In a dazzling display of erudition, this book presents a cogent argument for secular liberalism. Dacey, a philosopher who teaches at Polytechnic University and the State University of New York at Buffalo, claims that values and ethics-defining what is right and wrong, good and bad-are not the sole domain of theologians. To contribute to our understanding of enlightened secularism, he cites like-minded thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Dewey, Adam Smith, John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Plato, John Locke and Baruch Spinoza, among others. Dacey's presentation is especially timely in view of the emphasis by some current presidential candidates on their religious identity. Not since 1960, when John F. Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, argued for church-state separation, has the issue of secularism versus religion been so prominent in a national election. Dacey's analysis helps to put this question into the larger perspective of liberty and conscience. Dacey advocates for democracy over authoritarianism, not hesitating to challenge theocratic Islam, for example, as a "new totalitarianism." He calls on secular liberals to stand up for "reason and science, the separation of religion and state, freedom of belief, personal autonomy, equality, toleration, and self-criticism." This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Lifeby Austin Dacey
From Washington to the Vatican to Tehran, religion is a public matter as never before, and secular values — individual autonomy, pluralism, separation of religion and state, and freedom of conscience — are attacked on all sides and defended by few. The godly claim a monopoly on the language of morality, while secular liberals stand accused of standing
From Washington to the Vatican to Tehran, religion is a public matter as never before, and secular values — individual autonomy, pluralism, separation of religion and state, and freedom of conscience — are attacked on all sides and defended by few. The godly claim a monopoly on the language of morality, while secular liberals stand accused of standing for nothing.
Secular liberals did not lose their moral compass: they gave it away. For generations, too many have insisted that questions of conscience — religion, ethics, and values — are "private matters" that have no place in public debate. Ironically, this ideology hinders them from subjecting religion to due scrutiny when it encroaches on individual rights and from unabashedly advocating their own moral vision in politics for fear of "imposing" their beliefs on others.
In his incisive new book, philosopher Austin Dacey calls for a bold rethinking of the nature of conscience and its role in public life. Inspired by an earlier liberal tradition that he traces to Spinoza and John Stuart Mill, Dacey urges liberals to lift their self-imposed gag order and defend a renewed secularism based on the objective moral value of conscience.
Dacey compares conscience to the press in an open society: it is protected from coercion and control, not because it is private, but because it has a vital role in the public sphere. It is free, but not liberated from shared standards of truth and right. It must come before any and all faiths, for it is what tells us whether or not to believe. In this way, conscience supplies a shared vocabulary for meaningful dialogue in a diverse society, and an ethical lingua franca in which to address the world.
No book published during this important election year more effectively addresses religious/secular issues than this study by philosopher Dacey (Ctr. of Inquiry, New York). Arguing that secularism has lost its soul, Dacey proposes a secularism based on the objective moral value of questions of conscience. Calling on the liberal traditions of Spinoza and John Stuart Mill and drawing from the latest research on belief, the mind, and ethics, he says that the role of the church should be to "bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good" rather than to impose certain ways of thinking and conduct. For him, secular liberalism is not a religion but a moral, philosophical, and political outlook committed to reason and science, the separation of religion and state, freedom of belief, and a public ethic affirming the values of personal autonomy, equality, toleration, self-criticism, and this-worldly well-being. This thoughtful, informative, and tremendously interesting primer for secular ideas raises the bar for books dealing with world rights and makes sense of a philosophy foreign to many people of faith. Highly recommended for well-informed readers in public and academic libraries.
- Prometheus Books
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Meet the Author
Austin Dacey is a representative to the United Nations for the Center for Inquiry in New York City, where he works on issues of science and secular values. He is the author of articles in numerous publications including the New York Times. He holds a doctorate in applied ethics and social philosophy. His Web site is www.austindacey.com.
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