Alumni Programs

Austin Dacey

Headshot photo of Austin DaceyEducation

B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1995
Ph.D., Bowling Green State University

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Austin Dacey

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Biographical Note

Austin Dacey is a writer and human rights advocate based in New York City. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, USA Today, and Dissent. In 2008 he released The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life. Arguing for the central role of conscience in political and moral discourse, the book "lifted quite a few eyebrows" according to the New York Times. Embraced by figures as diverse as Sam Harris and Father Richard John Neuhaus, The Secular Conscience was noted in North American, European, and Arabic media, and called "timely and important" by Asharq Alawsat.

A representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Austin Dacey has participated in international debates regarding freedom of expression, religion, and the "dialogue among civilizations," speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. He helped to organize the Secular Islam Summit in 2007. He currently serves as an adviser to Freemuse: The World Forum on Music and Censorship and in 2010 he created The Impossible Music Sessions. He holds a doctorate in applied ethics and social philosophy and has taught most recently at Marymount Manhattan College.

Publication Type

Non-Fiction

Latest Publication Title

Putting God out of the Ethics Business

Publication Excerpt

With split seconds to save a stranger from death on the tracks at the 137th Street subway station, Wesley Autrey didn't pause to seek divine guidance or reflect on his reward in heaven. That would have been one thought too many, as the moral philosopher Bernard Williams would say. As Autrey later explained, "I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right." The exact words that went through his head were, "Fool, you got to go in there." Responsibility is like that. No one else can claim it for you.  Moral choices are not always as clear-cut as Autrey's. The solution to complex ethical debates is seldom as clear as a stone tablet or a voice from a burning bush. One problem with stone tablets is that there is only so much you can fit on them. Lists of shalts and shalt nots in and of themselves can never be comprehensive and precise enough to render right answers on borderline cases and contemporary issues. "Shalt not kill" does not resolve whether one-week old embryos count as the kind of thing that may not be killed; "shalt not steal" does not explain when derivatives trading becomes stealing.  No set of commandments is self-authorizing. It cannot tell us why we should follow it, rather than some other set. Of course, it would be no help to add an Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Follow Commandments since the same question would arise about that commandment.

How did Evergreen help you in your career?

At Evergreen I heard the Socratic calling.