Toleration: An Elusive Virtue

Edited by David Heyd
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 252
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    If we are to understand the concept of toleration in terms of everyday life, we must address a key philosophical and political tension: the call for restraint when encountering apparently wrong beliefs and actions versus the good reasons for interfering with the lives of the subjects of these beliefs and actions. This collection contains original contributions to the ongoing debate on the nature of toleration, including its definition, historical development, justification, and limits. In exploring the issues surrounding toleration, the essays address a variety of provocative questions. Is toleration a moral virtue of individuals or rather a pragmatic political compromise? Is it an intrinsically good principle or only a "second best-solution" to the dangers of fanaticism to be superseded one day by the full acceptance of others? Does the value of toleration lie in respect to individuals and their autonomy, or rather in the recognition of the right of minority groups to maintain their communal identity? Throughout, the contributors point to the inherent indeterminacy of the concept and to the difficulty in locating it between intolerant absolutism and skeptical pluralism.

    Religion, sex, speech, and education are major areas requiring toleration in liberal societies. By applying theoretical analysis, these essays show the differences in the argument for toleration and its scope in each of these realms. The contributors include Joshua Cohen, George Fletcher, Gordon Graham, Alon Harel, Moshe Halbertal, Barbara Herman, John Horton, Will Kymlicka, Avishai Margalit, David Richards, Thomas Scanlon, and Bernard Williams.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2201-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-17)

    Tolerance is a philosophically elusive concept.¹ Indeed, in the liberal ethos of the last three centuries, it has been hailed as one of the fundamental ethical and political values, and it still occupies a powerful position in contemporary legal and political rhetoric. However, our firm belief in the value of tolerance is not matched by analogous theoretical certitude. Perhaps the best indication of the shaky grounds on which the philosophical discussion of tolerance rests is the intriguing lack of agreement on paradigm cases. In the theory of rights, virtue, and duty, people who radically disagree about the analysis and justification...

  6. 1 Toleration: An Impossible Virtue?
    (pp. 18-27)

    The Difficulty with toleration is that it seems to be at once necessary and impossible. It is necessary where different groups have conflicting beliefs—moral, political, or religious—and realize that there is no alternative to their living together, that is to say, no alternative except armed conflict, which will not resolve their disagreements and will impose continuous suffering. These are the circumstances in which toleration is necessary. Yet in those same circumstances it may well seem impossible.

    If violence and the breakdown of social cooperation are threatened in these circumstances, it is because people find others’ beliefs or ways...

  7. 2 Toleration as a Virtue
    (pp. 28-43)

    It is widely agreed that the core of the concept of toleration is the refusal, where one has the power to do so, to prohibit or seriously interfere with conduct that one finds objectionable.¹ Inevitably there is some vagueness to the concept that permits disagreements about both its interpretation and its application. For instance, how serious must interference with the disapproved conduct be for it to be incompatible with toleration? If, for example, the sale of pornographic magazines is restricted to specialty shops because some people object to them, should we regard this as a tolerant or intolerant response to...

  8. 3 Tolerance, Pluralism, and Relativism
    (pp. 44-59)

    What is the connection between a belief in toleration, the fact of pluralism, and the metaethical thesis of relativism? It is commonly supposed that in some way or other these three go together and stand allied in opposition to moral absolutism, metaethical objectivism, and a failure to recognize cultural incommensurability. But whatpreciselyare the connections here? Implicit in much moral argument, it seems to me, is the following picture.

    On one side, the fact of pluralism supports the contentions of the relativist, and because relativism holds that unconditional truth cannot be ascribed to any one moral or political view,...

  9. 4 Pluralism and the Community of Moral Judgment
    (pp. 60-80)

    It is now widely acknowledged that social pluralism—the presence in a society of distinct traditions and ways of life—vastly complicates the project of liberal political thought.¹ The permanent presence of different and often competing systems of value challenges the ideal of civic culture on which liberal principle depends. Conceptions of equal citizenship or of universal human rights can be seen to have protected deep-reaching structures of inequality and domination that are damaging to women and other subordinate groups. The complementary separation of public and private intended to secure a univocal sphere of civic culture paid insufficient attention to...

  10. 5 Two Models of Pluralism and Tolerance
    (pp. 81-105)

    In his most recent work, John Rawls argues that “we must draw the obvious lessons of our political history since the Reformation and the Wars of Religion,” namely, that we must recognize and accommodate “the plurality of conflicting, and indeed incommensurable, conceptions of the good affirmed by the members of existing democratic societies” (Rawls 1987:13; 1985:225, 249).¹ In the sixteenth century, Catholics and Protestants each sought to use the state to support their conception of true faith and to oppose the other. After innumerable wars and civil strife, both faiths learned that only the oppressive (and futile) use of force...

  11. 6 Autonomy, Toleration, and Group Rights: A Response to Will Kymlicka
    (pp. 106-113)

    Kymlicka’s main purpose is to establish a necessary connection between toleration of individuals and the possibility and value of autonomy. This principal thesis is preceded by an interesting historical observation drawn from the political arrangements in the Ottoman Empire, which leads Kymlicka to offer a distinction between group pluralism and individual freedom. In the Ottoman Empire and its millet system, religious freedom was granted to groups rather than individuals. Members of the Greek Orthodox community, Jews, and Armenians were autonomous in all matters of religious life and were thus tolerated by their Muslim rulers. However, these three communities did not...

  12. 7 The Boundaries of Justifiable Tolerance: A Liberal Perspective
    (pp. 114-126)

    It is often claimed that tolerance is a major virtue of liberal societies. Tolerance is praised as a means by which pluralism can be reinforced, the options available to individuals can be expanded, and hence their ability to pursue their own chosen projects and pursuits can be promoted.

    The supposed value of tolerance is challenged, however, by two independent claims. First, religious or ethnic minorities holding intolerant views and practices persistently claim that they should be allowed to advocate intolerance as well as express it in their practices. Second, women and minorities demand the suppression of forms of speech or...

  13. 8 Toleration and the Struggle against Prejudice
    (pp. 127-146)

    The argument for toleration was of pivotal importance not only in the development of the civil liberties of religion, free speech, and privacy,¹ but in the abolitionist criticisms of slavery and racism in America, Britain, and elsewhere and their correlative expressions in law (for example, American constitutional principles of equal protection).² My theme here is the pivotal role that the argument for toleration played in the first sustained criticism in human history of slavery as an institution and the associated criticism of racial prejudice. The analysis of racial prejudice, as a political and constitutional evil, was, I argue, very much...

  14. 9 The Ring: On Religious Pluralism
    (pp. 147-157)

    Can Judaism, Christianity, and Islam be pluralistic? The question is not whether they can tolerate one another, but whether they can accept the idea that the other religions have intrinsic religious value. Christians, said Goethe, want to be accepted, not tolerated. This is presumably true of Jews and Muslims as well. The question is whether each of these groups is willing to accept the others, that is, to ascribe value to the others’ lifestyle, so that, if they have the power, they will not only refrain from persecuting the others but will also encourage the flourishing of their way of...

  15. 10 The Instability of Tolerance
    (pp. 158-172)

    Tolerance is an unstable virtue. The reason, I will argue, is that tolerance presupposes a complexity of two sentiments: the first, an impulse to intervene and regulate the lives of others, and the second, an imperative—either logical or moral—to restrain that impulse. This complexity readily gives way to a range of simple and straightforward sentiments. At the one extreme, is intolerance toward activities deemed harmful to others. Since John Stuart Mill’s proposal inOn Liberty, the conventional justification for the state’s casting intolerance into coercive laws is the protection of secular interests, such as life, health, privacy, reputation,...

  16. 11 Freedom of Expression
    (pp. 173-225)

    In April 1989, students at the University of Michigan walked into a class and were faced with a blackboard that read, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste—especially on a nigger.” This message followed closely on the appearance of a flier at the university declaring “open season on Blacks.” A month later, an African student at Smith College found a message slipped under her door that read, “African nigger do you want some bananas? Go back to the jungle.”¹

    Responding to a pattern of such incidents and the long-standing American traditions of racial hatred and violence reflected in...

  17. 12 The Difficulty of Tolerance
    (pp. 226-240)

    Tolerance requires us to accept people and permit their practices even when we strongly disapprove of them. Tolerance thus involves an attitude that is intermediate between wholehearted acceptance and unrestrained opposition.¹ This intermediate status makes tolerance a puzzling attitude. There are certain things, such as murder, that ought not be tolerated. There are limits to what we are able to do to prevent these things from happening, but we need not restrain ourselves out of tolerance for these actions as expressions of the perpetrators’ values. In other cases, where our feelings of opposition or disapproval should properly be reined in,...

  18. Index of Names and Cases
    (pp. 241-242)