e-book The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life

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This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism. 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. This is an extraordinarily useful and lucid book. 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: 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.

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Dacey compares conscience to the press in an open society: It is free, but not liberated from shared standards of truth and right. The video content is misleading. The ad is too long. The ad does not play. The ad does not inform my purchase. The video does not play. There is too much buffering. The audio is poor or missing. Video is unrelated to the product. Please fill out the copyright form to register a complaint. Share your thoughts with other customers.

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Please try again later. Many secularists think that belief is a private matter. Whatever anyone believes is his own concern. Consequently, when people of faith put their ideas forth in public they are to be left alone. Austin Dacey argues that this is a false conclusion.

The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life

Because there can be no real discussion when matters of conscience are left outside the public domain. He calls this the Privacy Fallacy. A related misconception he defines as the Liberty Fallacy. This is the widely hold idea that freedom of belief means that it should be free of criticism. But if that were the case, no serious debate would be possible. How could you argue for or against abortion, stem cell research, the death penalty or euthanasia if your basic convictions get off scot-free? All the reasons why you hold certain views would be up in the air.

It's the task of liberals and secularists to regain the right to public debate, including questioning matters of conscience like religion and faith, and to stand up for your own values - reason, tolerance, personal autonomy, the separation of church and state and so forth. Writing with wit and clarity, he offers an historical overview of this liberal tradition from Spinoza to Rawls. The tone darkens considerably when in the penultimate chapter he discusses radical Islam. Dacey states that today Islamism has become the defining issue for liberals, just as Communism was for an earlier generation.

Somehow, it's as if this chapter belongs to a different, and more pugnacious, book. This section of the book is more politically tinged than the rest, and I can imagine that not everyone will agree with his analysis here.

Austin Dacey interviewed on Point Of Inquiry prt 2-4

For example, I don't think you necessarily have to be suspicious of Tariq Ramadan in his quest for a dialogue. Some liberals view him as a wolf in sheep's clothing, while others do not. One person found this helpful 2 people found this helpful. Dacey seeks to shake secular liberalism from its complacency lest the Enlightenment project of an open society becomes run over by fundamentalist Christians and totalitarian Islam.


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  • The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life by Austin Dacey.
  • Austin Dacey, The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life - PhilPapers.

Dacey's elegant, mature and well-informed analysis, we gain the courage we need to assert our right to freedom of conscience and to challenge ideologies of belief in the public sphere. Dacey recounts the historical process by which the West broke with the Church and separated religion from government. Today, faith has come to be marketed to believers as their own private property and seeks to avoid accountability in political debate even as it exerts considerable influence over policy. Dacey submits that secularists must drop their predisposition to moral relativism and demand that Christians justify their positions on issues such as stem cell research and evolution based on reasonable standards of evidence and scientific inquiry.

On the other hand, Mr. Dacey explains that Islam has not undergone a process of separation from the state; the Islamic state is more accurately defined as a political form of religion. Dacey brings attention to courageous individuals who are challenging the blasphemy laws that preclude the free expression of the individual in Islamic society. The author castigates the Western media, feminists and others for their tolerance of intolerance and failing to recognize the threat that Islamic totalitarianism poses to our values; he goes on to implore us to support the youth in Iran and other Islamic states who yearn for a free, secular future.


  1. The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life by Austin Dacey.
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  6. Throughout the book, Mr. Dacey explores related ethical and philosophical themes and ideas that bring a remarkable depth of meaning to the text. We come to appreciate that the secular conscience is a moral conscience that is based on collective inquiry, reflection and consensus; this kind of dialogue is needed now more than ever if we wish to achieve lasting peace and justice for humankind. I thank William Podmore for bringing my attention to this outstanding book and highly recommend it to everyone. It has long bothered me that some people refuse to categorically reject horrors like the Holocaust, because they believe everything is subjective, and all cultures and approaches have their virtues.

    Common sense indicates there should be some objective perspective that can help us to understand why Holocaust-like atrocities and tyrannical societies and governments are bad. Austin Dacey's powerful "Secular Conscience" explains how such objective standards can be formed. There will then, we must hope, be more profound, more compellingly argued contributions to the great conversation in the argumentarium — but with The Secular Conscience Austin Dacey has, at least, offered us a very engaging ice-breaker. The Secular Conscience is published by Prometheus.

    John Gray's latest book goes to great pains to underline the debt that non-religious intellectuals owe religion.

    The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life by Austin Dacey | New Humanist

    New Humanist was launched under the title Watts's Literary Guide years ago this month. We are supported by our members. Jenny Bunker is at ease with a secular conscience. Why, when the Vatican adopts policies liable to increase preventable deaths from AIDS, or a provocative film-maker is murdered on the streets of Amsterdam, do secular liberals remain silent?