Parmenides Publishing

Titles By Patricia Curd

Sentience and Sensiibility:
A Conversation about
Moral Philosophy

346 pages • 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 • Hardcover
Edward C. Halper
is Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Sentience and Sensibility is a dialogue that engages a number of issues in moral theory in a rigorous and original manner, while remaining accessible to students and other nonspecialist readers. It accomplishes this by means of the time-honored (if presently dormant) medium of philosophical dialogue, in which its characters actively challenge each other to clarify their ideas and defend their reasoning. In this manner the conversation develops and weighs some proposed solutions, in largely non-technical language, to a number of current and traditional moral problems (including the nature and origin of moral value, the moral status of nonhuman animals, problems of partiality, and other vexed topics).
Moral philosophy and theory can seem as remote and intimidating as everyday ethical matters and moral intuitions are pressing. Sentience and Sensibility proposes that these two should meet. The book’s characters gently challenge each other to clarify their thinking and defend their reasoning, and in this rigorous yet personable manner explore traditional and fresh takes on morality. The conversation aims not only to discover thoughtful answers to such questions, but to do so while being respectful of both philosophical theory and ordinary moral intuitions.
David Weissman of CCNY believes this “may be the best use of the very difficult medium of philosophical dialogue” he has read, and that the book “deserves a wide audience.” Kay Mathiesen of the University of Arizona compares the appeal of the book to that of Jostein Gaarder’s bestselling novel about the history of philosophy, with the difference that Sentience and Sensibility develops original ideas in moral thought: “It’s like a Sophie’s World for grownups.”

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ForeWord Magazine
Book of the Year Awards 2006
- Finalist
Click here

"This volume is a must for college libraries and an intriguing text for upper-level undergraduate philosophy courses. Silliman has resurrected the old form of philosophical dialogue to write a quirky and accessible book that both describes and moves forward the field of value theory. Through a series of dialogues between "Manuel Kant" and his young interlocutor, Harriet Taylor, Silliman puts forth the argument that moral value is the product of the activities of conscious, social, human beings. In other words, moral value comes into being as something that valuers themselves do. This yields interesting claims about the moral value of human beings and animals, with practical applications to vegetarianism and abortion, for example. The conversational form makes it easy to follow Silliman’s argument, and side headings make it easy to focus on specific points."
—Dena S. Davis
Cleveland State University

"Silliman (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) examines "multicriterial value incrementalism," his preferred moral theory, using a dialogue format. This work includes an epilogue about the importance of moral theory in general, an appendix (coauthored with David K. Johnson) that discusses the theory, and a "cast of concepts and characters" to help better understand the dialogue. The book's purpose is "to discover a conceptual structure that can reconcile and account for" an important set of moral intuitions. The views defended are in some ways similar to those defended by Peter Singer, although the author is unwilling to endorse utilitarianism because "morality as lived cannot be exhausted by reference to a single, simple criterion," and because "it seems to us that there is not a single overarching criterion for settling moral questions." Although written in dialogue format, this volume is intended for any "patient and educated person," rather than primarily for undergraduates.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals." 

Reprinted with permission from CHOICE, copyright by the American Library Association.
—J. H. Spence
Adrian College

"Silliman, Matthew R. Sentience & Sensibility: A Conversation About Moral Philosophy.
Silliman (philosophy, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts) presents an engaging introduction to moral philosophy written in the form of a dialog between 'Manuel Kant' and 'Harriet Taylor.' These characters develop a theory of value incrementalism according to which the value of an object depends on how far it has progressed toward self-consciousness. Thus, plants are more valuable than stones, lower animals are more valuable than plants, and higher animals are more valuable than lower animals. Human beings, with full self-consciousness, rank highest. Silliman does not mean by this that humans have no duties to entities lower on the scale; to the contrary, he believes everything has "moral considerability" as its level of complexity warrants. Working from this theory, Silliman discusses abortion, environmentalism, and vegetarianism. He posits that morality is based on human sentiments—it is not 'out there in the world' completely independent of human beings. By no means, though, does this imply moral relativism. Valuable supplementary reading in courses on ethics; recommended for larger collections."
—David Gordon
Bowling Green State University, OH

"Matt Silliman’s Sentience and Sensibility reads as a casual dialogue without sacrificing the philosophical rigor of thorny perennial issues; Intrinsic and Instrumental Value; Fact/Value dichotomy; personal identity; environmental ethics; animal rights are among the issues he discusses in an inviting manner.
[He] presents a theory of 'Value Incrementalism' that serves as the focal point through which he assesses the weaknesses of traditional ethical theories in responding to dichotomies. An incremental value perspective, although time consuming, embraces all levels of value that holistically provide a better understanding of decisions that are made. The richness of this approach is showcased in the creative dialogue betweena latter day Kant and J.S. Mill (Harriet Taylor) that moves quickly and with wise humor that gives glimpses of the author’s voice in the characters.
All in all, this work shall be used well in courses especially pitched to entice student interest in philosophy as a 'living subject.'"
—G. John M. Abbarno
D’Youville College

"Silliman’s resuscitation of the art of the philosophical dialogue breathes substance into conversation and drama into ideas. This wonderfully urbane and well-written dialogue about the moral life captures the reader’s attention early and never lets it go."
—John Lachs
Vanderbilt University

"I enjoyed reading it ... it is very well-written. I have probably never read a better use of dialogue form."
—David Weissman
City College of New York

"This is a lively philosophical dialogue on the moral status of living things, human and otherwise. The protagonist defends a multi-level account on which we have direct moral obligations to all and only sentient beings, but stronger obligations to those that are self-conscious to some degree than to those that are barely sentient. The view is well defended, and yields plausible conclusions about such questions as whether we ought to be vegetarians, and whether abortion is always or sometimes morally wrong. The dialogue format adds dramatic interest and guides the reader through the complexities of the subject. It enables the objections and responses to be forcefully expressed and answered, but within a context of mutual respect. These features make it useful for either graduate or undergraduate ethics courses. It will also be of interest to anyone who has been troubled by the ambiguous moral status of nonhuman animals, human embryos and fetuses, and other puzzling cases."
—Mary Anne Warren
San Francisco State University