I recently finished Steve Smith's new book, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Harvard University Press 2010). The book argues that our secular discourse is insufficiently rich and that it lacks authenticity. He maintains that the purported bases for decisions rely on unstated assumptions that are smuggled into the decision making process. He has chapters focusing on legal discourse with the right to die issue at the forefront, the liberal harm principle of Mill and Joel Feinberg, the discourse of religious freedom with an extended discussion of the history of the secular and criticism of the jurisprudence of Eisgruber and Sager as well as Laycock, the capabilities approach of Martha Nussbaum situated in a discussion of Carl Becker's lectures on the Heavenly City of the Secular Philosophers, a chapter on philosophy of science with extended and approving views of Joe Vining's work, and a discussion of how religious discourse can enrich public political discourse as well as discourse in universities.
The book is well written, smart, interesting throughout, generally quite fair, accessible to scholars and students alike, and a joy to read. It is especially heartening to read a book by a legal scholar who is so widely read and commands the materials he has read with such subtlety. I highly recommend the book.
Particularly given that Smith and I have very different political views and that I am attracted to the views of both Mill and Nussbaum (though Smith and I both reject the doctrine of public reason and I find his discussion of Mill and Nussbaum to be particularly strong), no one should be surprised that I have criticisms and thoughts inspired by the book, but I will save those for a subsequent post.