bare fact that someone orefers something gives us any reason at all for ranking it as preferable. It all depends who the someone is and through what procedures the ranking has been effected.” – Nussbaum
In the third part, after having given the letter to the snail, Frog runs back to Toad’s house, and finds his friend taking a nap, presumably out of despair. Frog then tells Toal that he should get up and wait for the mail some more. Toad is pessimistically convinced that it is no use waiting for the mail, and that it would only make him feel more miserable. Frog then tries to convince him by telling him, “you never know when someone may send you a letter,” but Toad is convinced that no one will ever send him a letter. Frog keeps looking out of the window, making sure whether he sees the snail coming towards Toad’s house, the snail has not come. Toad, then, wonders and asks him why he keeps looking out of the window, to which Frog responds, “Because now I am waiting for the mail,” continues Frog, “because I have sent you a letter.”
Here we see two important concepts. First we see Frog trying to teach Toad not to give up on hope so easily, for we never know how things will turn out in the end. Sometimes all you need is a positive attitude. But more importantly, we see two friends interact with each other as friends par excellence. The concept of friendship is absolutely central to Aristotle’s ethics. The interaction between Frog and Toad illustrates and brings out in us the “desire to share a form of life with a friend,” and by doing so, it promotes and cultivates the experiential learning of “the ability to read a situation, singling out what is relevant for thought and action,” and reminds us that such learning is not a technique that is learned by abstracting a formula, but rather it is something that one learns by guidance. Frog and Toad illuminate the perfect example to us by which how “[t]rusting the guidance of a friend and allowing one’s feelings to be engaged with that other person’s life and choices, one learns to see aspect of the world one had previously missed,” and they therefore invite us to trust their guidance and allow us to see the world through their eyes for the first time. Their story, in this manner, makes it possible for us to experience their world, and to really participate in their life as a friend; the power of the art of fiction indeed lies precisely in this fact that it “create[s] a relationship between book and reader and to make the reader, for the duration of that relationship, into a certain sort of friend.” We will come to see the characters as friends, and this sense of trust and comfort we develop towards the characters in the novel enables us to feel sympathy and love. Frog is right in telling Toad that he has written a letter for him when he does, even though it would not be a surprise when Toad receives a letter. There needs not be a surprise in carrying out an ethical deed. Unexpected happiness may produce sheer joy at the moment, but Frog will soon tell us that it is not with surprising a friend with joy that the whole of ethics is concerned.
“[N]ovels can be a school for the moral sentiments, distancing us from blinding personal passions and cultivating those that are more conducive to community.” – Nussbaum.
The last part of the story takes us emotionally through with Frog and Toad what it is to have and to be a good friend. After telling Toad that Frog has written him a letter and that he has sent it to him, Toad delights with excitement and joy, and they both go outside onto the front porch to wait for the mail, sitting together feeling happy. They have waited for four days, and finally the snail arrives at Toad’s house, and gives the letter to him. In the letter he reads it say, “Dear Toad, I am glad that you are my best friend. Your best friend, Frog.” Toad is very pleased to have it.
In this paper, I have discussed primarily about the friendship between Frog and Toad with the exclusive reference to The Letter, while mentioning relevance of this paper to the other stories of Frog and Toad. This is to illustrate Frog and Toad’s characters well enough so the readers of this paper can see the consistency in their character traits as well as argue that Frog has a virtuous character that is unshakable throughout the stories. Also it is my belief, along with Nussbaum, that “[t]o decide [the characters’ emotional responses are appropriate] would require us to know a great deal about [the] story as a whole,” and because of that, “it would seem hasty and arbitrary to form any such judgment in advance of the fullest possible scruitiny of the entire novel.” Also, my reason for focusing on friendship is to insist that each form of friendship is a particular and unique entity; it is not commensurable with anything else. To recognize that this very relationship is irreplaceable and hence in itself valuable is to judge that it is an end in itself. By treating friends in this way, these stories appropriately promotes and engrains in children’s mind a type of moral graphy, i.e. representational practices that influence us in the way we live, that is highly encouraged in virtue ethics.
Nussbaum is right when she says that only in the relation to the literary text, can we “have a relation characterized by genuine altruism, and by genuine acknowledgment of the otherness of the other,” that is, we exercise ethics in its purest form in the act of reading. In this way, our ethical attitudes are formed by acquainting ourselves with particular types of friednship we develop with the literary work we keep, just as we often assess our characters by the company we keep. Literature, then, in so much as it “ask[s] us to imagine possible relations between our own situations and those of the [characters], to identify with the situations,” it tells us that this much of moral relevance is universalizable in ethics. Reading Frog and Toad Are Friends, then, is definitely an appropriate way for children, as well as for adults, to approach learning about what actions and responses are called for in a particular situation, hence cultivating one’s sense of discernment of particulars.
 Nussbaum, Martha C., Introduction: Form and Content, Philosophy and Literature, in Love’s Knowledge (NY: Oxford University Press, 1992), p.3
 Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1103b24–26, in The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) He says there that “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” See also Nancy Sherman’s article, “The Habituation of Character,” in Coursepack, where she talks how it is necessary to begin introducing ethical concepts in one’s early stage in life, “[f]or those who have already been corrupted by a life of pleasure and immoderate feeling, rational persuasion and dialogue are no longer viable means of effecting reform.”
 Nussbaum, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, in Love’s Knowledge, 84-85.
 Arnold Lobel, “The Letter,” in Frog and Toad Are Friends (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1979), 53-55.
 Though I have divided the stories into three categories, for the purpose of this essay, I will only be focusing on the case of the ‘problem solving’ as it is the central theme of my paper.
 Lobel, “The Cookies,” in Frog and Taod Together
 Lobel, “The Kite,” in Days with Frog and Toad
 Burnyeat, M. F., “Aristotle on Learning to Be Good,” in Coursepack, 62-63.
 Rorty, Amelie O., “Akrasia and Pleasure,” from Coursepack, 194.
 Annas, Julius. “Morality, Ancient and Modern,” from Coursepack, 221
 Sherman, “The Habituation of Character,” in Coursepack, 136.
 Ibid, 139.
 This is also apparent from Frog’s reactions in other situations, such as in “The Surprise,” where he sees fallen leaves in his front yard, and having felt the need to clean up the leaves, he immediately feels that Toad must be feeling the same, and he goes straight to Toad’s to clean up the leaves, prioritizing how his friend must feel when Toad sees the fallen leaves. Also evident in “The Hat,” when Frog gives Toad a birthday present, a hat, which turns out to be too big for Toad. Although Toad adamantly assures Frog that he is happy to receive a gift from him, and that he does not want to exchange it for anything, Frog discerns Toad’s sadness, and tells him to “think very big thoughts. [For t]hose big thoughts will make [his] head grow larger,” so in the morning the hat will fit his head. While Toad is asleep, Frog pours water on his hat and puts it in a warm place to dry. This way, the hat shrank enough to fit perfectly on Toad’s head by the morning.
 Sherman, “The Habituation of Character,” in Coursepack, 139.
 Nussbaum, Reading for Life, in Love’s Knowledge, 231.
 Lobel, “The Letter,” in Frog and Toad Are Friends, 56-57.
 Nussbaum illuminates this point in her article, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, that “I must do the just thing without reluctance or inner emotional tension. If my right choices always require struggle, then I am less virtuous than the person whose emotions are in harmony with her actions.” See also Coursepack, 123.
 Rorty, “Akrasia and Pleasure,” in Coursepack, 195.
 See Nussbaum, Perceptive Equilibrium: Literary Theory and Ethical Theory, where she discusses literary-ethical inquiry begins the question with ‘How should one live?’ which differs from Kantian questions: ‘what is my moral duty?’ or that of utilitarians: ‘how shall I maximize utility?’ in Love’s Knowledge, 173. Also see Julius Annas’ article, Morality, Ancient and Modern, “[t]here is nothing in the ancient texts which correspond… to an interest in universalizability as a necessary or sufficient condition of a reson’s being a moral reason.” In Coursepack, 224.
 Nussbaum, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, in Love’s Knowledge, 70. See also 1103b34-1104a10 in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
 Nussbaum, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, in Love’s Knowledge, 83.
 Ibid., 62.
 Lobel, The Letter, in Frog and Toad Are Friends, 58-59.
 Ibid,, 60-62. Italic mine.
 Nussbaum, Form and Content, Philosophy and Literature, in Love’s Knowledge, 44.
 Nussbaum, Reading for Life, in Love’s Knowledge, 230. See also Form and Content, Philosophy and Literature, in Love’s Knowledge, 46.
 Nussbaum, Reading for Life, in Love’s Knowledge, 240.
 Ibid., 240.
 Lobel, The Letter, in Frog and Toad Are Friends, 62-64.
 Nussbaum, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, in Love’s Knowledge, 87.
 Ibid, 60. See also Nussbaum, Fictions of the Soul, in Love’s Knowledge, 249.
 Walker, M. U., Unnecessary Identities, in Coursepack, 240
 Nussbaum, Form and Content, Philosophy and Literature, in Love’s Knowledgw, 48.
 Nussbaum, Reading for Life, in Love’s Knowledge, 234.
 Nussbaum, An Aristotelian Conception of Rationality, in Love’s Knowledge, 95.