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Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2008

    Brilliant discussion of the secular basis of ethics

    Austin Dacey is an American philosopher and a representative at the United Nations of the Center for Inquiry, which promotes the secular, scientific outlook. He is also on the editorial staff of Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. In this brilliant and original book, Dacey advocates a public, objective and secular ethics. He argues that matters of conscience are fit subjects for public discussion guided by shared evaluative standards, evidence and experience. Conscience must be free from coercion, but not free from judgement. Conscience is protected so that we can pursue the vital questions of meaning, truth and value in public dialogue and forums. But the Roman Catholic Church has decreed, ¿Freedom of thought or expression ¿ cannot imply a right to offend the religious sentiments of believers.¿ But this would end freedom of expression, because any criticism of religious doctrines could `offend the religious sentiments of believers¿. The assertion, `I¿m right, you¿re wrong¿ is not intolerant it is the nature of thought, as is then moving forward to saying, `and these are the reasons why you should change your mind¿. This is not imposing one¿s opinion on others: persuasion is the opposite of coercion. To defend one¿s point of view by saying, ¿I¿m entitled to my opinion¿ is to refuse debate. The only opinions worth respect are those derived from investigation and debate. The basis of ethics is independence of mind, with which we can evaluate all ideas and ideologies in the light of reason. Dacey argues that ¿the secular conscience stands prior to and independent of all religions.¿ Religion is unnecessary to ethics: if God approves an act because it is good, then God is superfluous: if an act is good because God approves it, then there is no ethics, just assertion of authority. As Dacey writes, ¿The real sceptics about ethics are those who think that human beings are incapable of fairness, responsibility, care, and compassion without divine enforcement.¿ These sceptics privilege religion at the expense of ethics, faith at the expense of reason, and dogma at the expense of people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2008

    Not groundbreaking, but the language is good

    Dacey uses flowing and well-written language to tell us almost nothing new. His major thesis, that somehow liberals have undermined secularism, is a straw-man argument unsupported by any evidence. His philosophical ethics is recycled utilitarianism, which is a nice introduction for those studying ethics, but which breaks no new ground, nor defends utilitarianism in any useful way against long-standing objections. It's a decent read, but at the end you'll wonder what you were supposed to get out of it that a re-reading of Mill wouldn't have given you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2008

    A reviewer

    I don't understand why someone would write a book of 211 pages and include a 14 page introduction. That is 7% of the book. I tried twice to read the introduction, it was vague and full of jargon, and each time I never got to the first chapter. The third time I went to the first chapter right away. Why was it necessary to write such a long introduction? A good writer could have written a one page introduction and put the remainder in the body of the book. did the author complete the book and then write the introduction because he rememebered something he left out? In that case, he could have gone back and placed it in the body of the book. If it was to explain the context, that also is part of the book. if I had not read material by this author before I probably would not have gone back a third time after failing to complete the introduction twice. The book itself is good and I learned a lot of information by reading it.

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