Toleration: Forbearance of beliefs or practices or facts that
one dislikes, disagrees with or disapproves of, generally because one
holds that such forbearance is in the interest of civil society or human
There is a considerable difference between
respect and toleration, as there is also a considerable
difference between freedom or liberty and toleration. The reason follows
from the given definition: One can be fairly said to tolerate
only what one does not like - heretics, dissenters, political
opponents, sexual deviants, appalling fashions, drug-abuse, drunks, or
whatever. It follows that one who is indifferent is either not tolerant,
or is tolerant only in the extended sense of not objecting.
The basic reasons for toleration are these
1. There are bound to be many beliefs, practices and facts in every
extended more or less free society that will not be liked by any member
of that society - whoever the member is; whatever the beliefs,
practices or facts are; and whatever the reasons for dislike.
Every human being may know that he does not know much, and that he
often has made mistakes, however carefully he may have tried not to, and
that the same holds for everybody else.
Every human being may know that all human progress, however
conceived, has been the result of extended discussions and speculations
during many generations, during which it was often unclear, and often
undecidable for lack of relevant knowledge, what the truth about some
Every human being may know that in nearly all circumstances he is
much helped by the continued existence of a peaceful society, in which
he is free to think and say and do what he pleases, within the compass
of the law - and where accordingly it must be fair to accept that others
think differently than one, provided others leave one free to think and
speak and do as one desires, within the same legal limits for all.
A society in which there are many different beliefs, practises and
opinions tends strongly to produce higher civilization - more and better
art, science and technology - than a society in which one faith or
belief has been imposed on all, and where all must conform to one
standard of belief and behavior.
Therefore, it is in the interest of most to tolerate much that they
do not like in others, if only so that the others may tolerate much of
what they do not like in one, all in order to maintain a civil society
in which men are mostly free, and let others live in peace if they are
left to live in peace.
And of course, toleration has limits in that no society can long
survive where the intolerant are tolerated or encouraged to be
intolerant, for such intolerance tends to lead rapidly to civil or
religious violent conflicts. In principle, tolerance should apply to
ideas and values that are tolerant, and to practices that are not
harmful to those who do not engage in them, and the main reason for
tolerance is that one desires a free society, in which all may do, and
say, and think what they please, as long as they abide by the laws, and
leave others to do likewise.
The main enemies of toleration tend to be the fanatics of all
religious and political beliefs, who desire to impose their beliefs on
others whether they like or not, and all proponents of authoritarian
faiths and political beliefs, who may hide their intolerance in those
times and places where they cannot impose their ideas on the majority.
Other enemies of toleration tend to be populists, xenophobes, and -
would-be - intellectuals or clerics who insist on the maintenance of
their own principles or preferences or practices in matters where it is
clear that the tolerant attitude consists mostly in trying to muddle
through with compromises in the interests of civil peace and