Career of Toleration

Career of Toleration: John Locke, Jonas Proast, and After

Richard Vernon
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Career of Toleration
    Book Description:

    The Career of Toleration considers the Locke-Proast controversy from the standpoint of political theory, examining Locke's and Proast's texts and tracing their relationship to later discussions of toleration. Vernon reconstructs the grounds of the dispute, drawing attention to the long-term importance of the arguments and evaluating their relative strength. He then examines issues of toleration in later contexts, specifically James Fitzjames Stephen's critique of John Stuart Mill, the perfectionist alternative to contractualist liberalism, and the view that the traditional attachment to toleration must, by the force of its own arguments, move from liberalism to a defence of a much stronger form of democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6416-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    John Locke’sLetter Concerning Tolerationis, together with Milton’s Areopagitica and J.S. Mill’sOn Liberty,one of the three canonical English language texts in the history of the idea of toleration, and one of the most important texts on that subject in any language. After its publication in 1689, Locke engaged anonymously in a heated debate with one of the letter’s critics: Jonas Proast, a chaplain at All Souls College, Oxford, who enjoyed distinguished High Church Anglican patronage. In 1690 Proast publishedThe Argument of the Letter Concerning Toleration Briefly Considered and Answer’dLocke’s reply, in the same year, was...

  4. 1 The Argument from Belief
    (pp. 17-34)

    One of Locke’s most famous arguments for toleration is drawn from the nature of our beliefs. “Such is the nature of the understanding,” Locke writes inA Letter Concerning Toleration,“that it cannot be compelled to the belief of any thing by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things”; for “penalties... are absolutely impertinent; because they are not proper to convince the mind... It is only light and evidence that can work a change in men’s opinions;...

  5. 2 Locke, Toleration, and Public Reason
    (pp. 35-51)

    As we have seen, Locke’s case against the rationality of persecution is often identified with an argument about the nature of belief. In ALetter Concerning Tolerationand later writings, Locke is said to have put forward the claim that it is pointless or self-defeating for states to try to control beliefs by methods that act on the will since what we believe is not controlled by the will. In the previous chapter, I examined the status of this claim in Locke’s argument and the strength and relevance of some important critiques. In this chapter I want to examine a...

  6. 3 Toleration without Scepticism
    (pp. 52-69)

    There is quite a familiar view, expressed in various forms, that the belief in toleration arises from a sceptical attitude towards knowledge. For example, in his well-known critique of ATheory of Justice,Gerald Dworkin argues that Rawls’s liberalism, while claiming to depend on no particular epistemology, in fact rests upon a covert scepticism.¹ The occupants of the original position, in deciding upon constitutional principles, are said to come to the conclusion that no one’s vision of the good should be given a privileged position and imposed upon others. This makes sense and is attractive, Dworkin says, in a context...

  7. 4 Slippery Slopes and Other Hazards
    (pp. 70-87)

    Earlier, I mentioned two general ways of setting limits to the scope of state power, the contractualist and the perfectionist. Contractualist theories — when they are concerned to limit state power — place restrictions within the concept of the state itself. Identifying the state as the vehicle of set purposes, they naturally find the limits of the state at the boundaries of those purposes themselves. Perfectionist theories, however, hold that states are justified in doing what they can to promote human flourishing and are limited in their scope only by the constraints of the instruments that they use. The first theory exemplifies...

  8. 5 Proast on Locke, Stephen on Mill: A Structure of Illiberalism ?
    (pp. 88-106)

    Arguments for toleration have taken very different forms at different times. The arguments forintolerance, on the other hand, display certain strong (if partial) continuities. The claim that there is a “permanent structure of antiliberal thought”¹ is likely to meet with scepticism, if not outright objection. One criticism would be that liberalism has no “permanent structure.” There are theological, contractual, utilitarian, and perfectionist liberalisms; welfare liberals and market liberals; positiveliberty and negative-liberty theorists. Afortiori,if liberalism has no permanent structure, how likely is it that antiliberalism, a group of doctrines defined merely by a shared negation, would have a...

  9. 6 A Moral Pluralist Case for Toleration?
    (pp. 107-123)

    Proast’s resistance to Lockean toleration may be seen, I have argued, as the partially uncomprehending resistance of an older perfectionism to a new and different mode of political theory. The Proastian state serves immediately as an instrument of virtue: it is to use what power it has to make its subjects better, and in doing so it is sustained by a set of ideas that define unproblematically whatisbetter. For Locke, on the other hand, what states can do is confined not just by the empirical limitations of power but by the prior conclusions of practical reasoning, which define,...

  10. 7 From Toleration to Deliberation?
    (pp. 124-142)

    To side with Locke against Proast is to take the side of a critical political theory against the authority of the given. Locke wants to attach legitimacy to a state that can be justified in relation to other states that might potentially exist, starting from a politicaltabula rasa.In order to do so, he raises the question why we should have a state at all, or why “commonwealth” (as he puts it) should replace “neighbourhood.” Since the very reasons why we should have a state severely limit what any state can legitimately do, certain kinds of state are ruled...

  11. Conclusion: What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Exchange between Locke and Proast ?
    (pp. 143-154)

    The title of this chapter is adapted (immediately, at any rate) from a paper by John Dunn that provides a compact and moving assessment of the interest—at once powerful and limited—that Locke’s political writings still carry. The paper consists of an extended apology for an “illconsidered” sentence in Dunn's earlier book,The Political Thought of John Locke.It reads: “I simply cannot conceive of constructing an analysis of any issue in contemporary political theory around the affirmation or negation of anything which Locke says about political matters.”¹ The sentence emerged, Dunn writes, from an effort to persuade the...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-162)
  13. Index
    (pp. 163-164)