Praise for The Secular Conscience
The Secular Conscience glows with Mr. Dacey's confidence in John
Mill's principle that every idea should be "fully, frequently and
fearlessly discussed," lest it "be held as a dead dogma, not a living
–The New York Times
Dacey seeks nothing less than to interrupt a suicide, and he has written a beautiful primer on how our secular tradition can be rescued from self-defeat. The Secular Conscience reveals how simplistic notions of privacy, tolerance, and freedom keep dangerous ideas sheltered from public debate. 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
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
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, First Things
Dacey is aware of the fact that the debate over secularism is no longer confined to the post-Christian Western democracies but has also spread to other parts of the world where religion, especially Christianity and Islam, retains a strong hold on the popular imagination. Thus, he cites a number of examples that directly concern the Muslim world top show that Muslims, too, would benefit from an open, honest and respectful debate of the issue facing humanity as a whole. . . . Making this book available in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other languages of the Muslim nations would be an immense service.
– Asharq Alawsat
Against the cliche that there can be no morality without God, Austin Dacey mounts a rejoinder so intellectually and morally satisfying that all should think twice before repeating that "truism" again. His arguments are so fair-minded, knowledgable, and objective that they demonstrate, in their very form and tone, the values of fair-mindedness, knowledgability and objectivity for which he advocates. A work at once philosphically rich and morally inspiring, The Secular Conscience makes an invaluable contribution to the charged conversation concerning religion and reason.
– Rebecca Goldstein, author of Betraying Spinoza
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 at Trinity College
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
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 principle 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, Director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Jewish Theological Seminary
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
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
In a dazzling display of erudition, this book presents a cogent argument for secular liberalism. Dacey . . . 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 church and state, freedom of belief, personal autonomy, equality, toleration, and self-criticism." This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument for progressive secularism.
– Publishers Weekly
No book published during this important election year more effectively addresses religious/secular issues than this study by philosopher Dacey.
– Library Journal
Austin Dacey is a secularist philosopher spoiling for a fight.
-New York Post