Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The concept of tolerance

Something I have touched upon in a discussion of gay rights and gay civil unions in a previous post, but which I think applies generally. What does it mean to be tolerant? Or, rather, what should it mean. It seems to me that tolerance as a virtue is a matter of how one conducts one's social relations. In many situations we deal with person whose beliefs we disagree with and whose conduct we disapprove of. In those cases, it is very often virtuous for us not to allow the disagreements and disapprovals to interfere with the social relationships we have with those persons. Even though we differ with what they do and disagree with what they believe, we set those differences aside in how we treat them. Tolerance is not refusing to believe that anyone else's beliefs are false (that would result in a self-refuting relativism) and it is not a matter of refusing to believe that some else's lifestyle is morally wrong. It is a matter of not treating others as second-class citizens because they have what we consider to be false beliefs or engage in morally wrong lifestyles.

If I don't disapprove of your conduct or disagree with your beliefs, I cannot be tolerant for the simple reason that there is nothing to tolerate. Hence moral relativism and epistemic relativism are not doctrines that are conducive to tolerance. They are doctrines that make tolerance logically impossible.

1 comment:

IlĂ­on said...

Spot on, as I've read that the Brits say.

VR: "They are doctrines that make tolerance logically impossible."

Which doubtless goes far in explaining just why "tolerant" people tend objectively to be the most intolerant of all.