"Dacey passionately argues for a revitalized secular conscience as an ongoing, open-ended, fallible but serious and assertive conversation about morality . . . . With its discussions of the history, philosophy, theology, and science of how people think and talk about ethical truth, this book deserves to have significant impact upon the revitalization of the public sphere. Accessibly written, but with detailed scholarly and technical footnotes. ...
"Dacey passionately argues for a revitalized secular conscience as an ongoing, open-ended, fallible but serious and assertive conversation about morality . . . . With its discussions of the history, philosophy, theology, and science of how people think and talk about ethical truth, this book deserves to have significant impact upon the revitalization of the public sphere. Accessibly written, but with detailed scholarly and technical footnotes. Highly Recommended."
"In a dazzling display of erudition, this book presents a cogent argument for secular liberalism....Dacey's presentation is especially timely in view of the emphasis by some current presidential candidates on their religious identity....Dacey's analysis helps to put this question into the larger perspective of liberty and conscience....This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism."
"Austin Dacey's The Secular Conscience is sorely needed at a time when both the religious right and the religious left claim that there can be no public or private morality without religion. With wit and a philosopher's insight, Dacey explains exactly why secular morality, grounded in an ethical approach that relies on reason rather than supernatural faith, must be restored to the public square."
-SUSAN JACOBY, Author, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and The Age of American Unreason
"A beautiful primer on how our secular tradition can be rescued from self-defeat....This is an extraordinarily useful and lucid book."
-SAM HARRIS, Author of the New York Times best sellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation
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.
Further Praise for The Secular Conscience:
"The Secular Conscience breathes new life into an old topic. Dacey thinks outside the box. His argument for allowing believers back into the 'public square' - and then subjecting them to a forceful critique - is fresh and convincing, as is his surprising critique of the reasoning in Roe v Wade. And his chapters on secular ethics are superb."
-PETER SINGER, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
"With intellectual vigor and moral confidence, Austin Dacey demonstrates the self-defeating fallacies of efforts to privatize individual conscience and belief. Secularists and non-theists should heed his call to join public debates about fundamental ethical values, instead of questioning the impulse to conduct them."
-WENDY KAMINER, Lawyer and author, Free for All
"Whenever I watch a riot over cartoons or meet another Muslim dissident forced to write under a pseudonym, I wonder, where are the Western secular liberals? Why do they shrink from defending freedom of conscience for all? Thanks to Austin Dacey, I now have an answer. As his piercing analysis shows, liberals have lost their grip on the real meaning of freedom. Only with a restored commitment to conscience as an objective moral ideal can they face down fundamentalists while constructively engaging with reformers of the faith. The Secular Conscience should be read by every friend of the open society."
-IBN WARRAQ, Author, Defending the West
"On almost all the hot-button issues - abortion, embryo-destructive research, same-sex marriage, Darwinism as a comprehensive philosophy, etc. - Dacey is, in my judgment, on the wrong side. But he is right about one very big thing. These contests are not between people who, on the one side, are trying to impose their morality on others, and people who, on the other side, subscribe to a purely procedural and amoral rationality.... The Secular Conscience was written in order to advance the fortunes of liberal secularism in the public square. On many questions of great public moment, most of us will disagree with Austin Dacey. At the same time, he should be recognized as an ally in his contention that these are moral questions that must be addressed by moral argument."
-RICHARD JOHN NEUHAUS, in First Things
"Finally, a case for secularism that does not seek to rid the public square of religion, but which shows that it can be a place for all to exercise their deepest convictions civilly and on equal terms. Bravo!"
-MARK SILK, Director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College
"There is much here for a religious believer to applaud. Dacey's insistence on conscience as a corrigible moral guide, on a public square informed by the vigorous discursive pursuit of first principles and their defense in reason are extremely positive. At a certain point, a believer must part company, but for much of the way we can walk and work together."
-ALAN MITTLEMAN, irector of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary
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 austindacey.com.